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The Stock Photo Struggle: ''Why Don't SparkPeople's Images Look Like Me?''

22SHARES

By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  149 comments   :  17,377 Views

"We're looking for women who have a shape like the rest of us in reality. We're not the size 4. REAL LIFE MODELS, PLEASE."

"A little disappointed that SparkPeople chose this image to accompany the article. That woman is strong, beautiful, and probably around a size medium, which is well below the average size in the U.S. I'm happy you published the content of this article, but please be cognizant of images and the messages they send."
 
"I wish SparkPeople would do a better job of using "real people" photos for their articles, and modifications for the less fit, less flexible and older members." 

"What in the world happened to that woman? She is so thin she doesn't look like she could stand, let alone cook. Is this SparkPeople's idea of a good role model? Even the runways now are requiring models be a healthy weight. How about SparkPeople following this trend?" 
 
When SparkPeople members speak, we listen. We've made many changes over the years based on suggestions and feedback from our members, and we take pride in the fact that we care about the user experience and are constantly working to improve. If you've ever thought or commented on an article with sentiments similar to the real member comments above, you too might be wondering why we consistently feature average-sized or even thin models in our article and blog images. We're not ignoring your feedback—the root cause is actually a bigger problem with stock photos in general and it is one that we struggle with regularly.

As part of the article and blog writing process, we create "header" images that go at the top of each piece to attract and entice the right reader to content that will benefit their healthy living journey. When it's time to create an image, we rely on websites like Adobe Stock, iStock or Shutterstock to find images that adequately represent the information included in the article. As a small company, we don't always have the time and resources to take our own photos, so we pay a fee to license the ones we use. Sometimes we get lucky and find a quality photo right away, but other times it takes a whole lot of digging to find a photo that is a good fit for the piece. This is where things can get a little tricky.

I, for example, recently wrote a piece about plus-sized workout modifications. I went to one of the sites listed above and searched for the keywords "overweight exercise." Although the search came back with thousands of results, many were not appropriate for a variety of reasons. Here are a few examples:
 
 

This man looks sad to be exercising—not exactly an image that makes a reader want to jump up and run to the gym.



Not sure if this is meant to be funny, but I wasn't laughing.



I'm not sure any chart would consider this woman overweight.



Once again, not exactly motivational.

The standard of beauty represented in typical stock photos can be unattainable at worst and discouraging at best. As these examples show, many photos of those who don't fit society's definition of "fit" are presented in a cartoonish or joking way, instead of being just a regular person with a body that's relatable and real.

SparkPeople makes a conscious effort to celebrate people of all shapes and sizes, and the images used on our site are no exception. We know and embrace that every body is different and strong in its own ways, so wading through photo after photo of stick-thin models for an article about how to lose 50 pounds is frustrating to say the least. Historically, content on our site performs better when the majority of our readers find it relatable, too. A more recent example was the SparkPeople blog about Curvy Yoga, which featured pictures of a real person with a relatable body doing all of the exercises rather than a stock model whose imperfections have been magically Photoshopped away. Members voiced their appreciation for seeing someone like them successfully performing the recommended workout in the form of comments and clicks.

In some ways, the trend seems to be shifting. Ashley Graham was the first plus-sized model to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated's 2016 swimsuit issue. Tess Holliday is considered one of the first plus-sized supermodels and works to be a body-positive activist. More brands are embracing plus-sized models because people want to see individuals that look like them doing the activities and wearing the clothes advertised. Hopefully, this shift will soon extend to stock photos, giving us more options from which to choose when it comes to images for our content.

Does it surprise you that there are still limited options for stock photos? How would you handle it if you were in charge of picking images for SparkPeople?


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22SHARES
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Comments

