Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Master of Arts




Morrow, Don


Social media sites vastly have changed the ways in which athletes can interact with their fans. Positioned within the area of feminist cultural studies, this thesis employs a mixed-methods approach to examine how 8 selected female athletes display their bodies on Instagram via posted photos; how the public responds to this content via photo comments; and how these interactive postings fit with wider socio-cultural and historical contexts of women’s bodies in sport and physical activity. Using Erving Goffman’s theory on self-presentation and Jurgen Habermas’ theory on the public sphere, I conceive Instagram as both stage and space for public deliberation. Despite the autonomy over curating content that Instagram allows, images of women’s bodies were often perceived from a sexual lens regardless of the presence of sexualization in an image. Photo comments provide insight into public understanding of discourses on women’s bodies in sport, health and fitness, wherein sportswomen continued to be situated within traditional gender stereotypes. Four overarching themes were developed based on photo comments: 1) women as bodies first, and athletes second; 2) women as “women” first and athletes second; 3) the paradoxes between cultural constructions of femininity and athlete, with particular focus on the difference in treatment between black and white athletes and; 4) impression management and its role in reinforcing health and fitness as a consumable product.