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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CHERYLHURT 5/10/2021
Thanks Report
BLENDA2U 11/27/2020
How about people who use your service? Report
CHERYLHURT 10/2/2020
I’m not skinny and 30 anymore! Report
NIOMIW 9/10/2020
I agree with members who said SparkPeope could use member submissions of quality, realistic photos. Thank you for explaining and bringing up this challenge. Maybe it’s time we talked to the stock photo sources! Report
LUVNMEA4MEA 8/31/2020
I'm sure there Sparkpeople users that would be happy to submit pics of themselves. Ask for people to sign up and you wouldn't even have to pay. Report
NORININJA makes a good suggestion re finding photos of plus-size athletes. Even looking for photos of athletes in general might generate healthier-looking subjects. The word "model" is problematic because it's associated with very thin people; it should probably not be part of the search terms you use when reviewing stock photos. I like the idea of featuring SparkPeople subjects, mostly "after" shots, perhaps by way of a photo contest with clearly specified qualifications. Perhaps contest winners could have free access to Premium services for a certain period of time. Report
I understand where the comments are coming from, I really do. I also understand your struggle to find good pics. But for those complaining...what you are doing is called body-shaming! Neither direction of this acceptable. I worked with a woman who was 99 pounds and cried every day at lunch because people would tell her to eat! Body-shaming is NEVER acceptable. Report
Agree that MANY of us would be happy to submit photo's. Quite a few of us have gotten so much healthier using Sparks, why not show us? I'm just barely out of the obese category and clearly in the overweight category, but I can put my foot on my head. I've seen some SO AWESOME photo's on the community feed and in blogs, we'd NO doubt be so PLEASED to share out success,,, thanks to SPARKS. Report
Is there not a clause in the terms of use agreement that says photos shared on the site can be used by the company? Could you not put out a discussion/thread asking members to sign up to provide photos? You could make it a giveaway situation where the people with photos picked get a subscription to a healthy eating food box or resistance bands. Has to be cheaper than stock photo licensing. Report
It's much better than it used to be, thanks. Report
interesting Report
Ivwould use real spark people's before and after photos. Report
The world is so used to seeing overweight people that people with a healthy BMI look “anorexic” now. It’s crazy. Just have people be at a healthy weight imo especially for a health website. Report
Interesting... Report
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
I'd rather see an average size model for every article ,not just for "fat" people. Report
I don’t even pay attention to the photos Report
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
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
Great article! Report
Great article. Report
Great article! Report
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
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
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.
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
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
I'd spend a few bucks and hire a photographer. Report
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