As Project #ShowUs Turns 2, Where Is the Industry on Inclusivity?

Checking on the pledge to transform how women are represented in media and advertising

Deby Suchaeri/Getty Images

I pledge to use imagery that feels genuine and represents the women I know.
I pledge to challenge beauty stereotypes.
I pledge to show a wider range of beauty in marketing and campaigns.
I pledge to hire more female photographers.

Two years ago, at Cannes Lions, we at Getty Images heard many of the world's leading brands and agencies make this pledge, marking a significant change to transform the way women are represented in media and advertising, across age, ability, gender expression, sexual orientation, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, religious beliefs and more. In conjunction, we launched Project #ShowUs, in partnership with Dove and Girlgaze, to provide a tangible resource for brands and agencies and ensure their pledges translated to real change. 

As the collection turns 2, we're excited to celebrate how far the industry has come … and yet we must acknowledge—each of us—that we collectively have work to do. Momentum remains key, just as before.  

The progression of inclusivity and the impact of Project #ShowUs so far

I'm grateful to see how agencies and brands have fully embraced the collection over the last two years. Project #ShowUs images have been downloaded over 42,000 times by over 4,900 companies globally. Additionally, we've been lucky enough to see and support over 200 female-identifying and non-binary photographers in 41 countries who have contributed to this collection—including 85 new content creators and videographers since launch.

The collection has also had a broader impact on how our customers view the representation of women. Following launch of the collection, global customer searches on Getty Images increased for "real woman" (up 150 percent), "natural beauty" (up over 100 percent) and "body positive" (up over 470 percent), while new search terms appeared such as "unretouched" and "authentic woman." 

Our most downloaded images of "woman" in 2020 also illustrate that the advertising industry is embracing more ethnically diverse portrayals of women, with the top-selling images including Asian, Black, Indian and white women.

A call to brands and agencies—we've still got work to do

While we're on the right track, we still have a long way to go. In a 2020 survey conducted by Getty Images' insights platform Visual GPS, 49 percent of women who reported feeling discriminated against said it's because of their body shape or size, and 36 percent reported discrimination because of the way they look, dress or present themselves. The numbers don't lie, and it's clear that the advertising industry has an urgent responsibility and opportunity to impact change for the better. By portraying and normalizing what we see in real life, we can create momentum for tolerance and appreciation.

Covid-19 also presented a new barrier in our fight for inclusivity, as women worldwide have been greatly impacted by the ongoing global pandemic, and more negatively impacted than their male counterparts. According to recent analysis by McKinsey, female jobs are 19 percent more at risk than those of male counterparts because women are disproportionately represented in sectors negatively affected by Covid-19. While this indicates larger societal issues at play, it also further signals to brands the importance of representation—now more than ever.

On the bright side, we've seen brands rise to the challenge and begin communicating in more empathetic ways, bringing a new level of inclusivity to our visualization of the human experience. It's time for this to become the new industry standard.

Answering the call from consumers

The ideals that Project #ShowUs champions—inclusivity and accurate representation—are also top of mind for consumers. Our unprecedented access to cameras is changing our visual landscape, creating an expectation that the visuals we see are factual and representative of real people and the world around us. This has a profound, sustained impact on consumer expectations of how brands tell their story, and they need to grasp that. According to our Visual GPS research, 44 percent of respondents still don't feel that advertising does a good job of representing who they are. 

Our research also shows that 80 percent of respondents in the U.S. want to see companies showing people with all body shapes and types in their communications, and 68 percent said it's important to them that the companies they buy from celebrate diversity of all kinds. You read that right—diversity of ALL kinds, across age, ability, gender expression, sexual orientation, ethnicity and religious beliefs. Furthemore, people want to see realness in the visuals that surround them, with 90 percent saying companies need to show people with all body shapes and types.

Many of the brands we work with have intentionally addressed these consumer preferences and we're seeing that firsthand in terms of what content from the Project #ShowUs collection is gaining steam. It's really promising to see not only how diverse the collection is as a whole, but to see so much diversity among the most popular images—they represent women of all ages from all cultures with disabilities, scars, diverse hair styles, different skin types and a range of body shapes and sizes. When I look at this content, I see real women with real stories, and I'm hopeful we'll start to see even more of these women in advertising and media content for years to come. We all hold the keys to a future in which all women feel represented and it's up to brands to proactively engage with female-identifying and non-binary individuals on a deeper, more satisfying level than ever before.

How do we do that, exactly? Well, for starters, say it with me…

I pledge to use imagery that feels genuine and represents the women I know.
I pledge to challenge beauty stereotypes.
I pledge to show a wider range of beauty in marketing and campaigns.
I pledge to hire more female photographers.

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