ISSN 1652–7224  :::  Published May 17, 2005
Click here to get to the full text article (in Swedish)

The visualisation of
the sporting body

Britt-Marie Ringfjord
Dept. of Social Science, Växjö University, Sweden




In every culture a variety of gender representations exists categorised as male and female ideals. These ideals form a manual of how gender categories should be interpreted in our culture. One of the main messengers is mass media, who reflects gender norms already existing in society. By starting with a semiotic analyse on images of sporting bodies in a Swedish context, the purpose with this article is to discuss how the Swedish gender structures in sports are represented and constructed by the sport media as symbolic myths of sport. The discussion starts whit an example by a poster from the Olympic Games in Stockholm 1912, continues with an image of an early Calvin Klein’s advertisement with Fredrik Ljungberg (Arsenal). These two examples show how the masculine body is represented as a symbol of the sport myth in the sport media. The signs for a masculine sporting body is active, hard and has a well muscled surface, though a slight sensualism also appears as a new mark for a modern masculinity in transformation. The discussion then picks up two images from the resent year represented by two of the Swedish ladies football team. One picture is a front page in a men’s magazine on Josefin Öqvist and the other one from an article in a women’s magazine on Victoria Svensson. These two images exemplifies how the feminine body represent a different symbol of sport myths in the mass media and follows the general beauty myths of femininity already existing in society. A feminine sporting body is passive, soft and aesthetic, exposed as an object for the male gaze consumers or as objected to an ambivalence concerning beauty ideals and appearance.

This analyze shows how the surface of the sporting body is the focused object for visual images and what bearings on gendered sport representations this might have. Bodies of top elite men and women are exposed as objects where the surface of the sporting body is used as the field of vision by media, in ways that could question the male dominance in sport. After all there is no such thing as an ideal body, either for gender or sports. The symbolic representation in the images then suggests possibilities for interpretations open for different kinds of gender identities. From another perspective these symbolic representations also holds for the maintenance of power relations in traditional gender structures concerning sport. These images then hold up gender stereotypes with an ambition to maintain traditional power relations in gender structures specific for sport. The symbol for the athletic male body is still visualised as hard and muscular, despite the allusion on sensualism, while the symbol for the athletic female body continues to appear as soft and adaptable. Masculinity and femininity then are restricted to certain pre-defined patterns that rather emphasize the cultural conventions existing on gender differences, and by using distinct gendered body images to guide the viewer s interpretation. The audience must be beyond all doubts on whether the images represent a man or a woman. The sport media reproduce well-preserved gender discourses in team sports as football that maintains the boundaries between masculine and feminine sport activities.


Copyright © Britt-Marie Ringfjord 2005.

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