I’m super excited to be starting a new project highlighting diversity in everyday athletes. Stock fitness photography is dominated by photographs of slender, toned, tanned models in revealing outfits glistening with sweat. These models are predominantly white, young, attractive, able-bodied, cisgender males and females. Female models are often posed in completely unnatural, hyper-sexualized poses. Male models seem to never have body hair. If you searched news stands, you’d be pressed to find a photograph of an Asian or desi model, someone with stretch marks or a little bit of pudge, or anyone representing the LGBTQIA+ community.
Do you see a problem? I do.
1) Active people come in all colors, shapes, and sizes. Not every athlete has low body fat and a perfect tan. Some active people are black. Some are fat. Some are old, wrinkly, and gray. Showing people only one type of “fit person” suggests that the only way to be fit (and healthy and attractive) is to look like that person. This isn’t true.
2) These photos do not represent reality. I don’t know about you, but I generally don’t feel too sexy when I’m drenched in sweat mid-workout. When I work out, boob sweat and crotch sweat are real, and wisps of hair escape my pony tail and fly out in all directions. I don’t look perfect and put together. While I don’t have a problem with highly stylized photo shoots, I do have a problem when they are passed off as reality. When the only photos of people being active are unrealistic, expectations become impossible to meet.
3) Women do not need to be objectified when they work out. Women are already targeted, marginalized, and sexualized every day. We have to stop expecting women to look, dress, and act a certain way and that way only. When a woman works out, she is empowering herself. She is building strength and confronting demons. Contrary to popular belief, most women are not going to the gym to put themselves on display and parade around for attention or approval. A woman might love how she looks when lifting weights or perfecting Warrior 1, or she may not. She might be comfortable in a colorful sports bra and skin tight leggings, or she may prefer to rock sweats and a t-shirt when she passes you at mile 12 of a half marathon.
4) Representation matters. Period. People connect with things that are familiar. If you can see yourself in a photo, it means more to you. Photos of white, attractive, lean, tanned, oiled women in dramatic poses, wearing makeup, sports bras and booty shorts, and posing with dumbbells aren’t inherently a problem. They become a problem when they are all anyone sees, and there are no photographs of other people to balance them out. When you are none of those typical fitness model things and those photos are the only ones you see representing active lifestyles, the message is that you don’t belong.
I’m a photographer. I get it. Some things “look better” and photograph better than others. Creating stylized technically perfect photos with dramatic lighting and creative camera angles, using attractive models with perfectly groomed hair and makeup and a carefully selected wardrobe is an art. But why can’t other people get that star treatment? Why can’t my mom be inspired by a photo of a 60 something woman with gray hair doing deadlifts at the gym? What’s wrong with a photo of a trans-woman smiling from ear to ear as she runs under the tape of a 5k? It’s time for photographers to step outside of the box and used their carefully honed skills to represent everyday people.
Right now, I’m in the process of taking applications for people interested in modeling for me. No previous modeling experience is necessary, and you don’t have to represent a marginalized group to participate. My only requirements are that individuals interested in collaborating on this project communicate with me openly and honestly; are reliable, open minded, and able to follow directions; regularly participate in physical activity and live an active lifestyle; and live within the local geographic region (right now, I am only working within southwestern New Hampshire and southeastern Vermont, but I may expand this range in the future). If you are interested in participating and happen to live in the area, please shoot me an email. This will be an ongoing project that will likely require learning new techniques, multiple sessions and repeat photoshoots, and lots and lots of patience, but I’m excited about creating work that has a purpose and can make a difference.