Date of Award

May 2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Writing Program


Lois Agnew


Female Athletes, Gender, Performance, Race, Sexuality, Sports

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities


In my dissertation, “Sporting Bodies: The Rhetorics of Female Athletes,” I interrogate how female athletes are represented in the media, trace the dominant cultural images and discourses associated with these representations, illustrate how female athletes use venues such as ESPN The Magazine as a vehicle to represent themselves even as they are represented by ESPN in ways that are not entirely within their control, and examine how female athletes’ self-presentation in the Body Issues can be interpreted as strategic, rhetorical acts. This project begins by investigating how historical discourses have influenced women’s athletics and female athletes. Rhetorically examining historical discourses about female athletes and women’s bodies demonstrate how patterns of marginalization have developed and continue to function in contemporary sports and American culture. I then build out these discourses in our contemporary setting, specifically focusing on arguments made my feminist sports scholars and women’s sports advocates, which call for the media to solely focus on the athleticism of female athletes. I also I offer the critique that an important limitation of these arguments is the lack of discussion about the economic pressures that greatly influence professional athletes.

Additionally, a main focus of this dissertation is my rhetorical analysis of the visual and textual representations of female athletes in ESPN The Magazine’s Body Issues. I argue that we should resist interpretations of the representations of female athletes that position their sexual, racial, and feminine appearances as something to be ignored and devalued or as something that should be the focus of attention in themselves. The central goal in this project is to demonstrate how female athletes engage in rhetorical acts, via the representations of their bodies, that are complicated and often contradictory. A rhetorical analysis of the female athletes in the Body Issues is especially provocative because it offers a way to look at the representations of these athletes’, to look at their multiple subjectivities, and consider how they use their bodily appearances, pose types, and interviews in order to maintain the structures of the sporting world, or to survive and/or to gain visibility, economic security, public recognition, and the power to speak. Ultimately, I argue that their collective rhetorical activity demonstrates how athletes use the Body Issues as a vehicle to work within and against the male-dominated sporting world and propel themselves, their sport, and the larger organization of women’s athletics into positions of power.


Open Access