Media and Communication Ph.D. Dissertations


#underestimated: an intersectional approach to the exploration of girl athlete identities through photographic self-representations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Media and Communication

First Advisor

Sandra Faulkner (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Vikki Krane (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Radhika Gajjala (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Lara Lengel (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

Ray Schneider (Other)


Female athletes are now participating in sport at younger and younger ages (Kian et al, 2013). In 2015 it is assumed that a post-Title IX athlete lives in a world with widespread social acceptance (Kane 1989.) Kane concluded in 1989 that female athletes and events are highly underreported in the mass media and young girls and women are often presented in stereotypic ways. The sad thing is that 26 years later not much has changed. However, female athletes are still underrepresented, and trivialized in mainstream media (Messner, et al. 2015). Building on this foundational knowledge, it is important to know how girl athletes negotiate their bodies and identities in this sport domain as they construct their own female athlete identities. This dissertation examined how girl athletes prefer to be represented through self-constructed photo essays. In past research (Krane et al, 2010; Krane et al, 2011), female athletes choose to emphasize their own power and strength in the athleticism and girl athletes overall, appreciate these types of images. This exploration of girl athletes’ choice of photo representation is grounded in an multidisciplinary approach that conjoin an intersectional feminist framework and the Communication Theory of Identity as well as Cultural Contracts theory. Thirteen girl athletes constructed their own photo essays depicting what it means to them to “be a female athlete” and a one-on-one interview discussing their photo essays. Analysis of the interviews exposed 6 higher order themes that emerged from the data: school (the good and the bad); female athletes> are better than male athletes; look pretty play pretty; relationships; we want female role models; I am a female athlete. Overall, the girl athletes emphasized notions of female athlete empowerment and strength. However, they acknowledged the multicity of their identities and how those identities are contested. Ultimately each girl athlete discussed how their identities create tension and how they have managed to relieve the tension. How these conclusions incorporate identity gaps, mainstream media, and social media are discussed comparative to the conceptual framework.