Sex Roles [sers] pp1103-sers-480099 February 13, 2004 21:48 Style ﬁle version June 3rd, 2002
Sex Roles, Vol. 50, Nos. 5/6, March 2004 (
Living the Paradox: Female Athletes Negotiate
Femininity and Muscularity
Precilla Y. L. Choi,
Shannon M. Baird,
Christine M. Aimar,
and Kerrie J. Kauer
Sportswomen live in 2 cultures: the sport culture that is inherently masculine and the larger
social culture where femininity is celebrated for women. In this investigation, which was
grounded in feminist cultural studies, we pursued the research question: how do female ath-
letes negotiate and reconcile the social expectations surrounding femininity with athleticism?
Twenty-one female college athletes participated in focus group interviews about body im-
age and perceptions of muscularity and femininity. Data analysis resulted in 3 higher order
themes: the inﬂuence of hegemonic femininity, athlete as other, and physicality. These athletes
expressed that being feminine contrasted with being athletic. They further conveyed that as
athletes, they were marginalized and perceived as different from “normal” women. Yet, they
also were proud of their strong, developed bodies and expressed feelings of empowerment
that generalized beyond the sport context.
KEY WORDS: body image; muscularity; femininity; female athletes.
Physically active women and girls face an intrigu-
ing paradox: Western culture emphasizes a feminine
ideal body and demeanor that contrasts with an ath-
letic body and demeanor. Sportswomen, therefore,
live in two cultures, the sport culture and their larger
social culture, wherein social and sport ideals clash.
This lived paradox may have a multitude of effects
on female athletes, and the research provides varied
accounts of their body image, eating behaviors, self-
presentation, and self-esteem. Some researchers have
found that female athletes have a more positive body
image, healthier eating patterns, and are less likely
to become pregnant accidentally than their nonath-
letic peers (Marten-DiBartolo & Shaffer, 2002; Miller,
Sabo, Farrell, Barnes, & Melnick, 1999).Yet, other re-
searchers have found that the sport environment cre-
ates pressures that lead to unhealthy practices such
Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio.
Victoria University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa.
University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee.
To whom correspondence should be addressed at Women’s
Studies, 230 East Hall, Bowling Green State University, Bowling
Green, Ohio 43403; e-mail: email@example.com.
as disordered eating, excessive exercising, and train-
ing through injuries (e.g., Duquin, 1994; Johns, 1996;
Krane, Greenleaf, & Snow, 1997).
To comprehend the sporting experiences of fe-
male athletes it is important to consider the cultural
inﬂuences that can potentially alter their experiences,
behaviors, and psychological states. Therefore, to ap-
preciate these inﬂuences on individual experiences
and remain consistent with previous research (Krane,
Waldron, Michalenok, & Stiles-Shipley, 2001), this in-
vestigation of femininity and muscularity in female
athletes is grounded in feminist cultural studies. Cul-
tural studies scholars examine common practices that
shape all aspects of social life (Frow & Morris, 2000).
They focus on how these practices are socially con-
structed, how they create cultural meanings, and their
role in establishing differential power and privilege
in society. Analysis from this perspective concerns
the social construction of customs or collective prac-
tices and their consequences (Barker, 2002). This
leads to a contextually speciﬁc analysis of representa-
tion, power, and oppression. Feminist cultural studies
scholars speciﬁcally focus on the interaction of gen-
der and culture. They interrogate how social practices
2004 Plenum Publishing Corporation