27 Oct 2016

Action sports and using sex to sell

From Nine To Noon, 9:26 am on 27 October 2016

Last month Getty Images and the Women's Sports Trust partnered to announce new guidelines aiming to improve how female athletes are portrayed.

The goal is to curate more diverse, realistic photographs rather than add to the current library of stock images replete with skimpy sports bras and overly sexualized poses.

Sportswomen say there are pressures on them to chase ‘likes’ on social media so as to maintain sponsorship, they experience inconsistent television coverage and are paid less than their male counterparts.

And there is a double standard in the media coverage of women in sport too. The spotlight on male athletes is primarily focused on their skilled performance.

When the women receive attention, the media is much more likely to focus on their physical attractiveness or non-sport related activities.

Paige Hareb a professional New Zealand surfer and the first New Zealand woman to surf on the world tour and Rosara Joseph a New Zealand mountain biker who won silver at the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games joined Kathryn Ryan to talk about the pressures they faced in their respective sports.

Joseph says that by and large her professional career was full of positive experiences and she strove to present herself as an athlete and role model.

“But at times my gender made it very difficult for me.”

She says she once discussed how women were represented in her sport with her team manager at the time.

“I said I’m not prepared to portray myself in an overtly sexual way it’s not true to me and his response was, ‘Well why don’t you take some photos of yourself wearing a bikini under a waterfall? You’re going to make yourself more attractive to your sponsors and get more attention - I don’t see what the issue is’.

“I wanted to be respected for being a skilled bike rider, a good athlete, a good role model someone who can be approached and talked to easily.” 

For Paige Hareb the bikini is a uniform and she says it is natural for her to wear one.

“I’ve definitely been asked to do a couple of different shoots, but for a surfer as well to be in a bikini, for me, that’s pretty much my every day work suit to a lot of girls in the surfing industry that does come naturally.

“But there are definitely some that pull their bikini bottoms up a bit higher than others and that’s their choice.”

Joseph says athletes that portray themselves on appearance rather than on their sport often get more sponsorship as a result.

Rosara Joseph

Rosara Joseph Photo: Photosport

“In the racing world it’s pretty clear that it’s much easier to get financial support as a male than a female; even with equivalent results or in team different equipment, different treatment.”

Hareb says social media is part of her everyday routine and she has embraced it and has benefitted from doing so.

“Most sponsors that you try and approach one of the first questions is how many followers have you got on Instagram or Facebook? it’s pretty tough out there, but it does work as well and the more you’re on there and active on social media.

“This time last year on Facebook I maybe had around 30,000 followers and now I’ve got just over 60,000 because I started uploading at least one photo a day and all my friends have got a lot more active and I guess it just got a lot more out there and I’ve definitely see the rewards from that.”

Although Hareb says “it would be awesome” not to have to upload a picture of herself every day.

“It’s just the way it’s going and men have to do it too.”

Joseph welcomes the initiative from Getty saying the portrayal of female athletes was often subtly sexist.

“A big bike brand was shooting photos for a catalogue and the men were out riding quite gnarly trails in the woods, and it looked intense and the women were shot on a sunny, single track section - and that is a patronising view.”

Hareb says how female athletes portray themselves is personal but should be their choice.  

“I can’t tell other women what they should do, but be true to yourself and also recognise that our society does have these sometimes unconscious ideas about women.”