Today, as I stood in the check-out line at a retail cosmetics store, I casually noticed the size diversity of the women waiting their turn. This was in sharp contrast to the giant posters in the windows advertising a much narrower definition of beauty. So I looked at the women around me more closely, even catching a glimpse of my own reflection in one of the many mirrors. No one, not even the sales person behind the counter, looked anything like those huge ads for what our money could (supposedly) buy, yet I clearly saw beauty in each person.
Honestly, I wasn’t surprised to find these images in a place where (mostly) women come to buy beauty—or at least what our culture has been sold as the definition of beautiful, but I am sick of seeing it everywhere else I turn: television, movies, magazines, news, websites, blogs, and social media. It is frustrating to constantly have the “thin-ideal” shoved at me as the epitome of beauty and the picture of health. Yes, thin people are beautiful. In fact, people of all sizes are beautiful. But you can’t tell anything about a person’s health simply by looking at them.
If a picture speaks a 1000 words, they tell the story of weight stigma.
I believe that photos are a common source—and cause—of stereotypes and weight stigma. My team and I have viewed literally thousands of photos for our website, blogs, social media, and PowerPoint presentations. We’ve found it incredibly difficult to find beautiful pictures showing the natural diversity of sizes that the people around us exhibit.
Instead, we frequently come across many photos of model-thin women happily eating fruit or salads. If they are eating chocolate or other delicious foods, they often look guilty. When looking for images of people exercising, nearly everyone is super thin and fit—representing only a fraction of the people who exercise regularly. We also find lots of images showing thin people judging others for their choices. That isn’t a fair characterization.
In contrast, photos of people in larger bodies (when we can find them) are far more likely to be depicted as sedentary and/or gorging on junk food, looking miserable, or ashamed. If they are exercising, they typically appear to be in pain. We also come across photos emphasizing their belly or buttocks, or headless photos implying shame. When we finally find great images we can use, we recognize the same models over and over. Surely, there has to be more than a handful of larger bodied people willing to have a beautiful photo taken of them for money!
It is much harder to find images of larger people enjoying a variety of delicious foods without appearing mindless or guilty, or find photos showing them happily engaged in physical activity—or anything for that matter.
Here are a few steps you can take to tackle this one aspect of the larger problem of weight stigma.
- Become conscious of the images you see when looking at any form of media. Do the pictures reflect the true diversity of the sizes and shapes around you? Do they reinforce stereotypes and weight stigma? What is the intended purpose of showing these images—to motivate you to buy a product or an idea?
- While many believe that certain images are inspiring, pay attention to how you feel as you view these images. Envious? Less than? Guilty? Ashamed? Hopeless? Notice your physical reactions; your body is giving you clues about the emotional effects images are having on you.
- If you find that a particular magazine, show, website, blog, or “friend” on social media uses images to reinforce stereotypes, steer clear! You cannot control what goes on in the world around you, but you are in charge of what you let in to your brain.
- If you see something, say something. News media, bloggers, merchandisers, advertisers, and others may not recognize their own bias. (And it sometimes happens unintentionally! We recently received a comment from Christine on a recent blog post that led us to add a new image and publish this article!)
- Intentionally and regularly view, as Christine suggests, “beautiful images of larger and otherwise diverse bodies to help reset your visual perspective and counter the stereotypical body-shaming images we all see every day.” Here are a few of the sites she suggested:
- http://www.voluptuart.com. Art and gifts for celebrating your body. Beautiful images (that you can own!) of body diversity.
- https://danceswithfat.wordpress.com. Find the gallery; shows video and photos of this gorgeous fat woman… dancing! Beautifully! Joyfully!
- http://www.adipositivity.com. Intended to “broaden definitions of physical beauty. Literally.” Note that this site contains nude images. If you’re new to adipositivity, you might want to start with this great article – with pictures, of course! – that recently appeared in Glamour magazine (now if that isn’t size diversity hitting the mainstream, I don’t know what is!): http://www.glamour.com/gallery/adipositivity-project-photos
- And Christine’s new Pinterest page https://www.pinterest.com/ccofer0399/images-of-beautiful-larger-bodies/: “I made a page with the results of my brief internet search for mainstream size-positive images. A lot of them came from Getty Images, which is where a lot of web designers get stock photos… so these images are out there (even if there aren’t many of them). Many of the others are from websites offering plus size workout wear.”
- And here is a great article that I found with several other great sites for you to look at: One Way to Start Liking Your Body
- If you are in a position to select images for any form of media, challenge yourself to find images that inspire health and self-care, not shame and stigma.
- It occurred to me that this is an incredible business opportunity for photographers and models since online media (like our website and social media accounts) must purchase the rights to use images. We would love to see a photo site that is intentional about offering images reflecting diversity of all kinds!
You Ought to Be In Pictures!
And finally, help us honor the diversity of human beings! Whatever your size, shape, age, ethnicity, sexual identity, ability, etc., don’t hesitate to post pictures of yourself spending time with people you love, engaged in a favorite hobby, eating something wonderful, having fun, moving your body… whatever you love! Let’s show the world that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes!
Editor’s Note: I guess we weren’t the only ones concerned about the lack of size (and other) diversity in stock photography! We just came across a new stock photo site: Representation Matters