Our lives are filled with images. We take out our iPhones to capture a moment, pause conversations at dinners for photographs, and even turn up cameras instead of dancing during concerts. Images have become such an integral part of our daily experiences that we don’t realize just how many we process every day.
Stock photos are cheesy. We know this. (We’ve all seen “Woman laughing alone with salad.”) You cannot escape them; they are everywhere: on billboards, in brochures, in pamphlets at the doctor’s office, and commercials. They even appear as articles for women’s organizations (like this one), making them completely unavoidable.
The majority of stock images lack diversity when it comes to ethnicity, age, and industry – that is, except for the Lean In Getty Collection. Many images of working women play into the myth of “having it all, and looking good while doing it,” are absurdly sexist, and ridiculous. They go well beyond trite and play into society’s conflicting views about women.
Instead of a typical situation like mine, yesterday: a Millennial woman working on her laptop while sitting on hold with the electricity company, stock photos often depict an out-of-touch image; for example, a woman in pearls balancing her checkbook. We must strive to create more relatable and inspirational visuals that are grounded in reality.
To demonstrate this, a few simple search queries offer numerous examples.
+10 points for studious glasses.
Now, let’s add some adjectives…
(note the nails please)
Attending to business without a shirt beneath your blazer is not suitable for the workplace.
This is what “having it all” looks like.
And the holy grail…
If you weren’t taken aback by the previous data, this is your cue to discontinue reading.
Failing to change these stereotypical images of women reinforces their belittling implications. We embed a vision in our minds quicker than we can read the news headline, so flipping through magazines and skimming over words, watching newspaper photos without reading captions, or judging books by their covers will only keep cementing negative perceptions. Photo editors and designers possess the capacity to shape reality with their pick of photographs. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words; when placed in an environment where decisions must be made quickly without pause for contemplation or analysis, that sentiment holds even more weight.
Our culture often implies that bold stances, such as hands-on-hips or a blazer, demonstrate power and professionalism. But when these expressions become too excessive, they can appear unnatural and unconvincing. These images might look ridiculous when lined up, but they become more meaningful when utilized in a serious context such as illustrating an article or promoting a product. I don’t suggest that we get rid of stock photography altogether – millions of photos are available from “not too bad” to stunningly beautiful. All I’m saying is that critical thinking must be applied here.
Although this small selection of examples was purposely chosen to illustrate the issue, they are nonetheless a representation of an even bigger problem. Images have the power to reinforce existing perceptions and can be used in a non-sarcastic/satirical way. Indeed, such images are already being utilized for this purpose. The idea of the “working woman” is breaking away from the traditional boxy power suit, as showcased in our My Power Outfit series. Through this collection we are showing how women today don’t need to fit into old-fashioned stereotypes; no longer just working women who appear with perfect hair and are balanced between an infant and a computer! Instead, Gen Y and beyond can embrace their dynamic vision for success.
Transform your workout gear into a power ensemble, and convert your backpack to a briefcase. Now take on the world with confidence – sans gloves, hat, or megaphone!