Why Don't SparkPeople's Images Feature People Who Look Like Me?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
"We're looking for women who have a shape like the rest of us in reality. We're not the size 4. REAL LIFE MODELS, PLEASE."

"A little disappointed that SparkPeople chose this image to accompany the article. That woman is strong, beautiful, and probably around a size medium, which is well below the average size in the U.S. I'm happy you published the content of this article, but please be cognizant of images and the messages they send."
"I wish SparkPeople would do a better job of using "real people" photos for their articles, and modifications for the less fit, less flexible and older members." 

"What in the world happened to that woman? She is so thin she doesn't look like she could stand, let alone cook. Is this SparkPeople's idea of a good role model? Even the runways now are requiring models be a healthy weight. How about SparkPeople following this trend?" 
When SparkPeople members speak, we listen. We've made many changes over the years based on suggestions and feedback from our members, and we take pride in the fact that we care about the user experience and are constantly working to improve. If you've ever thought or commented on an article with sentiments similar to the real member comments above, you too might be wondering why we consistently feature average-sized or even thin models in our article and blog images. We're not ignoring your feedback—the root cause is actually a bigger problem with stock photos in general and it is one that we struggle with regularly.

As part of the article and blog writing process, we create "header" images that go at the top of each piece to attract and entice the right reader to content that will benefit their healthy living journey. When it's time to create an image, we rely on websites like Adobe Stock, iStock or Shutterstock to find images that adequately represent the information included in the article. As a small company, we don't always have the time and resources to take our own photos, so we pay a fee to license the ones we use. Sometimes we get lucky and find a quality photo right away, but other times it takes a whole lot of digging to find a photo that is a good fit for the piece. This is where things can get a little tricky.

I, for example, recently wrote a piece about plus-sized workout modifications. I went to one of the sites listed above and searched for the keywords "overweight exercise." Although the search came back with thousands of results, many were not appropriate for a variety of reasons. Here are a few examples:

This man looks sad to be exercising—not exactly an image that makes a reader want to jump up and run to the gym.

Not sure if this is meant to be funny, but I wasn't laughing.

I'm not sure any chart would consider this woman overweight.

Once again, not exactly motivational.

The standard of beauty represented in typical stock photos can be unattainable at worst and discouraging at best. As these examples show, many photos of those who don't fit society's definition of "fit" are presented in a cartoonish or joking way, instead of being just a regular person with a body that's relatable and real.

SparkPeople makes a conscious effort to celebrate people of all shapes and sizes, and the images used on our site are no exception. We know and embrace that every body is different and strong in its own ways, so wading through photo after photo of stick-thin models for an article about how to lose 50 pounds is frustrating to say the least. Historically, content on our site performs better when the majority of our readers find it relatable, too. A more recent example was the SparkPeople blog about Curvy Yoga, which featured pictures of a real person with a relatable body doing all of the exercises rather than a stock model whose imperfections have been magically Photoshopped away. Members voiced their appreciation for seeing someone like them successfully performing the recommended workout in the form of comments and clicks.

In some ways, the trend seems to be shifting. Ashley Graham was the first plus-sized model to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated's 2016 swimsuit issue. Tess Holliday is considered one of the first plus-sized supermodels and works to be a body-positive activist. More brands are embracing plus-sized models because people want to see individuals that look like them doing the activities and wearing the clothes advertised. Hopefully, this shift will soon extend to stock photos, giving us more options from which to choose when it comes to images for our content.

Does it surprise you that there are still limited options for stock photos? How would you handle it if you were in charge of picking images for SparkPeople?

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Are there any photographers at SparkPeople? There are a ton of sites where you upload your own photos for use as stock images. Get out there with a buddy, create the content you want to see, and get paid when sites use your pix! Win win! Report
RAVEN145 10/7/2019
I'd rather see an average size model for every article ,not just for "fat" people. Report
RO2BENT 10/7/2019
I don’t even pay attention to the photos Report
NASFKAB 9/10/2019
Interesting Report
I usually don't look at the pictures because I know I won't see me. I'm not sure I want to see a 70 year old fat woman with mobility issues. And the mobility issues came before the last 100 pounds. Report
RACHELEVE2U 9/8/2019
Others have suggested, and I agree, use member submitted photos. You’ll likely get a lot of quality submissions and knowing it’s from members would be so inspiring!
There is another’s fitness site I like to use (fitness blender), but the female pictures are so obviously either photo shopped or camera angle enhanced to make her waist look inhumanely small and her bottom disproportionately big, all while constantly saying it’s real...gets a little old after awhile. All this to say, keep it real. We’re not stupid. Real bodies vary and it’s inspiring to see someone who looks like me, who also wants to be (or is) fit. Report
HOLLYM48 9/6/2019
Great article! Report
SPINECCO 9/6/2019
Great article. Report
Great article! Report
SHOAPIE 9/6/2019
People are so critical no matter what you do! Report
Why not ask member to be models. Sounds like you are making excused much like people do before the make a commitment to theselves to get healthy. Report
WILDKAT781 9/5/2019
great article. I kinda already knew this. While I have had some suggestions on technical aspects of the site, I have no real complaints unless something is broke, and then I try to be patient. I love this site. I have been a member since March of 2006. I also am a Lifetime premium member (Jumped on that option before it went away!) You are all awesome and you bend over backwards to try to please members. Honestly, if you really dislike the site that much there are other, poorer quality sites you can join. I don't mean you shouldn't voice your opinion on your like and dislikes, but keep it reasonable and be nice. Report
SHAWFAN 9/5/2019
I, for one, have been, and still am, very grateful for SparkPeople being in existence at all!! Thank you "SparkGuy!" Thank you, also for keeping it free, although you have added "Premium Packages" which I do take advantage of as well.

