Women having the ability to take control of their images via social media is a crucial step in creating more positive role models for young girls.
In today’s world, being a professional athlete includes more than being at the top 1% of the sport. Athletes are facing demand to provide frequent and personal information on various social media platforms (Hayes et al, 2020).
In turn, by doing so, athletes are more likely to receive sponsorships, greater salaries as well as experience an easier career transition out of sport (Aria et al, 2014). However, social media can be incredibly distracting, including negative messages and sponsorship pressures, all of which may negatively impact an athlete’s performance.
Results from a study on the National Football League (NFL), showed that there was a negative relationship between posting frequency on social media and performance (Lim et al, 2020). In other words, as social media frequency increased, the footballers performance decreased. Concurrently, findings were replicated by another study on tennis players, whereby high twitter usage impacted performance during a match.
Encel et al (2017) analysed the facebook usage prior to, during and following competitions for over 290 athletes of varying levels. Results exhibited that time spent on Facebook prior to a competition significantly correlated with disruption and distraction during competition.
Social media should however not be completely dismissed. It has also opened the door for athletes to take control over their representation in the media. This is particularly important for female athletes, who can rewrite what it means to be a female athlete. Research indicates that not only are women under-represented across traditional and online media outlets, but when they are represented, the focus is on their femininity and sexuality rather than their athletic achievements (Kane, 2013).
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Social media however may enable women to address this traditional lack of coverage as well as challenge and change the way they are portrayed, which is usually in a sexualised manner (Litchfield & Kavanagh, 2019). Reichart et al (2015) ran an Instagram analysis and found that females accounted for the majority of the active sport photographs, which suggests that when given control, female athletes contest the trend of visual representations found in the media, and present themselves as athletes first, females second.
Krane et al (2011) found that preadolescent girls preferred images of women presented as competent athletes as it evoked feelings of admiration. These findings highight those young girls look up to sportswomen as role models, therefore women having the ability to take control of their images via social media is a crucial step in creating more positive role models for young girls.
However, not all research supports this claim. Coche (2012) analysed the Twitter profiles of 38 male and 41 female athletes and found that women actually preserve traditional gender roles in sports found in traditional media. Although women presented themselves as athletes through their biographies, women highlighted their femininity in their photographs. The opposite was found for male athletes. Serena Williams is a perfect example of this. She is one of the best tennis players, but her profile picture highlights femininity rather than athletic talent. This highlights her looks, which may entice some fans, however research shows that this fails to engage women in sport.
Social media has incredibly positive aspects for athletes, allowing them to interact with fans, gain sponsorships and also it enables them to take control of their image. However, research does indicate that social media can have detrimental impacts on an athlete’s performance during competition. Athletes should consider the time and frequency of their social media usage to gain the benefits and avoid a decline in performance.
By Anne-Sophie Pierre – @annesophie.pierre
29th October, 2021
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- Coche, R. (2017). How athletes frame themselves on social media: An analysis of Twitter profiles. Journal of sports media, 12(1), 89-112.
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- Lim, J. H., Donovan, L. A., Kaufman, P., & Ishida, C. (2020). Professional Athletes’ Social Media Use and Player Performance: Evidence From the National Football League. International Journal of Sport Communication, 14(1), 33-59.
- Smith, L. R., & Sanderson, J. (2015). I’m going to Instagram it! An analysis of athlete self-presentation on Instagram. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 59(2), 342-358.
- Toffoletti, K., & Thorpe, H. (2018). Female athletes’ self-representation on social media: A feminist analysis of neoliberal marketing strategies in “economies of visibility”. Feminism & Psychology, 28(1), 11-31.