  • 149
    Hey - I love Spark and I don't really mind the pictures of the thin people exercising. But if you wanted great pictures for articles of regular people exercising. You can find a whole slew of them at realbodyfitness.org - 8/15/2017   2:45:25 PM
  • 148
    In this article, the only overweight people shown are men. Why? - 8/15/2017   11:00:54 AM
  • 147
    I think asking members who post their pictures on this site, permission to use their pictures would be a great start. Us members would be honored to have our pictures used as motivators to get started, maintain the program and end results. - 8/15/2017   7:24:45 AM
  • 146
    Thanks for the explanation - 8/15/2017   6:33:19 AM
  • 145
    i went to shutterstock and instead of 'overweight workout' put in 'plus sized workout' and immediately got many lovely photos that would be perfect.
    if i were in charge of picking images i would a) work with your tech department and putting in an app where members could contribute real photos and b) learn how to search adobe, istock and shutterstock better.
    the photos are out there. they're not that hard to find. - 8/15/2017   6:14:22 AM
  • 144
    Sorry, but even with the effort to be more representative of actual women, the photos do not represent the average woman on SparkPeople. - 8/14/2017   10:14:40 PM
  • AUDGOOSE
    143
    Why doesn't Spark People have a section where users have the option to load images that are free for the site to use? - 8/14/2017   9:01:53 PM
  • 142
    Ive never heard of foap. I like Spark People myself. There is a lot of important information on this site. You can do just about anything here including challenges, and you make some really great friends along the way - 8/14/2017   6:53:31 PM
  • 141
    They should also check out Foap, which sources images from its users. You can actually also partner with Foap to create contests for the type of images you want and people will take those images. Real people. Additionally, you can probably sponsor a few IG or blogger people who are in the process of losing weight. They can create the images you need. - 8/14/2017   6:18:47 PM
  • 140
    I don't take photo's of me so you can't use them! Thanks for all the inspiration that SparkPeople gives me. I love the articles and I have learned so much from reading them. The picture doesn't matter when I am getting so educated on nutrition and exercising! - 8/14/2017   5:33:50 PM
  • 139
    Seriously, images of overweight people do not inspire me to be fit.
    It is my opinion, that those who insist on people that look like them are seeking validation not inspiration. - 8/14/2017   3:01:29 PM
  • KETOBELLE
    138
    1) you can't just use any photo off the internet, there are copyright laws that can get them in trouble for doing this.
    2) you can't just snap pictures of larger people in classes or at the gym, you need permissions to use that photo of others legally.
    3) SP likely wants to maintain a professional image on a low budget, this means purchasing available stock photos for rights to use the photo commercially, not asking members to submit amature photos, and not spending hundreds of dollars on a professional photographer or arranging for models, which would then also imply more legalities and signing fees...
    People. Recognize it's about legalities. If you don't like it, donate to sparkpeople so that they can have a bigger budget to deliver these excellent services and articles. Stop the complaining, and CONTRIBUTE if you care so much. - 8/14/2017   1:14:23 PM
  • 137
    Hey, I used to do some marketing, so I know and forgive the stock photos here. What I really object to are clothes catalogs for plus size women that use mini-models. Now *they* can afford to do their own photography, and do, and I know there are gorgeous plus size models out there, so please. Oh, a thought, do these catalogs consider a size 10 or 12 to be plus size? - 8/14/2017   1:12:18 PM
  • WORKOUTINWLOO
    136
    2 options:
    1 - make your search more specific i.e. "healthy overweight exercise". I got a bunch of good photos that way.
    2. Ask SP members for permission to use their photos. - 8/14/2017   12:24:44 PM
  • CHCKNNGGTS4LIFE
    135
    Maybe you shouldn't show the people who need to work on their weight as sad. Make them happy like "The Stock Photo Models" and they would be inspirational..... - 8/14/2017   11:31:10 AM
  • 134
    Photos don't bother me for this reason. I believe they are intended to be motivational and therefore not a reflection of reality. Use the photos as a visual encouragement. - 8/14/2017   11:00:38 AM
  • 133
    Struggling for pics of heavy people exercising. The internet doesn't have any? How about going to the local Y and snap a photo of people in a zumba class or a yoga class? Certainly a cross section of bodies there- all shapes and sizes! Please lets not let the internet reinforce the idea that the only people who exercise are young, supple and skinny! Come on SP! - 8/14/2017   10:37:58 AM
  • 132
    I just googled images for "overweight exercise" and found a couple of the pics above, but also a lot of positive pics. Overweight men and women exercising with a smile, doing floor exercises, on an exercise ball, with weights, in a class, outside, jogging, in a pool, etc...then I googled specifics, like positive overweight exercise, overweight yoga, overweight jogging, overweight people working out and got even more positive pics of overweight people working out. It helps to be specific. The pictures are out there. - 8/14/2017   10:21:49 AM
  • 131
    What about asking sparkers if they would allow you to use photos they post on community walls? There have been some terrific before/after shots as well as shots of people that have just finished a workout. - 8/14/2017   8:42:25 AM
  • 130
    Thanks for the explanation. It certainly must be difficult and I'm glad you see some changes.
