Brooke Ihnat: Strong Is Beautiful (?): A Multimodal Analysis of Strength and Beauty in Female and Male Sports Commercials

What inspired you to choose your MRP topic?

Sport has always played a huge role in my life, and I was always encouraged to be proud of my love of sport. Despite this encouragement I realized I was living a society that didn't value female athletes nearly as much as it does male athletes, and that women couldn't just be "good" at sports, they had to be beautiful as well. Failure to abide by these unwritten rules comes with consequences for female athletes as they are often ignored by the media. Reading great works by feminists like Laura Mulvey, Judith Butler and Naomi Wolf, I started thinking more and more about the intersection between beauty and the way sport is sold to audiences. The MRP was the perfect avenue to explore this topic.

What are the key findings of your research?

My MRP analyzes the language, music, images and textual elements in the Women's Tennis Association's “Strong Is Beautiful” commercial and AT&T's “Paul George Strong” commercial. Overall, the Strong is Beautiful ad attempted to be progressive by encouraging women to own their athleticism; however, when analyzing each modality-language, images, texts and music, the ad was anything but as it feminized all of the female athletes.  The “Strong is Beautiful” ad held women to an unattainable and vicious standard by equating strength and beauty. My MRP urges makers of female sports ads to identify what strength actually means to women, as it doesn't always mean lifting weights or doing chin ups and could be challenging traditional notions of what it means to be a female athlete. Until then, my MRP suggests sport cannot be deemed post-feminist.

How has your MRP research influenced the work you do now?

My MRP continues to influence the work I currently do. I work for a global brand as a Lead Communication Specialist, so I'm constantly ensuring that the work I do represents diversity. Since the company I work for is American based and given the political climate in the US, it is now more important than ever for me to continue to speak out about sexism and all other forms of inequality. Overall, my MRP has become a tool for me to use to discuss concerns that many women have, not just in sport, but in the workplace or their personal life. I will continue to use my voice to make positive change and I'm so thankful for having the chance to write on such an important topic that I hold so close to my heart.