Saying this, I'm in agreement with GMADONNA70 who addressed the issue of the exercises on the site being geared more for younger people. While not in her age group, I'm handicapped and have to do A LOT of modifying, which isn't always shown. I have to go to a different site for these.

As for photos, running a website I've discovered that there are limits on the sites just as Jen Mueller said. And with limited staffing, I can see where those that work so tirelessly to keep this site going for us have to do with what they can find.
Things are changing. They always do. There's more and more magazines, TV commercials, movies, TV series, etc that are accepting those who look like "Regular people." Or more like most of us that still have a ways to go to feel comfortable in our own skins.
It's becoming a trend to get some weight on models now in some places. We must have patience.
TOMORROW-C 9/5/2019
After having read all the comments I have to say " I stand with #FRISKYCRITTER. " I think when you accept something free you've no cause to complain. Report
GMADONNA70 9/5/2019
Many of our members post pictures of themselves at various times in their weight loss journey. Perhaps you could get their permission to use those photos. I am an older member, past 70, and all of the exercises are geared for younger members. It would be nice to see some exercises using older members so that we can get excited about exercise too. There are some of these exercises we shouldn't even be attempting!
Thanks for all of the great articles you have for our members, but it would be nice to see some for the older generation as well. Report
BONNIE1552 6/13/2019
I'd spend a few bucks and hire a photographer. Report
SATINEE7 4/2/2019
When trying to be motivated, looking at an overweight person doesn't do it for me. Even now when I search on my favorite clothing store website, I will see very overweight women in the clothing and it doesn't increase my desire to buy the clothing. Just because someone is not a size 10 or 22 doesn't mean that they are not real. I have never been these sizes but I am real. I am not putting down very overweight people but agree that just because society is getting fatter doesn't mean a smaller person is not realistic. Report
Thanks for the information :) Report
Just read this one again. Thank you for the explanation. Report
Thanks for the explanation Report
Well to me it's just a model in the picture but if I want to see Sparkpeeps in real time I always go to blogs. I like seeing people that I converse with from time to time making those changes and creating inspiration through their work, blood, sweat & tears. It doesn't bother me at all. Report
Maybe SP could start their own stock photo site, full of motivational photos of real people doing the things SP writes about. Report
Have to be honest. I do not notice the photos. I just read the articles. I would rather look at the feed and notice the photos of the Sparkers before and after success. Report
Intriguing ideas. I'd think the author of the articles could do research for their own images to suit the article. Or ask for Spark members to volunteer to be photographed. Report
I agree 100% with LittleBalletCat. Motivation for me is a photo of a person who is healthy and fit. I also understand that plus-sized models are relaying a message to be confident no matter what size you are, but I don't think these kind of photos belong on a site promoting a healthier lifestyle. If you are overweight, more than likely you have some health issues so this is not sending a good message. Report
Absolutely great Report
"She is so thin she doesn't look like she could stand, let alone cook." Do you not see how that is insulting to say? First the female in the photo looked great thin but not to thin. I would love to look like her I did look like her but with a little more hips. She is not ill looking she is not to thin to stand. I have so much issue with someone that is saying "hey don't judge me because I weigh more but that skinny bitch has to go"
Pot calling kettle!! Report
Why not ask Spark members to provide photos of themselves that you could use to build your own stock library? You could offer some form of reward - financial or otherwise. Report
Why don't you build your own stock? How about having a few photo contests themed towards the kind of things you usually need photos to represent? There are lots of good photographers on SP, and I'm betting few would think twice about releasing their photos for use on the website with credit. You could give SparkGoodie Points and/or free premium membership for a month as prizes. Win-win! Report
I don't think we should see pictures of unhealthy sized people in the articles. We are surrounded by unhealthy sized people. I think this is a tough issue because so many people's self worth is wrapped up in their weight. So if I say it's inappropriate for a site focused on health and weight loss to use plus sized models, then people get their feelings hurt and feel like I"m saying anybody who isn't thin is "worthless" when I'm not saying that.

The reality is, Sparkpeople doesn't exist to validate your current weight. Also, the model in this article looks great and fit. Whether or not you believe that result is possible for you, I don't think showing images of people who have let themselves go or who are examples of not healthy is productive to the supposed goals of the site. (you either let yourself go or you have a condition which prevents weight loss. You can't have it both ways.) I'm tired of all the politically correct nonsense. Everything in life is not about your feelings.