    - 8/14/2017   8:10:48 AM
  • 129
    You could do a contest for the best workout pics. Just gave each sparkie a release form and list of requirements for the photos. Your prize could be a free upgrade or maybe recipe book. Good luck and that you for the great app😀 - 8/14/2017   6:56:43 AM
  • 128
    It might be a good idea to have your own photography department, with a few models. I imagine it might not cost more than what you're paying now for the sites that don't give you what you really want...Besides weight, you could have a better mix of various ethnicities, men and women, various ages and so on. You could be a trend-setter for other sites!
    - 8/14/2017   5:18:56 AM
  • 127
    Thanks for explaining.
    - 8/14/2017   5:16:38 AM
  • 126
    Cop out response. - 8/14/2017   12:41:06 AM
  • 125
    The pictures are not what move me. The articles and information are what I need. I really enjoy reading articles throughout the day. I've learned SO much utilizing article information. Thanks SP! - 8/8/2017   9:09:09 PM
  • 124
    If I were in charge of design and layout I'd have individuals submit perosnal photos with signed off legal permission for use and starts data base. You could partner up with a local University or community college with their photography department to get students to get a data base made with various body types and subject matter as their school project. Win win. Maybe this is a nitche waiting to be filled not just for Sparkpeople, but other companies. Have you shared this with the stock photo companies you use? Worth a try sharing how negative their images are. - 7/29/2017   1:24:54 PM
  • THINSILVERCHAIN
    123
    Thank you for the explaination. Makes sense. Photographers are expensive, you are a small company, I for one have not yet upgraded to paying level so I certainly can't complain with all the advantage I get from the app. Thank you!
    Pretty close to being on track with goals by having lost 8 pounds so far😀 - 7/28/2017   5:29:08 AM
  • 122
    thank you for sharing photos hmmm motivational is hard I look in the mirror each day - 7/27/2017   12:44:37 AM
  • SUSANBEAMON
    121
    Seems to me, if you can't find "stock" pictures that reflect real people, you could take pictures of real people for those articles. - 7/26/2017   1:54:19 AM
  • 120
    I don't know what the fuss is, I hardly look at the pictures, but read the article instead. Someone that is so out of shape that they can't strike the poses correctly is a distraction. - 7/25/2017   10:06:50 AM
  • LENACALL
    119
    To me, the SparkPeople response is a cop out. It's the same reason people of color are under-represented in images and in boardrooms. SparkPeopke needs to try harder to have images that are representative of people in the real world. Tall, short, fat, skinny, white, non-white, etc... The images just aren't out there is a lame excuse. Try harder. Look harder. Use different sources. Be creative. Make your own photos. Think outside of the mainstream. Again... try harder. - 7/22/2017   8:21:03 PM
  • 118
    So whats next? People will complain that the skinny fit exercise instructors at the gym dont represent them and will want overweight unfit ones? I look at pictures (and instructors) as inspiration (when I bother to be aware of the pictures..Im normally after the article itself). If Im trying to lose weight then looking at someone that looks just like me after all of their working out and eating right isnt going to inspire me. I want to see what my hard work can get me! Maybe I just have a different way of looking at things. - 7/21/2017   1:53:36 PM
  • 117
    Is there an agreement for Spark Members to let SP use their photos on SP articles? We are real people. We photograph ourselves and post the photos. Could SP not use those? - 7/21/2017   11:13:27 AM
  • 116
    6 years ago in the U.S.A., I forget what town, I live in Canada I did a runway shoot for plus size models, we wore long dresses, they wanted size 12-14 which I was, I enjoyed it and now am a size 10. I was sick with a blood clot in my lung & could not walk to the kitchen without extreme pain or exercise for 8 months, I went to size 16-18. I was size 12 for 30 years. So except for one time regarding my health I have always been a size medium. I am 54 years old. - 7/20/2017   12:59:51 AM
  • 115
    I appreciate the honesty in this article. I often laugh when I see the pictures but it is the article that I am interested in. Now I understand those pictures in articles about recipes etc. Oh well. - 7/19/2017   10:13:57 PM
  • 114
    A very interesting topic! - 7/19/2017   8:57:55 PM
  • 113
    obviously the answer is to take your own photos or use member photos they would give their permission - 7/19/2017   1:08:50 PM
  • 112
    I love all the articles. - 7/19/2017   12:59:00 PM
  • 111
    Interesting to learn how images are found. I'm not very computer savvy so learned something new here! Real women come in all shapes and sizes. There are strong and weak in all shapes and sizes and fit and unfit in all shapes and sizes. I try not to get caught up in comparing myself, but it happens! - 7/19/2017   9:51:56 AM
  • 110
    I'm disappointed to read comments like this.
    "What in the world happened to that woman? She is so thin she doesn't look like she could stand, let alone cook. Is this SparkPeople's idea of a good role model?"
    We are devastated by "fat shaming" but bullies come in all shapes and sizes and don't mind "skinny bashing" do they? I once looked like that model, lots of women did or at least a reasonable facsimile. I was strong and healthy at that time and wish I could return to that form. All women are REAL women.
    I don't like photo shopped images, but I like seeing the before-after photos of the successful sparkers. They are inspirational and motivational.

