Academic journal article Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal

Selling Girls Short: Advertising and Gender Images in Sports Illustrated for Kids

Academic journal article Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal

Selling Girls Short: Advertising and Gender Images in Sports Illustrated for Kids

Article excerpt


The purpose of this study is to ascertain how, if at all, advertising images in Sports Illustrated for Kids (SIK) changed following the 1996 Olympic Games, from late 1996 through 1999. Advertising photographs in 36 issues of SIK, from July 1996 to June 1999 were examined using content analysis methodology. A recording instrument was generated to analyze SIK advertising photographs. SPSS Statistical Package 9.0 was used to analyze the nominal data. Simple descriptive statistics, crosstabs, and frequency distributions were used for determining the presence of an association between gender and the remaining variables. Findings from this content analysis of SIK advertising were comparable with those of Cuneen and Sidwell's (1998) analysis of SIK advertisement photographs. A clear pattern of differential photographic treatment of gender was noted throughout the analysis. Although there have been some improvements, a majority of the stereotypical relationships between gender and sport that the previous researchers found have continued in SIK photographs, even when cultural acceptance and expectations of women in sport have evolved toward equity.


As they move from childhood to adolescence, girls and boys begin to redefine themselves through a complex process that includes developing moral and ethical codes, coping with emerging sexuality, constructing a self-image, clarifying gender roles, and preparing for occupational roles. Children look to many sources for guidance throughout this process. According to social learning theory, children learn, imitate, and eventually internalize behavior they observe in their families, on playgrounds, in schools, and in the media (Belknap & Leonard, 1991; Schwartz & Markham, 1985; Smith, 1994).

Researchers have indicated that perhaps media - not other factors much "closer to home" - may be among the most powerful influences on children (Douglas, 1994; Heintz, 1987; Milkie, 1999; Schwartz & Markham, 1985; Smith, 1994). Researchers indicate that many of the social lessons in a child's mediated experience are about gender roles: what is "appropriate" and "inappropriate" behavior for males and females. The media include socially meaningful sources of sex role prescriptions that are perceived by children at a very young age; researchers have documented awareness by toddlers of sex-typed behaviors that they see in the media and elsewhere (Belknap & Leonard, 1991; Browne, 1998; Plous & Neptune, 1997). Understanding the sex role models found in mass media, then, is critical to understanding how children are socialized into gender roles (Smith, 1994).

Sex role stereotypes are found in almost all types of editorial content (print or broadcast) and in the advertising that goes along with it. Advertisements are already considered an important cultural impact on society, and their influence on definitions of acceptable gendered behavior is difficult to overstate (Plous & Neptune, 1997; Klassen, Jasper & Schwartz, 1993). Ads can be especially influential on children, who often don't discern the difference between material meant to sell and that meant to inform. Ads sandwiched between Saturday morning cartoons or found in a popular children's periodical such as Sports Illustrated for Kids make an impact - just ask a parent who's taken a child grocery shopping after a few hours of television (Browne, 1998).

Advertisements, by nature, however, are "skewed social teachers". They do not reveal reality about gender relations (or other social dynamics), but instead offer lessons on how advertisers believe the culture views and accepts gender (Klassen, Jasper & Schwartz, 1993; First, 1998). Because advertisements rely on the audience to "fill in the blanks" to create meaning, they use stereotypes that can be shared by a mass audience (Kang, 1997; First, 1998).

From the earliest studies of print advertisements in the early 1 970s through the most recent research, stereotypical depictions of women and men have been the norm (Belknap & Leonard, 1991). …

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