PRETTY TERRIBLEDamn those sexy sports fans:

Globally, women’s football fandom is on the rise, with women comprising around 40 per cent of worldwide television audiences for the 2014 men’s FIFA World Cup.

Couple this with the growing prominence of the women’s World Cup — to be held again next year in France — and it’s clear that football mega-events are no longer just for men, The Conversation reports.

Yet, if you Google the terms “World Cup” and “women fans”, what appears is a constellation of international beauties, draped in their nation’s colours and flags — a sea of long hair, short shorts and cropped jerseys.

Why do these stereotypes about women sport fans persist and why are they so popular?

Research I conducted into online content featuring women at the last men’s World Cup in Brazil confirms that sexiness rules.

My study sampled over 100 pictures from mainstream media reports and found the most popular stories and images about women focused on young and slender fans in the stands who combined sexual empowerment with national allegiance.

In many of the images, women pose provocatively for the photojournalist’s camera. Followers pout playfully with lips painted in team colours. A Brazilian fan holds up her national flag to reveal a wide smile and a sequined bikini.

These portrayals of football fans offer examples of the new ways in which sexism in sport media works.

Ideas about women as passive objects for male consumption have given way to images of women “choosing” to present themselves in sexualised ways.

“Sexy fandom” is celebrated as a form of individual expression and personal style, reinforcing the wider cultural expectations for young women to present themselves in sport contexts in ways that do not threaten men’s primacy.

Despite widespread criticism of sexism in sport media, and initiatives to counter sexualised images of women sport fans, the stereotype of the sexy supporter continues to flourish. For women fans who don’t look this way, or choose not to, the cost is media invisibility.

Stay strong, everyone! One day we will finally live in a world where no one is attracted anymore to pretty people. The long march of appearance egalitarianism has started, and we won’t rest until everyone has the same odds of capturing the lens’s or the eye’s attention.

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