Author and social media editor Bethany Rutter is pushing for better visual representation of all body shapes and sizes
When thinking of digital media, stock photos undoubtedly make up a great deal of the imagery we are consuming day-to-day. In fact, there are about 350 million of these pictures available for use throughout North America and Europe, according to Stock Photo Secrets, a magazine dedicated to the industry. While taking a look through some of the most popular stock photo searches of the moment – phrases like ‘women shopping,’ ‘distracted boyfriend,’ ‘business meeting,’ ‘new home,’ ‘woman eating a salad,’ or ‘taking a selfie’ – chances are, the people in those photos are thin.
Bethany Rutter, author and social media editor at plus-size brand navabi, realised as much and took action. “It’s virtually impossible to find an image featuring a plus-size person,” reads a press release for navabi’s recently-launched gallery of plus-size stock images (spearheaded by Rutter), for which they recreated some of the most-downloaded stock-pics out there. “In my opinion, it’s important to end the default presence of thinness in images and represent a diverse range of body shapes and sizes.”
Given that the average woman in the UK wears a size 16, and 67 per cent of women in the US are plus-size, seeing only straight-size people in our lifestyle, sex and relationships, fashion, or beauty content is far from realistic. “For me, so much of representation discourse is about feeling at home in the world,” Rutter tells us. “It’s not the be all and end all – not all representation is good representation – but it’s a place to start from. Stock images might seem like a minor issue, but if every article you ever read online is illustrated by a photo of a thin person – not even just stories about actresses and models and singers, but articles about lifestyle, too – then I don’t really know when you ever get to see a plus-size woman. We can't just hold out for stories about Lizzo!”
In navabi’s gallery, which is now available online and free for anyone to use, there are groups of plus-size babes taking selfies. There are queer plus-size couples, straight plus-size couples, plus-size boss-babes, and so much more. Seeing fat people in these scenarios is far from abnormal – after all, big people often participate in the same activities as small ones. And yet, it’s far from normalised to see this depicted in stock images – which are, at their core, meant to be a representation of all the things (both mundane and meaningful) that make up so much of our lives.
Slowly, certain outlets are catching on to the disparity between size diversity in stock photos and size diversity IRL. Women’s sites like Refinery29 and Bustle often shoot their own stock images, so as to make space for humans of all sizes, sexualities, abilities, etc. AllGo, a comprehensive online resource for fat people, also created a beautiful stock image gallery of plus-size babes simply living their lives. Navabi’s gallery is the newest addition to this subset of inclusive stock imagery, but there’s still a long way to go before this kind of work becomes the standard. “I feel like really useful work is being done in this area by women's media sites, but it's only the most explicitly conscientious ones that seem to do it,” explains Rutter. “It would be amazing to see that expand to more generalist, less expressly feminist sites. It would be good if this was perceived as a neutral proposition rather than a radical one, and taken on board by other media organisations.”
Truth be told, there’s nothing radical about plus-size people getting on with their lives – with office jobs, shopping trips, post-work drinks, or romantic encounters. The representation of this shouldn’t need to be considered radical, either.