Faculty Publications

Performance or Appearance: Paradoxical Generalized Others of the College Female Athletes

Document Type

Book Chapter


appearance, college female athletes, generalized other, George Herbert Mead, performance

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Symbolic Interaction and Inequality



First Page


Last Page



In August, 2015, Serena Williams, one of the most successful female athletes of all time, was body shamed in a New York Times article. The incident highlights the issue of unequal treatment of male and female athletes - while a muscular frame enhances masculinity for male athletes, a muscular physique invites body shaming for female athletes. In this study, symbolic interactionist theories regarding the generalized other are called into question. While George Mead’s theorizing exhibits a nonproblematic role taking of the generalized other in a cooperative manner, this study reports the presence of paradoxical generalized others, and consequently, the incongruent role taking of a latent generalized other by individuals. This study investigates if the issue of body image exists among college female athletes, if college female athletes experience the dilemma of choosing between outstanding performance with a muscular frame or maintaining traditional female appearance. To provide answers to the question, female athletes in a midwest university were invited to fill out a survey. The survey results confirm the existence of a paradox between performance and appearance among some college female athletes.


Department of Communication and Media

Original Publication Date


DOI of published version