Why Fitness Stock Photos Are Failing Us All
The images we have at our disposal fall seriously short at depicting strong, healthy women of all shapes and sizes, and we need your help
Earlier this week, we launched our #LoveMyShape body pos, anti-body shaming campaign. The goal of #LoveMyShape is to highlight the strong, beautiful, badass women who inspire us and continue the complex and nuanced conversation around body confidence. We have no shortage of story ideas that we can't wait to share with you, but finding great images to accompany them? Now, that's another story.
As digital editors who spend countless hours in stock photo databases searching for the perfect photo of a kettlebell swing or downward dog pose, we already knew that the options in the wellness and fitness realm can be limited, to say the least. The bottom line is, if you're looking to find body types outside of very thin or extremely chiseled women with six-packs and bulging biceps, you'll be looking for a while.
And don't even get us started on photos of women eating. You might already be aware of the alarming number of pictures of skinny women laughing alone while eating salad after a gallery highlighting the hilarious stock photo trend became an Internet sensation a few years ago. But search for something like 'woman eating hamburger' and you'll be just as shocked at the way larger women are shamed and stereotyped in almost every photo. Often, it's sitting in front of enough french fries, pizza, hamburgers, and hot dogs to feed ten people, or literally stuffing their mouths with junk food. (Because apparently you have to be a certain weight to eat a salad and if you eat fast food you must naturally be a disgusting slob with no table manners!)
Weight loss photos are just as bad. Search for any combo of 'woman' and 'weight loss' and right away you'll see a skinny woman who doesn't need to lose weight standing on a scale with a shocked expression on her face, pinching her non-existent stomach fat (otherwise known as skin), or with a tape measure around her tiny waist. And again, you'll see heavier women depicted in unflattering and straight-up insulting ways-trying to button up a pair of pants about three sizes too small, trying to cut her stomach with an actual scissor ("fat woman trying to get rid of excess fat," it's called), or with a liposuction syringe sticking into her. Enough is enough.
So where are the photos of strong, healthy women of all shapes kicking ass in the gym? Why are larger women only portrayed as either unhappy, unhealthy, or trying to lose weight? And why should the quality of images depend on the size of the model? The fact that stock imagery falls seriously short at depicting fit women who don't look like well, fitness models, is frustrating for us, and we know it is for you too. (These images can also fail at demonstrating actual proper workout form, but that's another story.)
When we scroll through our social media feeds and see fit, curvy models like Ashley Graham and Iskra Lawrence or celebs like our cover star Khloe Kardashian, we're reminded again and again that the world of stock photos has a lot of catching up to do. We wish that we'd see more women like this-like you and me and all of our readers-represented in the images that we (and every website) have at our disposal. The reality of publishing a lot of daily content means that we will always need to use stock photos or photos we don't shoot ourselves. And we try really hard to dig for the most body pos images we can find (seriously, we spend hours). But we'll admit it-if you comb through some of our thousands of old stories, you will probably see examples where we just couldn't find anything else that worked. Believe us, we're disappointed about that too.
We aren't the first to point out the ways in which stock photos are limiting when it comes to depicting strong women. Sheryl Sandberg's non-profit organization LeanIn.org partnered with Getty Images to change the stereotypical, sexist imagery out there of women in the workplace. As a result, Getty now has a Lean In collection, a library of 6,000 images 'devoted to the powerful depiction of women, girls, and the people who support them.' (We bought some Lean In images for the campaign-thanks, Sheryl!)
But we'd love to see the same happen in the world of wellness and fitness-starting now. Help us represent you on our site by posting a photo of yourself on Instagram or Twitter, using the hashtag #LoveMyShape, and you may just see it on our site. (Don't worry, we'll give you a heads' up.) We'll even go first-the image on this story features one of our very own Shape.com staffers. Let's show the pros how it's really done!