Here Is a Place for You/Know Your Place: Understanding Representations of the Female Body in Fitness Advertising

Friday, 20 July 2018: 16:00
Oral Presentation
Carly DRAKE, Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary, Canada
Scott RADFORD, Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary, Canada
The media landscape is one realm in which gender equality remains elusive. For example, images of women shared in fitness media negate women’s athletics and sexualize female athletes, treating their [ideal] bodies as objects to be gazed upon (e.g., Hardin et al., 2005; Wasylkiw et al., 2009; Cranmer et al. 2014). Research typically considers editorial and advertising images in fitness media as a single unit. However, advertising merits separate inquiry because it educates consumers (Sandage, 1972) by shaping social norms and values (McCracken, 1986) using medium-specific objectives and tools (e.g., sales and sales pitches).

Given the apparent salience of the body in sport culture, and the way in which running media is said to present a gendered, aged, and classed version of reality (Abbas, 2004), this study asks: How might we understand how female bodies are represented in fitness advertisements in mainstream and women’s running media? A critical reading of advertisements in the January/February 2017 issues of three running magazines reveals that the bodies and related messages advertising shares act as “biopedagogy” that provides implicit and explicit information and directives about how a body should look (Rail & Lafrance, 2009; Fullagar, 2009).

This biopedagogy creates a place in sport culture for female readers but reminds them they may only occupy a certain place. To this end, advertisements function in three ways. Specifically, they (1) prescribe and normalize a bodily obsession centred around nutrition and sport science; (2) highlight white, slim bodies without showing the effort that goes into shaping those bodies; and (3) infantilize women and trivialize their participation in sport. In reconciling these interrelated but often competing messages, this study argues that fitness advertisements in running media attempt to empower women to seek the benefits promised through athletics but withhold information that can help them safely reach their goals.