By India Hagen-Gates
A movie star, a model, a dancer, or a makeup artist, all of these professions are highly respectable and are often a dream job for little girls. While it’s true that not all little girls want to be princesses anymore, there is still a long way to go to encourage young women to pursue other careers. One way which young girls choose their dream job is through what they see in front of them. When they are constantly exposed to princesses, actresses, and ballerinas, they begin to dream of a glamorous life all grown up, doing exactly what their idols do. So is it any surprise that girls don’t dream of growing up to be professional athletes?
Participating in sports is so important for developing social skills, gaining confidence, and finding a passion at a young age. And yet, there is still a huge number of young girls
dropping out of playing sports. There are many reasons that girls decide to drop out of their sport; the cost may be too high, transportation issues, and there is still bullying involved with female sports. Also, there is a lack of positive role models. There are constant images of beauty and messages delivered to young girls to be sweet and feminine. This image of the perfect girl can create contrast with the strong image presented by female athletes. Yet, it is important for young girls to see this side of femininity. To hold a female athlete as a role model can encourage young girls to stay in sports and pursue their dreams in that sport. Also, staying in sports helps to foster positive self image and practice leadership and confidence skills.
Increasing coverage of female sports can benefit the growth of young girls, but the coverage by mass media often reinforces gender stereotypes, presenting male athletes as superior and female athletes as out of place. By framing female athletes in a different light than male athletes, media outlets can turn off girls from following female athletes rather than gaining a loyal supporter. However, with the rise of social media, coverage of female athletes has begun to change. Many collegiate teams have taken to social media to gain a larger fan base. Articles posted on school’s official website still were more likely to be posted about men’s sports, but the number of posts about women’s sports began to rise. On Facebook and Twitter, colleges post more about their women teams than men and their women teams began drawing more media attention for that. By increasing athletic coverage on social media, colleges were able to place positive role models in front of young girls as well as increase attention for their female athletes.
One female athlete in particular who was able to garner support through social media was Olympic gymnast, Shawn Johnson. Johnson, now 24, participated in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, taking home two gold medals and one silver medal for the USA. After that high bar of success, Johnson returned to many negative comments and unfair criticism from traditional media outlets and social media. Female athletes, just like male athletes, open themselves up to criticism for their performances. However, Johnson was not receiving comments about her Olympic performance or getting critiqued on her skill, commenters were only paying attention to her looks. Instead of accepting these comments, Johnson teamed up with Dove, creating the hashtag #MyBeautyMySay. Through the campaign, Johnson exposed how negative comments about an athlete’s looks can overshadow their performance and accomplishments. The hashtag encourages Twitter users to contact media outlets to change negative and sexist headlines and focus on an athlete’s performance. Johnson’s use of social media in the campaign involves a wide range of audiences: her supporters, young girls, and sports fans. By engaging these audiences, Johnson was able to not only draw attention to the challenges female athletes face but show that there is a large majority who are not okay with the portrayal.
Female athletes face many challenges in their industry that male athletes do not have to think about. They are faced with immense pressure to use social media as a role model, harsh critics in the media, and the fight for coverage. Both women and men athletes alike are discovering social media has both positive and negative affects. Female athletes have been able to use social media to boost coverage and garner support from loyal fans, but social media has also exposed negative comments about female athletes. All of this has influenced young girls. They see the coverage of female athletes and form opinions based on it. So as female athletes grow in popularity, young girls can be inspired. And as negative comments grow, they can be discouraged. As society watches, they must be aware of the consequences of every action, post, and comment.