Stock Photography Is Broken…And How We Can Fix It
I had a strange experience the other day while scrolling on Facebook. I came across an ad for Golden 1 Credit Union featuring an image of someone who looked like me. When I say looked like me, I mean her body reflected the size and shape of mine- a body like 67 percent of women in the US who are above a size 14 (or according to some statistics, 16).
This experience was shocking, confusing and exciting at the same time. Frankly, if I were in the market for a Credit Union I would most certainly have clicked into the ad to inquire more.
The ad stopped me in my tracks to the point where I took a screenshot of it, because it is rare for me to see ads featuring people like me. Not only within fashion and beauty, but within other consumer-facing industries as well. Its almost as if advertisers don’t think plus-size women buy houses, cars, or have credit card accounts. Even in the world of B2B marketing, there appears to be any acknowledgement that service or software purchasing decisions could be made by women of different shapes of sizes.
Most people don’t spend a lot of time thinking about imagery, or stock imagery for that matter. I do. I do because plus-size women make up only 2% of the images we see. Part of that reason could be due to a lack of demographically accurate stock photography available for use.
A recent search for the term “women” on Getty Images reveals an ethnically and age-diverse assortment of women. What it clearly and visibly lacks is diversity of size. When one dives deeper into searches for images of “business women” — the same results abound. Quite an assortment of ethnically and age-diverse women, but no diversity of size- at least not after scrolling down multiple pages. Another search for “plus size women” mostly featured women either exercising, holding their stomachs, or eating a salad.
Susan Sontag, an American writer, filmmaker, philosopher, teacher, and political activist who passed away in 2004 once wrote “Photographs are evidences not only of what’s there, but of what an individual sees. Not just a record, but an evaluation of the world.” If then, 67% of the women in the United States are not seeing themselves represented and seen, how can they feel inspired to make a purchase?
When brands do actually use demographically accurate imagery, they find positive commercial outcomes. In 2015, Adore Me, an online lingerie company ran a variety of :30 spots on channels like Bravo, Lifetime and MTV. One spot featured blonde models, one featured a plus-size brunette model and one featured multiple brunette models. They reviewed online metrics throughout the duration of these ads and saw that the plus-size model quadrupled online sales in comparison to the other ads. According to the brand, the increase in sales was not only in women buying plus-sizes — the use of plus-size imagery in this context boosted the total pie.
In 2016, Refinery29 partnered with Getty Images on the 67 percent project which was focused on increasing representation of plus-size women in Refinery29's imagery to reflect the fact that 67 percent of women are size 14 or larger. During the launch week, 67% of all the bodies Refinery29 featured on their site, newsletter, Instagram and Snapchat channels were plus-size. They partnered with Getty Images in a distribution agreement to make the imagery available to other outlets that wanted to participate in closing the representation gap. This was an innovative idea and no doubt benefited both brands from a publicity and revenue perspective.
So- where does this leave us? I believe that there are business opportunities which can lead to sales and customer engagement, and in the process destimgatize weight?
1) Create Plus-Size Photography: Photography is costly and time-consuming and brands are often not willing to invest the energy especially if it takes away from their core business. If you are a website or brand that needs to capture this imagery during your normal course of business- consider finding distribution opportunities as an additional revenue stream. If you are a photographer, consider developing a niche with this demographic and securing distribution partnerships as well.
2) Distribute Plus-Size Photography: Search through Instagram, Snapchat and other social platforms and strike photo distribution partnerships with influencers who you think would have commercial appeal.
3) Create an Agency: Consider creating a vertically integrated agency where you can source models (possibly also from social media), take photos and create ads for the brands that need them.
In conclusion, I believe that the changing demographics offer ample opportunities to do well by doing good. Helping to update imagery so that it truly reflects the current population is one of them.
If this resonated with you and is important to you, please consider sharing. If you are interested in continuing this conversation, please feel free to send me an email @firstname.lastname@example.org
Cheng, Andrea. “There’s a Reason You’re Seeing More Curvy Models in Mass-Market Fashion Campaigns.” Glamour, 3 October, 2017, https://www.glamour.com/story/curvy-models-commercial-fashion-casting
O’Brien, Sara Ashley. “Plus-size models sell more bras.” CNN, 5 May, 2015, https://money.cnn.com/2015/03/17/technology/startup-adore-me/index.html
Refinery 29 Editors. “With We are the 67%, Refinery29 Makes a Promise.” Refinery 29, 25 October, 2017, https://www.refinery29.com/2017/10/177989/67-project-recommit-plus-size-women
Deborah A. Christel & Susan C. Dunn (2017) Average American women’s clothing size: comparing National Health and Nutritional Examination Surveys (1988 — 2010) to ASTM International Misses & Women’s Plus Size clothing, International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education, 10:2, 129–136, DOI: 10.1080/17543266.2016.1214291