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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

According to the BBC, "Marilyn Monroe is perhaps Hollywood's most enduring sex symbol".[1]

A sex symbol or icon is a person or character widely considered sexually attractive and often synonymous with sexuality.[2]


Elvis Presley and Madonna, both famous celebrities who have been considered sex symbols. The latter has attracted a great deal of scholarly analysis in this vein.

The term sex symbol was first used between the 1910s and 1920s to describe the first emerging film stars of the era. Movie studios have relied heavily on the looks and sex appeal of their actors to be able to attract audiences.[2][3] The use of this concept increased during World War II.[4]

In the 20th century, sex symbols could be male as well as female: actors such as the romantic Sessue Hayakawa and the athletic Douglas Fairbanks were popular in the 1910s and 1920s. Archetypal screen lover Rudolph Valentino's death in 1926 caused mass hysteria among his female fans.[5][6] In Hollywood, many film stars were seen as sex symbols, such as Errol Flynn, Gary Cooper, and Clark Gable. The "bad boy" image of the 1950s was epitomized by sex symbols such as James Dean and Marlon Brando[7] and women like Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield and French superstar Brigitte Bardot were seen as the archetype of the blonde bombshell.[8]

While until the 1950s, the sex symbol was just seen as a sexual ideal, in the 1960s it was seen as a symbol of the emancipation of bodies and sexuality with the sexual revolution.[9]


In sports, many female athletes have become sex symbols.[10][11] Young males often prioritise female athlete's physiques over their performance.[12] Women are more likely to show more skin than men. [13] With Sports Illustrated being a main competition for ESPN, ESPN launched The Body Issue in 2009. The Body Issue caused controversies regarding perceived sexual objectification.[14] Sex appeal of female athletes is often used to promote their sport. During a Dan Patrick interview, Hope Solo expressed her concern over marketing of female athletes after she did The Body Issue.[15]

Fictional sex symbols

Rotten Tomatoes states that the 1930s cartoon character Betty Boop is "the first and most famous sex symbol on animated screen".[16] Jessica Rabbit (voiced by Kathleen Turner) from the 1988 live-action/animation crossover film Who Framed Roger Rabbit has been described as a sex symbol as well.[17] Video games have had several character that are considered sex symbols, such as Lara Croft,[18][19][20] who has had several appearances in mainstream media.

See also


  1. ^ "BBC World Service – Witness, The Death of Marilyn Monroe". BBC. 2012. Retrieved 30 December 2014.
  2. ^ a b Pam Cook, "The trouble with sex: Diana Dors and the Blonde bombshell phenomenon", In: Bruce Babinigton (ed.), British Stars and Stardom: From Alma Taylor to Sean Connery, pp. 169–171. Quote: "– the sex symbol is usually defined in terms of her excessive sexuality"
  3. ^ Williams, Gregory Paul (1990). The Story of Hollywood: An Illustrated History. B L Press. ISBN 978-0977629923.
  4. ^ Flexner, Stuart Berg; Soukhanov, Anne H. (1997). Speaking freely: a guided tour of American English from Plymouth Rock to Silicon Valley. Oxford University Press. p. 373. ISBN 978-0-19-510692-3.
  5. ^ Hutchinson, Pamela (22 February 2016). "Last of the red-hot myths: what gossip over Rudolph Valentino's sex life says about the silents". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 December 2017.
  6. ^ "The Queen at 90: The key events of 1926, in pictures". The DailyTelegraph. 21 April 2016. Archived from the original on 2022-01-12. Retrieved 12 December 2017.
  7. ^ Weinberg, Thomas S.; Newmahr, Staci, eds. (2014). Selves, Symbols, and Sexualities: An Interactionist Anthology: An Interactionist Anthology. Los Angeles: Sage Publications. ISBN 978-1483323893.
  8. ^ King, S. (2019). Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield. Blurb. ISBN 978-1388059033.
  9. ^ Bourget, Jean-Loup (1998). Hollywood, la norme et la marge. Armand Colin. ISBN 978-2200341763.
  10. ^ "Women Athletes as Sex Symbols". 6 November 2014.
  11. ^ Kane, Mary Jo (27 July 2011). "Sex Sells Sex, Not Women's Sports". {{cite magazine}}: Cite magazine requires |magazine= (help)
  12. ^ Daniels, Elizabeth A.; Wartena, Heidi (2011). "Athlete or Sex Symbol: What Boys Think of Media Representations of Female Athletes". Sex Roles. 65 (7–8): 566–579. doi:10.1007/s11199-011-9959-7. S2CID 144467684.
  13. ^ "Sports Magazine Covers Sexualize Female Athletes". Pacific Standard.
  14. ^ "The ESPN Body Issue and The Illusion of Nudity-Based Empowerment".
  15. ^ "Hope Solo Talks About Effect of Sex Appeal in Marketing Female Athletes". 24 August 2011.
  16. ^ "Betty Boop: Boop Oop a Doop". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 30 December 2014.
  17. ^ "Amanda Knox Is Like Jessica Rabbit". Sky News. 27 September 2011.
  18. ^ Barboza, David (19 January 1998). "Video World Is Smitten by a Gun-Toting, Tomb-Raiding Sex Symbol". The New York Times.
  19. ^ "Channel 4 Top 100 Sex Symbols internet poll". Retrieved 18 May 2012.
  20. ^ "Boom Raider". Telegraph. London. 24 June 2001. Archived from the original on 24 October 2008. Retrieved 5 March 2008.

Further reading

  • Donna Leigh-Kile, Sex Symbols, Random House Inc, Aug 28, 1999, ISBN 188331951X
This page was last edited on 7 September 2023, at 20:13
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