Recreation and Sport Studies

Studying, Experiencing and Facilitating Kinesiology, Recreation and Sport through Wellness and Physical Activity

Magazine Cover Case Study: Sexualization of Genders


While female participation is steadily growing in sports such as soccer and basketball, a noticeable gap between female and male sport coverage still exists (Hardin & Greer, 2009). In addition to the lack of female sports coverage, the representations and portrayals of athletes differ dramatically based on gender; reinforcing gender typing for sports and skill.

Our research explored the differences in female and male representations on North American magazine covers. To investigate this research question, a review and analysis of 3 major magazines was conducted: Sports Illustrated, SportsNet Magazine and ESPN Magazine. 238 total magazine covers were analyzed, ranging from as early as January 2013 to November 2014. Each issue was documented based on criteria, which would be used to determine how these magazines feature their athletes and whether or not they feature both female and male individuals. The four categories were: sexualized, action shot, photo shoot and other.

  MEN ESPNAction Girls UFO 

The results show that females were featured on fewer magazines than males with only 23 of the 238 magazines highlighting a female athlete on their cover. Females were sexualized in the majority of their shots (57%) and were only shown in action shots on 3 of the 23 covers (13%). The results support that female athletes are highly underrepresented on sports magazine covers and are either sexualized or portrayed in fashions that minimize their athletic accomplishments when they are featured.

Certain question stood out to us as we completed this study. The first one was, when thinking of your personal gender identity what is your input on the opposite sex? When you see a picture of an athlete, do you find yourself looking at all the bad things within the photograph/article or just happy that the athlete is getting exposure for themselves and their sport? When you see a more sexualized photograph do you find yourself being drawn to this article because of the pose? It may help if you think about the sex that you as an individual is interested in, are you attracted to the picture because said athletes is posing in a more sexual manner or are you appalled?

Secondly, we asked ourselves when looking at your specific sport(s) of interest; do you find yourself being happy for your sport(s), due to the exposure or upset due to the large amount of sexualization? Maybe just so the sport may be able to get more attention from readers. Some may find it harder to enjoy an article about their sport(s) of choice because of the sexualized picture that is promoting the article. Some may see these pictures and advertisements as a positive boost for certain sports because of the “new found interest” in the sport. Others may see it as a negative publicity for the sport due to non-related picture.

Our final questions, turned into more of a conversation between Meagan and I, we started to discuss ways that we could improve of enhance coverage for each sport? Are we able to get more female writer working for these magazines, or maybe include more women on sporting panels for both women and men sport. There is also the argument that maybe magazines and advertising companies should even the playing field when it comes to sexualization’s; if these companies and organizations would not take aggressively sexualized picture of a man, why do it for women?

All of these arguments can be taken into consideration and everyone will have their own point of view. We just ask for everyone to think twice when reading an article or looking at pictures before passing a judgment, as we should do with the majority of subject in today’s society. We also want to stress the point, as we did in class that magazines that target gender specific markets may have different standards.

Meat fitness Muscle-and-Fitness-COVER

When taking into consideration Women and Men’s Health magazine there may be a different portrayal of sexualization. The vocabulary and the poses tend to be the issue rather than the lack of clothing and commercialization. These issue can be explore in much greater detail, but is still an interesting subject to keep in mind.

Meagan Ferguson & Erika Ermen


Hardin, M., & Greer, J. D. (2009). The Influence of Gender-role Socialization, Media Use and Sports Participation on Perceptions of Gender-Appropriate Sports. Journal of Sport Behaviour, 32(2), 207-226. url=

Images take From Google Searches

4 thoughts on “Magazine Cover Case Study: Sexualization of Genders

  1. I impartial to magazines and what they show because I don’t purchase them but I believe that sex sells and that magazines will continue to do what they are doing because if they don’t then they will stop selling magazines off the shelves. I do not think that this is based on one gender completely but it is obviously more women in sexual positions or in tighter outfits.


    • One aspect that I liked about the presentation is it takes a neutral stance and questions rather then tells us how to view gender and sex. With that said, I have some thoughts. Now we talk about equality in sexual expression in the media and sort of stab at the idea that there is an inherent injustice being done to one sex over the other (Your group never explicitly dictated that claim, as the presentation was mainly neutral). It makes me wonder that maybe both sexual portrayals of men and women are simply slightly different prototypical preferences amongst men and women. What I mean by this is that perhaps when we state that men are not as sexually portrayed as promiscuous as women, then maybe our definition or perception of male sexuality is wrong and thus inherently different then women’s portrayal by nature. Now i know that action shots of athletes brings more sport aesthetic which is lacking in female sports coverage, but perhaps these increased action shots among men really is the male version of hyper-sexualization? Now we can call this gender stereotyping, but we do not exactly speak for women’s opinion of what is sexy about the opposite sex. Certain opinions amongst publicly spoken Feminists who claim to be the voice for women have not necessarily been accurately representing women; examples of this is in female video game content creators and female gamers who have actually disagreed with feminist activism in video games (follow gamer-gate and you will see example upon example what this statement). Back to my point. Now we can look at a football player in the NFL and say that they are not as revealed as a female would be. With this I say take another look at the NFL football players. The majority of NFL football players are build like an Adonis with tights, bulging arms and tight jerseys. With that said, perhaps that action component is inherently sought after as well for a male sexual trait? This has a evolutionary plausibility as many of humans ancestors do have distinctively similar sexual expressions between different genders. What I am getting at is that being simply naked is not the whole of sexuality and is not out there in a vacuum on its own. With that said, I am nowhere’s near as being a sexual puritan (Not insinuating that certain people are by any means) as I am OK with and like the sexual portrayal of men and women. I don’t believe in sexual repression by stating what is ok and what is not ok in peoples sexual expression. Now let’s take a gander at the sexual expression in real time of both men and women on a warm summer day. Is the sexual expression in public water parks and beaches much different then the sexual portrayal of the sexes in sport magazines? What I am saying is how can we possibly complain about sexual objectification when people are willing to share, expose themselves willingly in the public forum (I associate sexual expression with freedom). Perhaps we do not necessarily speak for women or men in that matter when it comes to sexuality. What is more, women and men this summer will flock to the 50 shades of grey movie to watch a man and a women who engage in intense sexual behaviour and they both display stereotypical sexual traits (the stereotype being a powerful man in a suit and a submissive women). Another sport specific example are volleyball players. It is a dress code in volleyball to wear revealing spandex shorts. Now some may say this is imposed on women to sexually objectify them, but I ask how many women do you know who object to this team dress code? I used to have the same question when I was in high schooled and watched my schools female volleyball team, but then you realize that these volleyball players are sexy, confident, and seem to derive empowerment. What I am saying is that there is not many women objecting to revealing sports clothing and women have the right to do as they please in their own realm of sport without the male influence. I truly believe that we as opposite sexes do not necessarily become offended by this type of expression, but do become offended when people tell you and I that we should because it offends them.


  2. Check out John Oliver’s recent ‘take’ on this issue:


  3. Check this out, an opposing perspective on sexualization in Sports Illustrated.


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