Dove marketing chief: Unrealistic images stop women reaching their full potential

#ShowUs aims to be world's largest stock photo library created by women and non-binary individuals.

#ShowUs: comprises more than 5,000 images
#ShowUs: comprises more than 5,000 images

Dove, Getty Images and Girlgaze are calling on the advertising and marketing industries to represent the true diversity of women in media and advertising.

The beauty giant has partnered the photo company and female-led creative agency to create the world’s largest stock photo library created by women and non-binary individuals. The library consists of more than 5,000 images, created by 116 Girlgaze photographers, that are designed to shatter beauty stereotypes on a global scale. 

Launching the initiative, #ShowUs, Sophie Galvani, global vice-president of Dove, has called on the industry to normalise more authentic depictions of women. She hopes the move will help spearhead a societal shift when it comes to the portrayal of women in advertising and media. 

A responsibility for change

Dr Rebecca Swift, senior director of creative insights at Getty Images and iStock, says anyone who has a role in leading the creation, distribution and selection of imagery has the responsibility to better represent the diverse audiences they are speaking to.

"We take this responsibility very seriously and want to empower our customers to create visual communications which are truly representative of their audiences," she adds.  

In one of the largest studies of its kind, Dove research found that the constant bombardment of beauty stereotypes is making seven in 10 women feel pressured to reach an unrealistic standard of beauty, contributing to what Galvani terms "an appearance anxiety epidemic". 

She explains: "We want to change this at a societal level, hence the launch of Project #ShowUs. Our aim is to transform the way media and advertisers depict women on an unprecedented scale.

"For the first time on Getty Images, every individual that our 179 photographers have shot has personally defined their own search descriptions and tags for their images, allowing them to define their beauty in their own language, on their own terms, ensuring they feel realistically represented."

Tackling the appearance anxiety epidemic

It has been more than a decade since Dove launched its seminal "Campaign for real beauty". Galvani says the world has moved on since, but 70 per cent of women still don’t feel represented by the images they see every day.

She explains: "Many of us know the mantra 'You can’t be what you can’t see', yet despite this and decades of work by Dove, Getty Images and Girlgaze to liberate women from limiting stereotypes, many images continue to impose unrealistic beauty standards that present a narrow view of who women are, what they should look like and what they can achieve."

Galvani continues: "Our research has shown that 67 per cent of women are calling for brands to step up and start taking responsibility for the stock imagery they use and, because of this, we wish to make a real systematic change in the way media and advertisers depict women.

"The need for images that are more representative is there. For instance, on Getty Images, the search term 'real people' has increased 192 per cent over the past year, 'diverse women' by 168 per cent and 'strong women' by 187 per cent, providing more evidence of the demand for a more realistic portrayal of women and beauty. There is also huge need for stock imagery to include women in more progressive and empowering roles and scenarios, with 'women leaders' up by 202 per cent."

A cultural disconnect

According to Galvani, Dove's research reveals a disconnect between how media and advertisers depict women and the reality of culture.

She explains: "Our research, which is one of the largest global studies of its kind, has shown that every day women’s lives are affected by these limitations, exclusions and stereotypes. It affects their health, relationships and the opportunities they are given.

"Women who feel worse about themselves as a result of seeing a narrow definition of beauty day in, day out, have told us that it is impacting their daily lives."

Dove’s research reveals this is having a tangible impact on women’s self-esteem, with 30 per cent feeling less assertive, 49 per cent not wearing the clothes they want and 37 per cent not expressing their true identity. 

Sophie Mayanne, the photographer who shot Mothercare’s recent "Body proud mums" campaign and a #ShowUs contributor, believes that diversity behind the lens is important and can change how we see see the world creatively. She says: "The world is beautiful and diverse, and we all have a story we can tell through the camera. Diversifying behind the lens as well as in front of the lens allows us to tell more authentic stories." 

Mayanne believes that there is still work to do when it comes to the depiction of women in advertising and the industry must continue to push for more representation. She adds: "Akin to Mothercare’s campaign, we are starting to see more brands take heed and become more conscious of the messages they are putting out into the world."

This article first appeared on PRWeek sister title Campaign

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