Every day you are bombarded with photographic lies. They seem innocent in their ridiculousness, just filler for space in a television graphic, or an ad for a class on how to finally lose the weight and stop wearing so many clothes! I’m talking about STOCK PHOTOS, the HPV of the media world.
Disclaimer: I’m qualified to say this because I have actually had to use stock photos in my previous career as a TV producer. I tried very hard not to think about the implications of the photos we used, as long as it hit all the legal and aesthetic checkpoints. (Try not to face the gun graphic towards the anchor’s head!) Our choices were often extremely limited in the database, we were all strung out on caffeine, hungover, short on time and the higher-ups fired all the graphics people so they could afford robot cameras and fire the camera people. You get the picture. The cultural ramifications of stock photos were not an urgent priority.
But here’s why they hurt you, especially if you’re not fully paying attention. Take a boy who grows up seeing photos all over the damn place of women laughing alone with salad, or skinny-fat ladies lifting Barbie weights while giggling, or a woman of perfectly normal body weight staring at a scale with a despondent look on her face. That’s exactly what he is going to think the relationship between a woman and her body is– at least on some level. By the time he’s grown, he’s already received messages his whole life that women cannot be taken seriously. Who chuckles over a salad while staring into a camera lens? A f*cking crazy person. I shudder to think how that effect could ripple out through his lifetime, tainting his attitudes towards women in business, female health policy, relationships, and more. How can a woman effectively serve our country in combat if she is worried about the next time she will get to frown at a scale? How do women not burst into flames when they come into contact with a barbell? Don’t they know where the neon plastic weights are? (Hell, while I’m on that rant– many women look at each other as suspect. No wonder we have so many women who think it’s okay to be a misogynist.)
There is something being done about the careless portrayal of women in media. It’s small… but it’s happening, thanks in big part to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. This week her equality organization LeanIn debuted a new line of stock photos through Getty Images, giving countless media outlets a source for stock photos of real women doing real things! Click here for Time‘s examples of the new, improved images versus their old, sexist counterparts. No, really. Click. I’ll wait. And I want you to go to number 6 and 8, specifically.
New and improved exercise stock photo number 6 depicts a woman prepping for an overhead squat. She’s got guns. (Coach’s note: Would like to see more external rotation!) Still, she looks at home with her barbell, gymnastic rings in the background, ready for some Rx ring dips. She is ready to overhead squat the lady in Old Number 6, who is absolutely giddy over her scale. (“Finally, I’ve lost enough muscle to make my goal weight!”)
New and improved pregnant fitness photo number 8 shows a mom-to-be, dumbbells (not pink ones!) in hand, lunging her way through a warehouse floored with equestrian mats, visible rings and stacks of bumper plates in the background. Sounds familiar! Let’s look at her old friend, the grudgingly glowing mommy cradling her scale to her face, other hand on her expanding belly, as though she loves pregnancy, but loves her pre-baby weight more. Le sigh.
I cannot tell you how stoked I am that strength training is a highly visible part of this equality movement. I’ve been powerlifting since I was in middle school, well before CrossFit ever emerged from the depths of the strength & conditioning community to give us a viable way to define and pursue complete fitness en masse. No one –not even haters– can argue with the fact that CrossFit gets more hands on barbells, and women particularly. Women stand to gain from LeanIn’s efforts just like they do strength training: Slowly, deliberately, one rep, one photo at a time.