A strong woman hikes alone on a rocky plateau, a vast lake and mountains looming in the background. This woman’s image is powerful and determined, and so far in 2017 it is the most purchased picture for the search term “woman” in the Getty Image library.
Getty Images is where every company, blogger, brochure-maker and training-PowerPoint-assembler goes to buy the images they use. Popular stock photos represent the consciousness of mainstream culture in a way that nothing else is really able to. They are purchased by anyone and everyone wishing to use an image to persuade an audience. Ten years ago the most popular pictures of women were largely naked and completely docile. But not anymore. The popularity of photos featuring strong, active women outdoors is such that Getty Images has even given the phenomenon a name, Gritty Woman.
Mainstream culture is finally catching up with what so many of us have known all along: grit is beautiful.
Since childhood, we are saturated with images of digitally re-mastered, inactive women. We are told to buy clothing we can’t move in to go with shoes we can’t walk in. The lessons of the media seep in and shape us in ways we can never fully be aware of.
But this year, this crazy, difficult, disaster-ridden year, the picture that meant “woman” to the most people was of a woman hiking alone. And that, my friends is cause for celebration.
Criticism of the concept is rife, because if something’s different we should probably criticize it, right? Here are my responses to Gritty Woman’s naysayers:
It’s just another impossible body image, set outside
OK, Getty images isn’t getting swamped for pictures of 45-year-old hikers who use reading glasses to look at the trail map and have generous behinds. I’m sure they’ll call me when that happens. Women’s clothing company Title IX prides itself on using “real women” in their catalogs, rather than models. Still, the not-models always look exactly like actual models, only with extraordinary triceps. But at least the women are moving. I’ll take powerful, active female images over the alternative any day.
These images encourage women to go outside for the sole purpose of taking a great instagram photo
Fact: I do not care why anyone goes outside. If a woman goes outside just to take a picture of herself in a cute puffer jacket, this is none of my business. She’s outside, and inasmuch as outside is awesome, it’s likely she’ll be back for more. If her pictures roll across my social media feed, I will probably put hearts on them.
Ten years of improvement is more of a trend, rather than true evolution
Yes, human civilization will continue to change. The popularity of gritty women will wax and wane over time but right now it’s here, and I am going to enjoy every dirt-filled, sweat-accepting image. With time I expect to see more cultural and size diversity in the media, and it will happen as we respond to every positive representation of women we come across.
Ultimately, when my daughter opens up her social media feed, she is flooded with pictures of tough women doing awesome things outside. When I was her age, I was flooded with pictures of buxom women with big hair lying on sofas, beds and occasionally the floor. When I envisioned my future as a 7th grader, I imagined being wealthy and beautiful. My daughter imagines herself living in a van in Colorado, being a professional rock climber. For this I’d like to thank everyone who has ever searched “woman” on Getty Images and chosen the hiker.
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What to read more about the Gritty Woman phenomenon? Check out this great New York Times article