fitness · strength training

Stock photos and women lifting tiny weights

Oh, stock photos.

First, there’s women laughing alone with salad and fat people without heads. We’ve written about both of these before.

My new obsession is women lifting tiny weights.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with lifting tiny dumbbells. After all, we’re all in favour of starting small. It’s just that they are over-represented among the stock photos of women lifting weights.

I first encountered some of the photos in this piece about older women and strength training: You don’t have to be young to build muscle: how women are breaking fitness taboos

“Stock photos are the internet’s idea of what the world should look like, sets of generic images intended to illustrate articles and advertising, often revealing more worldview than they probably set out to. There are famously a lot of photos of white women laughing near salad, meant for healthy eating content, but also reinforcing inane cheer and self-denial as cornerstones of femininity. If fitness imagery of the young is all about aspiration – six packs, muscle definition and impossible body fat percentages – fitness imagery of older people is almost anti-aspirational. Its message is: “You probably can’t do anything at all, but look over here, there’s a lady managing this tiny thing.”

And then since I was starting to write about strength training I started to search for some photos myself, checking out Unsplash and Scopio, and searching for older women lifting weights. I got tiny weights but young women. One older woman but she’s lifting groceries.

Once you notice the phenomena it’s kind of striking.

Stock photos of women and weights are either very glamorous looking women–white, twenty something, lean and muscular and in a CrossFit style gym– or they’re lifting teeny tiny dumbbells.

Definitely more variety needed!

Tiny green weight
advertising · athletes · body image

A picture is worth a thousand words?

Tracy and I have written before about the need to change the range of images we associate with “fitness.” See her post Inclusive Fitness and my post No more headless fatties, why not use images of active fat people complete with heads instead?.

Stock photography images of women are pretty revealing whether it’s women laughing alone with salad, women trying to drink water badly, or women using laptops awkwardly. The stock photo images of feminists aren’t great either. Of course.

Now things might be getting better as  Getty And ‘Lean In’ Reimagine Stock Photos Of Women.

See also and Getty Aim to Change Women’s Portrayal in Stock Photos

To try to remedy the problem, Ms. Sandberg’s nonprofit organization,, is to announce on Monday a partnership with Getty Images, one of the biggest providers of stock photography, to offer a special collection of images that it says represent women and families in more empowering ways.

“When we see images of women and girls and men, they often fall into the stereotypes that we’re trying to overcome, and you can’t be what you can’t see,” Ms. Sandberg said in an interview.

Here’s some from their collection that portray physically active women:

womanjumping photo woman running photo woma standing photo woman hiking across snowy rocks with poles

The Lean In images are still pretty limited terms of body size and shape. It’s still the case that none of them look anything like me. But there have been other developments on the stock photo front this week. The Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity recently took positive steps to improve the images of obese people in the press.

In an effort to reduce stigmatizing portrayals of overweight and obese persons in the news, we have created a Media Gallery that provides a collection of brief, professional video clips and images that depict obese individuals in a variety of settings. These images and video clips provide a non-biased representation of adults who are overweight and obese, and are intended for use as background and b-roll video footage for the news media. Our Media Gallery can help promote accurate coverage of obesity-related topics in news reporting and challenge harmful weight-based stereotypes.


photo of obese people doing varius activities

See New stock photos of obese people offer a respectful portrayal of being fat [20 pictures]