How We Search It: Bodies

Discover how to search for representative imagery of real people. Images that feature bodies of all shapes and sizes on stock marketplaces.

For far too long, mass media outlets have only featured thin, unrealistic representations of bodies. Ads and articles created an illusion that the only body shape worth note was the shape of runway models, with legs for days and paper-thin silhouettes. The body positivity movement of recent years has shaken that foundation, and more and more brands are taking notice. Keyword terms like “body positivity,” “body inclusivity,” “body neutrality,” and “real people” are growing in popularity on stock marketplaces—and with good reason. This change is crucial in advertising. What’s more, inclusivity in marketing is more than just a buzzword. It’s a requirement.

We’re sharing some tips on how to better discover realistic imagery of humankind’s spectrum of bodies. 

Woman with Headphones Discover how to better search for representative images of humankind. Image by carballo.

Understanding Body Positive Keywords

Before we dive into how to find body inclusive imagery, it’s important to understand what the terms you’re searching for actually mean. 

Body Positivity 

Body positivity refers to the idea that all people deserve to have a positive body image represented in the media they encounter. This is regardless of what certain societies deem is the ideal shape, size, or appearance. In an article with Refinery29, Chelsea Kronengold, the manager of communications at the National Eating Disorders Association, says:

Body positivity originates from the fat acceptance movement from the 1960s. The body positivity movement as created by and for people in marginalized bodies, particularly fat, Black, queer, and disabled bodies.

– Chelsea Kronengold, Manager of Communications at the National Eating Disorders Association

Some critics argue that body positivity has become too much of a trend or marketing tool, and are starting to look to new terms to better identify body acceptance within media. 

Multi-ethnic Women Body positivity often depicts self-love and aspirational messaging in imagery. Image by oneinchpunch.

Body Inclusivity 

Rather than focusing on self-love through aspirational content and inspiring images of body acceptance, body inclusivity was coined to better reflect the diversity of humanity in marketing. In marketing, it’s about dropping the bias of who you believe your consumer to be and representing humanity as a whole, with diverse ages, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, and classes. Body inclusivity avoids tokenism or aspiration as a goal. Instead, it encourages marketers to look deeper and think critically about how the people in their images and brand ambassadors represent their consumers. Other keywords include “body acceptance” and “body equality.”

Mom and Daughters Body inclusivity aims to naturally include bodies of different shapes and sizes in imagery while avoiding tokenism or aspirational goals as a motivation. Image by Alena Ozerova.

Body Neutrality 

An up-and-coming word that’s starting to generate some popular coverage is “body neutrality.” The use of body neutrality shifts focus away from self-love. Instead, it focuses internally on what your body has the power to do for you, rather than what it looks like. It’s not positive or negative, it’s simply that a person’s body is their ability to have action in life. The focus is on what feels good. So, imagery featuring body neutrality will often depict consumers going for walks, meditating, and living happily. The goal of this movement is to remove attention from the body as a physical representation of who you are and, instead, focus on issues and activities that make the world and your mind a better place. 

Group MeditationBody neutrality focuses on the act of humans themselves, not the physical look of the body. Illustration by GoodStudio.

Body Representation in Stock Marketplaces

Unfortunately, stock photography has historically been a place that perpetuates and reinforces unrealistic imagery of bodies. For decades, stock photography marketplaces were inundated with images of white, slim, and able-bodied people. And, unfortunately, because stock photography is responsible for billions of dollars of ad spend, this reflected in the types of ads people saw in the world. We’re on a mission to do better, and to have better representation in our catalogues, encouraging our contributors to create images that depict diversity, inclusivity, and real bodies in real situations. Capturing normal people in normal, everyday activities is the new focus in stock, to give our customers stronger opportunities to use representative imagery in their advertising. 

Woman Taking Selfie Showing real bodies in advertising isn’t a trend, it’s a movement for change. Image by SeventyFour.

How to Better Search for Representative Body Images

That brings us to our top tips and tricks on how customers can better find inclusive body imagery to use in their advertising. Portraying inclusive bodies enforces the message that “I could be that person” when consumers look at images. When you only show one type of body in images, your consumers can’t relate to what you’re representing. Here are four of our top tips on searching for representative body images on stock marketplaces like Shutterstock.

Woman Drinking Coffee We’re shifting focus into a natural representation of humankind and body representation. Image by LightField Studios.

Tip #1: Be Highly Specific 

The more specific your search terms are, the more relevant the images will appear in your catalogue. When you’re looking for lifestyle images of people doing certain activities, rather than focusing on that entire bucket of images, create a set of keywords that suit that marketing objective.

For example, let’s say you’re an insurance firm looking for images of families having fun outdoors. Here are a few examples of keyword combinations you should use to find a variety of images.

Mixed-race (or mixed) family playing outside: Ethnicity is your specific keyword.LGBTQ+ couple shopping: Sexual orientation and the type of activity is your specific keyword.Family having a picnic in the park: The activity is your specific keyword.

Classroom Environment Being as specific as possible will provide you with more representative results. Image by SeventyFour.