    - 7/19/2017   6:44:21 AM
  • 109
    Perhaps SP should have a photo contest for "active" photos from the membership, those less-than-perfect-photoshop images we all have tucked away,. Spark pages are filled with them!

    OH! I see other great minds think along those same lines! lol - 7/19/2017   5:46:05 AM
  • 108
    Get the images from the people who use the website! - 7/18/2017   11:08:42 PM
  • 107
    I like the images you post with your articles. More importantly, I LOVE the articles - who cares about the images! - 7/18/2017   10:37:24 PM
  • 106
    I agree with the others that suggest you get permission from Sparkers to use their pictures. There are plenty of us who probably would fit in with some of the articles!! We appreciate all the work our Spark leaders put forth!! - 7/18/2017   9:55:12 PM
  • 105
    Very Well Said! - 7/18/2017   9:38:04 PM
  • RELVNGLYFE64
    104
    I had the same idea allow Sparkpeople members to submit or give permission for the use of their pictures - 7/18/2017   9:26:36 PM
  • 103
    I know where you can get a TON of photos of (not tiny) people who are working out or performing various fitness activities. Spark must know in advance what subjects for articles are anticipated or being worked on, why not allow Spark People (people who use Spark) to submit photos of themselves to be considered for use in these articles? It should be easy enough for us to upload a photo on your site that includes a waiver of ownership of said image, so it won't cost Spark anything to use the photos, and possibly a statement that the person submitting the photo IS the owner, and the subject, of the photo. Of course, Spark would reserve the right to use only photos deemed appropriate and submission of a photo would not guarantee its use by Sparkpeople for any particular article.
    Spark might even consider giving rewards to people who have a photo selected for use in an article, maybe a free month of membership on Spark Premium or even just a ribbon or badge for their profile declaring them to be a Spark Model. Just a thought. - 7/18/2017   7:36:33 PM
  • 102
    I know where you can get a TON of photos of (not tiny) people working out or performing various fitness activities. Spark must know in advance what subjects are anticipated or being worked on, why not allow Spark People (people who use Spark) to submit photos of themselves to be considered for use in these articles? It should be easy enough for us to upload a photo on your site that includes a waiver of ownership of said image, so it won't cost Spark anything to use the photos, and possibly a statement that the person submitting the photo IS the owner, and the subject, of the photo. Of course, Spark would reserve the right to use only photos deemed appropriate and submission of a photo would not guarantee its use by Sparkpeople for any particular article.
    Spark might even consider giving rewards to people who have more than one photo selected for use in an article, maybe a free month of membership on Spark Premium or even a ribbon or badge for their profile declaring them to be a Spark Model. Just a thought. - 7/18/2017   7:33:59 PM
  • TCKL79
    101
    Well it would be nice to see some larger people exercising, even the depressing photo's to let people know the journey is hard and long range. The articles could match the photo. - 7/18/2017   6:46:55 PM
  • 100
    I would recommend taking an article as an experiment and programming it to swap photos every other time it is read for a few days, once with a thin model and once with an overweight model, and then look at your traffic and click-through statistics to see which one performs better. The anti-model crowd is very vocal, especially on an article like this one, but you might find a large number of people either don't care about the stock photos or they even like them better. Even some of the people who are complaining, if they honestly tracked their own clicks might find that they are actually gravitating toward thin models. Personally, what I'd like to see is more photos of spark staff, photos of the contributing bloggers, as well as more success stories with before and after photos. For me, it's not about being offended, it's more about seeing results and seeing that the people giving advice can demonstrate visually that their advice works. Also, the "real bodies" comment is just plain wrong. Fit people are real people and they are inspirational to me. You're feeding people's insecurities by encouraging language like that and making fit people unwelcome on this site. - 7/18/2017   6:43:02 PM

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