Deakin University

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The athletic labour of femininity: the branding and consumption of global celebrity sportswomen on Instagram

journal contribution
posted on 2018-04-28, 00:00 authored by Kim ToffolettiKim Toffoletti, H Thorpe
This article explores the relationship between female athletic representation and online fan engagement on the photo-based social media platform Instagram. It argues that social media interaction between female athletes and fans is governed by gender norms and arrangements that expect and reward female athletic articulations of empowerment, entrepreneurialism and individualisation in the context of postfeminism and neoliberalism. Examining the Instagram feeds of five global sport stars, this study demonstrates that the feedback of fans and followers to sportswomen’s posts play a critical role in influencing the gendered work undertaken by female athletes to present an appealing “brand”, according to the desires of the market. We propose a new conceptual framework – the athletic labour of femininity – to understand the ways in which elite sportswomen cultivate an authentic brand in the sports marketplace. More than a type of “bodywork”, the athletic labour of femininity responds to consumer expectations that women demonstrate a successful feminine subjectivity characterised by notions of personal choice, individual responsibility and self-management and takes the form of emphasising empowered femininity, celebrating hetero-sexiness, and revealing personal intimacies as part of crafting a feminine sporting persona which draws online comment and likes from followers and fans. By focusing on the role online fan interaction plays in shaping the athletic labour of femininity, this research advances existing studies of how representations of sportswomen are produced and consumed by paying particular attention to the social conditions influencing how sportswomen choose to represent the self online, and the gender power relations that serve to govern expressions of desirable athletic femininity.



Journal of consumer culture






London, Eng.





Publication classification

C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

Copyright notice

2017, The Authors




Sage Publications