If you need a photo of a slender white woman working in an office circa 1999 while wearing a white shirt and a navy blue skirt and jacket, well, stock photography is the place for you. Stock photography isn’t where you will find career diversity of any kind; most women wear the same outfit, have similar hair, and are all 35 or under. Here’s a great collection of typical stock images of women (now I have to go find some red boxing gloves, apparently).
Working women today are incredibly diverse something Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In, and Getty Images recognize. They are aiming to fix stock photography literally changing how people see women.
Ms. Sandberg said recently, “When we see images of women and girls and men, they often fall into the stereotypes that we’re trying to overcome, and you can’t be what you can’t see.”
Enter the new collection of images at Getty, which actually made me tear up a little, it’s so completely different and awesome. The opening photo is a little girl on a skateboard, completely brazen and unafraid. Now imagine how that would change an ad, and how it might change the little girl that sees the ad.
And I’ll confess I cannot tell you how thrilling it is to see stock photos of moms with tattoos (yes, because I am a mom with tattoos). Not to mention this lovely image of a teen girl that looks just like my neighbor’s daughter. Or this incredibly awesome image of the woman I want to be when I grow up, or this warehouse worker, or this father with a stroller, or this bi-racial family. They are lovely, they are different, and they look like the women I see in the real world every day.
Lean In editor Jessica Bennett talked about the purpose of this project and why it matters:
“The data behind this is pretty clear. This is something we’re surrounded by. The average girl sees 500 ads a day, and that’s probably a low estimate. This is the kind of stuff that is implicit and people internalize, but it’s sort of hard to call out. In a lot of ways the effect of imagery can be insidious because, unlike outright sexism, you can’t call it. There have been lots of studies about how women look to media for role models. If you’re only seeing women either completely oversexualized or in secretarial positions, what is that teaching you about what you can be in the world? I think we need to show women and girls and men images that reflect reality and can be inspirational or aspirational.”
Well done, Lean In and Getty Images. While this is only a collection of 2,500 images out of the 150 million at Getty Images, it’s a place to start. And Getty is so committed to making this change, it is offering two grant programs that will help create new stock photos like this. My daughter may grow up in a world where the girls she sees in ads look like her. I love it!