Next, use Shutterstock’s search bar to change your settings to find different geographic profiles. Whether you use the “Ethnicity” or “Age” term will completely change the type of images you’re shown. An example is searching for “LGBTQ family outdoors” with “40s” to better represent a mature consumer. 

Search TermsAn example of using specific search terms.

Tip #2: Search Body Inclusive Terms with People

Searching for body-inclusive and diverse keywords, then selecting “With people” is another way to find inclusive imagery of people. Again, rather than searching through thousands of generic pages of “person at a beach,” get specific. Here are a few examples of getting specific with your body inclusive and diverse keywords to better find representative imagery. 

Step 1: Start with a highly specific search term that hits a diverse body range. We chose “Plus-size couple happy.”

Happy Couple

Step 2: Next, find an image that you like, then scroll down to the “Same model” category. 

Same Model

Step 3: Like and save images of that model into a Collection. That way, you can reference that model and shoot for future ideas. Chances are, if you liked the photographer’s work the first time, you’ll like more of their work in the future.

Happy CoupleImage by Olena Yakobchuk.

The most important thing to remember when you’re looking to add body neutral imagery to your marketing is not to add imagery where the model looks like they’re being placed in a negative light in the images. For example, searching for plus-size models who are eating junk food, or disabled people looking like they’re overcoming obstacles. The imagery should remain neutral and natural, simply showing diverse and inclusive imagery of everyday people, doing everyday things. 

Tip #3: Finding Images That Look Candid, Not Typically “Stock”

Like spotting a unicorn, finding an image that looks candid, natural, and not perfectly shot for stock can be challenging, at times. Often, our best photographers shoot in studio or have a similar pattern to how they capture their subjects. Finding natural-looking imagery is possible, it just takes a few tricks. 

Trick #1: Search by Fresh Content

“Fresh content” is the newest content uploaded to Shutterstock. We typically organize the catalog by “Most relevant,” which is usually fantastic imagery, but it’s often by our biggest creatives and agencies because they have the best tools to create images. However, searching for fresh content is a fantastic way to find some new talent you might not discover otherwise. This is also a handy tool to find more casual photographers who maybe create custom work outside of stock, and put some hidden gems on Shutterstock to make a little extra cash.

Fresh ContentAn example of what a typical “Fresh content” search looks like prior to curation.

Be prepared to sift through a lot of content. Once you find a photographer you like, look at the type of images they uploaded. Then you might find exactly what you’re looking for. 

For example, this image was found on the second page of the “Fresh content” for the search term “body inclusive.” The photographer looked great, so we took a look at their whole collection. They had some other fantastic images we might not have discovered if we hadn’t looked.

Bionic Prosthesis ArmAn example of an image that you can find using “Fresh content.” Image by PERO studio.

Trick #2: Try Vertical Orientation

Even if you don’t want to use a vertical orientation image, try searching for this using the “Image type” filter. Often, pro photographers and agencies only shoot in horizontal format because it’s the most used by clients. However, a lot of photographers who create social media-ready imagery will shoot and upload in vertical orientation. Here’s an example of an image found using that tool. Here, you’ll be able to find similar, natural-looking images by browsing the rest of the photographers’ collection. 

Vertical OrientationThis is what the initial search looked like.

Yoga Position An example of the type of imagery you can find using vertical orientation filters. Image by Flotsam.

Tip #4: Use Shutterstock’s Curated Collections

Whether you don’t have time, or just want to select ready-made images for your marketing, Shutterstock’s Curated Collections are the best place to start. Curated internally by our art team, these are the top images on our marketplace, and usually the most natural, marketing-friendly images. Our team takes the guesswork out of searching for you and curates thousands of images every day for you to use. Here’s some tricks for using curated collections.

Trick #1: Select Any Category, Then Find Photographers You Like

Rather than trying to find a category that perfectly matches the type of image you need, go to any curated collection and find an artist you like. Then, save their work. Chances are, if you like that image you’ll probably like their other work. This is a smart way to start saving artists to use in the future, so you don’t have to find them over and over again.

Friends Having Fun An example of an image you can find on curated collections from the “Brighter Futures Ahead” collection. Image by AlessandroBiascioli.

Trick #2: Save Your Favorite Images in Your Own Collections

When you’re browsing your favorite curated collections, don’t forget to heart the image and save it in your own collection of stock images. You can save as many images in as many collections as you’d like, and it’s a fantastic way to refer to images you’ve loved in the past, but maybe didn’t have the opportunity to use just then. Plus, it’s a clever way to build a mood board for a certain type of advertisement you may be launching.

Explore More Curated Images for Representative Bodies:

Shutterstock’s Body Positivity Image CollectionShutterstock’s Real Bodies Image CollectionOffset’s Real Bodies Collection 

For more on body positivity and inclusivity, take a look at these articles:

How We Show It: BodiesChanging the Fitness Industry Through Inclusive ImagesMarch Fresh: New Content We LoveThank You, Men, for Explaining Things To MeFinding the Female Gaze in Photography and Media

Top image via Shutterstock’s Identity Unfiltered Collection.

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