Canva’s “Natural Women” Collection Changing Female Representation In Stock Photography

We’re big fans of the saying “if she can see it, she can be it”, a phrase often spoken by Geena Davis in many of her talks about gender inequality in Hollywood when it comes to on-screen representation. It is a saying that can really apply to almost every industry if we’re being honest, but also to the way general society is depicted in media.

There’s certainly a type of “default” imagery that gets portrayed in magazines, on websites, editorials etc that reinforces narrow beauty standards and norms that end up marginalizing, well, the MAJORITY of us! There’s a lot to be said about stock photography playing a role in publications and platforms perpetuating this narrow image.

Over the past couple of years we’ve seen organizations and companies such as Getty Images, the world’s largest online photo library, make a concerted effort to change the stock images they make available for editorials in the hope they can do their part in dismantling harmful norms.

They have banned photoshop, they’ve launched a campaign in conjunction with women’s platform Refinery29 to make more diverse imagery available, and they have also released a series of images about female athletes in the hope media will use more empowered images.

In 2017 the New York Times published an insightful article about the evolution of stock photos, and how the current feminist and female empowerment movement we are seeing everywhere in the zeitgeist has contributed to their most popular stock image of a close-up of a woman lying half naked on a massage bed 10 years ago to a wide landscape shot of a woman wearing hiking gear on the side of a mountain.

“Stock photos — generic images that appear in places like ads, billboards, magazines and blogs — reflect the culture at a moment in time,” said the article, and it couldn’t be more true.

The good news is that Getty Images aren’t alone in their mission to change visual representation. Joining them is another website, online photo and design website and app Canva which also has a stock photo library.

Because many of their images are used along with their design tools, it only makes sense to reevaluate the types of images they make available if they hope to be more inclusive and diverse. Canva has released the Natural Woman collection which they you will download to “inspire your audience with this empowering set of images featuring everyday women who are as diverse as they are beautiful.”

In a blog post on their website talking about this collection, they talk about how they are tired of seeing the general media landscape using the same images when it comes to portraying women, which are usually white and slim women.

“In the glossy, perfectly-lit world of stock photography, women have been so historically stereotyped that their representation often dips into parody,” says the post.

While they acknowledge the progress, seeing more empowered images of women who are portrayed for what they are DOING rather than just BEING, there is one issue they are still concerned with.

“Despite this progress, a familiar caveat remains: these women, though taking on more fully-fleshed out roles, are still cast for their appearances. In 2017, the most commonly-seen models were still young, still Caucasian, and still in possession of the most commercially-prized requirements: flawless skin, slim physiques, and long, flowing hair. A damagingly narrow standard of beauty that fails to reflect the genuine range of cultural and ethnic diversity that exists in the real world,” writes Elle Hughes for Canva.

Because of the problem they saw, Canva decided to use the position they were in and be part of the cultural turning tide. They worked with photographers from around the world to capture a range of women “who are as unique as they are beautiful.”

“In this collection, you won’t find overly-photoshopped images that perpetuate traditional stereotypes. Instead, we’ve put together a collection of everyday women, whose personal stories and experiences challenge both gender norms and societal standards of beauty,” said the website, while also sharing a handful of personal stories of their models.

“Among the many powerful and inspiring women who’ve opened themselves up for this project is a young woman with Down Syndrome who has not only successfully competed in pageants, but is also pursuing an active modeling career. A two-time cancer survivor who considers her hair-loss due to chemotherapy to be the mark of a fighter. And a woman born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy who shares that being part of the Natural Women Collection ‘has taken me into this process of self-acceptance, where I’ve learned to to recognize my body’s own beauty, as well as my grandeur and strength’.”

Each of the women chosen as a model represents an underprepresented minority in stock photography whose distinctive body features are still considered outside traditional beauty norms. The Natural Woman collection is only the first step in their endeavor to see a more inclusive stock photography world, and Canva are also inviting everyday people to contribute their own images to the collection and potentially make some money off royalties.

If she can be it, she can see it. If we can see the world truly represented in all its diversity in the media we consume on a daily basis, just imagine the long-term impact it can have on young girls’ self-esteem and the way they view themselves taking up space in the world.

Be sure to check out Canva’s Natural Woman collection by clicking here.



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