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Visual Self-Portrayals of Athletes on Social Media

The final session at Social Media and Society is starting with Ann Pegoraro and Ashleigh-Jane Thompson, whose interest is in the visual coverage and self-presentation of athletes on social media. This can be linked to Goffman's ideas of backstage and frontstage performance, and also tends to play out quite differently depending on the athlete's gender.

This study selected a number of sports (male- and female-dominated, as well as gender-neutral), and examined the visual portrayal of athletes on their Instagram profiles, coding for a number of aspects (focus of the photo, categories of portrayal, and gender role).

Some 75% of all Instagram photos were athlete-focussed, and another 10% or so featured landmarks; 27-29% were in a non-sport setting, 17-20% showed athletic action, 17% were dressed for sports but posing. Differences between the genders were relatively limited on these aspects.

Athletes in male-appropriate sports were more likely to post food pictures as well as pictures portraying non-traditional gender roles. Athletes from Australia were more likely to post photos with others, while athletes from Canada were more likely to post photos in non-traditional gender roles.

One obvious next stage for this research is now to examine the responses of fans to these pictures, as well as to interview athletes about how they are seeking to portray themselves, and how this may relate to other pressures of being a professional athlete.