Also, let's please stop pretending "real women" are all fat. It's incredibly shaming to normal weight and thinner women. ALL women are REAL women. But when your goal is weight loss, fitness, then your role models need to be healthy and fit. Not overweight or obese. I get that it's all a process but when I see motivational images I need to see the FINAL PRODUCT so to speak and not "this is what everybody looks like 3 weeks into this process."

I appreciate this article.I can dismiss a photo I don't agree with, but read all articles due to their title promise of content that may be helpful to me. I understand the comments that I read. It helps me understand where others are coming from. I regret that some of the complainers did not offer a solution to what they felt is a problem. I appreciate the ideas some did offer. I think teamwork is part of being SparkPeople. Thanks to all SP staff, for all that they do with limited resources. Report
How about having a contest with members of SparkPeople? We can send in pics and those who make the cut get a free tracker or other item. Have different categories for different types of articles. With the quality of our cameras on our phones and all the touch up software available I am sure you can get some quality images. Report
It shouldn't be about "what's in." It really should be about achieving health. I disagree with the author of this article. The photo does represent a fit, healthy female body. Because that is not the norm in our society now, does not mean it cannot be depicted. I encourage everyone to achieve their best health. This involves a healthy weight, good quality sleep, managing stress, incorporating physical activity into life. Report
Interesting perspective. Report
Can you ask people who write the articles to submit photos to go with it? They might not all be usable, but could add to your "bank" of useful photos. Report
I'd prefer before, mid and after shots to show what can be achieved. Report
Thank you for creating the SparkPeople community and for the informative articles. While I haven't noticed any images that bother me, since you've raised the issue I will say that RIDETBRED, B-GINAGIN, and ARROWDEL make good sense. You've given to the community; maybe we can give back to you!
Personally, I like images that match my goal body size. I find them stimulating as they are role models. Seeing someone chunky is NOT the image I seek. I find that the before/after pictures in the Community Feed is great because it shows me how others have succeeded, and it reminds me that I can get there too. When I go to my aerobics classes, I want fit instructors who can show me the muscles I need to work. I don't want to guess, because their muscles are behind fat! Same for advertisements, I want a healthy body. But I don't want to see rolls of fat. I also don't want to be able to count their ribs! It's a healthy look that I want, and need for my motivation. Report
Love reading the comments. Report
I've found great stock photos, but you need to enter the right search terms. Entering "plus size" pulled up a number of photos, including some empowering ones featuring models working out. They are arguably in better health than thin people who don't exercise. Health and fitness should be our greatest goals, with smaller jeans sizes as a bonus. :-D Report
very informative Report
What I love about spark people the most is seeing the real people on spark showing pictures before and after of themselves When they have lost whatever Weight, whether it be 10-100 pounds. It's motivating to me I love the real pictures. The photoshopped ones are mannican shots which is fine to me. It's okay and not offensive at all for me to see the dream body but my favorites are the members ! Report
People will always find something to gripe about. Report
who cares about the pictures the article was very informative thank you Report
It's true. I searched on "overweight exercise" and found a large amount of negative pictures. However, when I searched on "plus size exercise" , the very topic you mentioned that you were writing about, I found lots of positive images of larger sized people enjoying exercise.

The term overweight does have a negative image attached to it where as plus sized is more positive. Now maybe that's just twisting the words around, but showing plus sized people who enjoy their workouts might encourage more people who want to lose weight and be healthy to start working out.

I don't know what the legal issues are, but it seems to me if Spark is looking for more positive images of plus sized people working out (and loving it), they should look at the Community Feed. Many members have posted photos of themselves doing a workout.

Let's showcase more members if there aren't enough positive free images that can be used. I'm sure the ones you're using now are not copyrighted.

I don't understand the negative thoughts of some Sparkers. We get everything FREE that some sites charge a fortune for! I can't believe some people! This article is a keeper! Thank you for caring and sharing! I am a very grateful Sparker! Report
I just feel that sometimes we let too many things upset us in general. I am more focused on what Spark People does to help me be healthy that what the photos look like with their articles. I'm just saying....maybe that is the problem and not so much the pictures. Report
I can't believe that people are so concerned about an image in an article! If a picture of a fit person in an article is that disappointing and demotivating, then just focus on the content of this article. It would be nice if all media represented each and every one of us, but it doesn't and probably never will. Move on and focus on your own goals. Report
A couple people complained that this is a recycled article. I don't know how that can be when this blog is dated 7/17/17! Also, I can't believe the amount of negativity! Let's be thankful that we have a site like Spark People that offers so much for zero dollars!

I do understand some of the frustration voiced in the introductory comments. I tried to make a Vision Board once as an activity recommended by Spark Coach, but quickly gave up because all of the pictures I came across were of women that were in their 20s. I am 65 and so I could hardly relate! Overall, it was not a game changer for me. I gave up on the idea of a Vision Board, but I still embrace all of the other things here on Spark People.

Lets be grateful and thankful for SP and everyone who positively contributes! Report