Stock Photos of Women Are Evolving, but They're Still Missing a Key Component of the Feminine Genius

As a freelance writer, I’ve spent quite a bit of time looking through stock photos. Images play a large role in defining the voice of a piece. Because I write quite a bit about women’s issues, I dig through the digital stacks of stock photos of women and I’m usually left shaking my head. Stock photos don’t tend to do the feminine genius justice, usually focusing on women’s bodies and portraying them as objects to be acted upon. But I’m happy to say that the way women are portrayed in stock photos is changing – for the better.

In 10 years, the top-selling stock image for the term "woman" in Getty Image's library has changed drastically. In 2007, the top selling image was a naked woman lying on a bed. But in 2017, the image downloaded the most is a woman hiking along the edge of a lake, her face hidden. In fact, in 2014, Getty Images announced a partnership with and created a library of 2,500 images featuring women in active situations.

Click here to explore the Lean In collection of photos and videos

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“Women overall are becoming more upwardly mobile and vocal and now have a platform to express frustration when commercials and such don’t speak to them. I think that’s a big piece of it,” Pam Grossman, director of Getty’s visual trends, told the Observer when they asked her what’s driving the changes behind the portrayal of women in stock photos. “I’m also excited there are a lot of images celebrating what women can do and not just what they look like. A lot of these campaigns happening right now are like ‘you’re beautiful no matter what’ and are focusing on self-acceptance, no matter what you look like. I think that’s important and to build confidence, but I think it’s important to celebrate what they can do and what they leave on the world.”


There are so many beautiful stock images showing women in active situations, instead of displaying women passively as objects. When I read about this trend, I was filled with hope. In a culture that objectifies women blatantly through pornography (and subtlety in advertising), we’re making concrete steps to appreciating women and their amazing abilities.


This year, Adobe Stock photos released data on their search engine inquiries. Searches for images that painted women as one-dimensional objects ("attractive woman", "sexy woman") were down by 43%. Images that portrayed women as multi-dimensional, complex human beings were up 500%, and searches for images that portrayed women as leaders were up 645%.

But even though today’s culture is making huge strides in how we're depicting women in stock images, we're stilling missing out on something huge - community and the feminine genius. Women are not being viewed as only sexual objects, which is great, but they're now being depicted as individualistic and autonomous. In popular 2017 stock images of women, they're often pictured alone.


But women aren’t islands, going about their days without interaction. In fact, part of the beauty of the feminine genius is the way women are called to give themselves to others.

"Necessary emphasis should be placed on the genius of women, not only by considering great and famous women of the past or present, but also those ordinary women who reveal the gift of their womanhood by placing themselves at the service of others in their everyday lives. For in giving themselves to others each day women fulfill their deepest vocation. Perhaps more than men, women acknowledge the personbecause they see persons with their hearts," Saint Pope John Paul II wrote in his 1995 Letter to Women. "They see them independently of various ideological or political systems. They see others in their greatness and limitations; they try to go out to them and help them. In this way the basic plan of the Creator takes flesh in the history of humanity and there is constantly revealed, in the variety of vocations, that beauty-not merely physical, but above all spiritual-which God bestowed from the very beginning on all, and in a particular way on women." 

While we still haven't made the full transition to showing the generosity, receptivity, maternity and sensitivity of women (especially when they interact with other women), we're one step closer to appreciating women as God created them to be. Women are being shown as active do-ers, full of passion and enjoying hobbies like hiking, skiing, and traveling. That's an amazing achievement for a culture that glorifies a twisted version of human sexuality.