Dove and Getty Launch a More-Honest Stock Photo Collection—of Women, by Women

Project #ShowUs offers a much-needed diversity update

Dove / Getty
Headshot of T.L. Stanley

There’s a reason why so many unrealistic images (think thin, white and perpetually bikini clad) get picked up and used across social media, news stories and ad campaigns—it’s possible to find empowered, diverse women in stock photography, but it’s a real slog to get there.

Dove, Getty Images and female-led creative agency Girlgaze are tackling that problem head on with Project #ShowUs, a new collection of 5,000 photos that, they creators say, “shows women as they are, not as others believe they should be.” In other words, there’s “no digital distortion, just an unapologetically inclusive vision of beauty.”

Originating in 39 countries, the photos come from 116 female, non-binary and female-identifying photographers, and, in a first for Getty, the 179 subjects have created their own search descriptions and tags for their images, “so she is defining how she wants to be seen, on her own terms.” (Some of those terms include “blackgirlmagic,” “bosslady” and “enlightened.”)

Don’t expect cheesy representations like “women laughing alone with salad” to go away overnight. But with options like these available, it’s harder to make excuses for falling back on tropes and publishing stereotypical shots. And that’s the point — to make it easier and quicker to find culturally relevant images of a wide variety of confident, successful, kickass females.

Dove, with its long “Real Women” history, commissioned a study of 9,000 women and released its stats to bolster the launch of the photo collection. The numbers are sobering, exposing what Sophie Galvani, global vp of the Unilever brand, called “an appearance anxiety epidemic.”

Women have long reported a blow to their self-esteem because of unrealistic imagery in media, and that figure doubled in the past decade (rising from 14 percent to 36 percent), the research found. On a global scale, 70 percent of women don’t feel accurately represented by the images they see everyday, and 71 percent wish media and advertisers did a better job in portraying age, race, shape and size.

At the same time, searches for a broader swath of women have been increasing, Getty says. “Real people” searches climbed by 192 percent in the past year, “diverse women” by 168 percent, “strong women” by 187 percent” and “women leaders” by 202 percent.

Girlgaze founder Amanda de Cadenet called the project “a game-changing initiative,” and Getty Images’ Rebecca Swift predicted that it will “break visual cliches on an unprecedented scale.”

Getty execs say they hope to double the size of the collection by next year.

It’s another advance in a broader long-fought battle against a stock photo industry that’s often seen as less-than thoughtful. PETA’s years-long concerted effort to to wipe out imagery of primates in “unnatural” settings and poses (chimps riding bikes and wearing makeup, for instance) paid off as services like Getty and Shutterstock vowed last year to take those photos out of circulation.

@TLStanleyLA T.L. Stanley is a senior editor at Adweek, where she specializes in consumer trends, cannabis marketing, meat alternatives, pop culture, challenger brands and creativity.