The Female Gaze

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The right image can trigger an emotional response - make us feel differently, transform us.  Pictures have the ability to change not only how things look, but who we are.  “If you can see it, you can be it,” the phrase often goes.  And we’re seeing new images of powerful women and girls all around us, drawing us forward from the threshold of this decidedly female era.

Though the number of women in charge remains in the minority, it’s a number that’s growing steadily and visibly.  Time magazine and New York Times magazine made Hillary Clinton’s presidential run a cover story before she announced it herself.  Angela Merkel remains a constant face and force in the newscycle, and Janet Yellen just got sworn in as the first female head of the US Federal Reserve.



The word “feminist” is being taken back by such varied and vocal women as Rookie’s teen editor-in-chief Tavi Gevinson, best-selling British humorist Caitlin Moran, and of course, she-who-runs-the-world, Ms. Beyonce Knowles.  Elle UK magazine commissioned several ad agencies to help them “rebrand feminism”, and loud and proud feminists Tina Fey & Amy Poehler hosted the Golden Globes for the 2nd time in their 3 year contract, as Bing’s Heroic Women campaign played over commercial breaks.

A public dialog is happening about the way females want to be viewed, and it’s playing out in the commercial sphere as well.  Pantene’s “Labels Against Women” commercial went viral, and succinctly summed up the double standards that women are held to. Retailers like Aerie lingerie and David’s Bridal have embraced the real bodies trend. And the #notbuyingit app was launched just in time to call out sexist Super Bowl ads at the touch of a smartphone button.

We’re also seeing that films and television shows that feature female protagonists are not only inspiring – they’re more profitable.  Content behemoth Netflix recently announced that their primarily female-helmed original show, Orange is the New Black, is their most-watched original series.  These stories overturn antiquated notions that heroines don’t have crossover appeal.

Speaking of profit, we already know that women control $20 trillion in consumer spend globally, and they are the primary users of social media.  The online crafting mecca, Etsy, sold over $1 billion in merchandise last year, and the majority of their sellers – and buyers – are female.  And companies that appeal to female consumers specifically are starting to catch on, and are placing more women at the helm.


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Other corporations definitely have a long way to go, though strides are being made there thanks to the likes of Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman, and PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooryi.  Mary Bara was recently named Ford’s first female CEO, and was then spotlit by President Obama in his State of the Union address in January.  And Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s ground-breaking book on female empowerment, Lean In, celebrates its one-year publication this March, and has been a fixture on the New York Times bestseller list since its release.

On a related note, we’re proud to partner with Sheryl and her nonprofit, LeanIn.Org, via the Getty Images Lean In Collection.  It’s a jointly-curated library of exclusive Getty Images content that not only reflects the contemporary age we live in, but spurs us on to visualize an even better one.  It’s a space where females are equally celebrated for their life choices and diversity whether they’re students, businesspeople, athletes, aides, mentors, makers, mothers, partners, or none of the above.  Together, we’re aiming to highlight more positive, powerful images of women and girls in hopes that others will do the same in their campaigns and creative projects.

The optics on womanhood are changing for the better, one picture at a time.  We’re building a new world that’s populated by females who are strong and dynamic, vital and valued.

See you there.

Explore the Lean In Collection here.


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About the Author

Pam Grossman - Director, Visual Trends, Getty Images

As a head of the global Creative Research team, Pam has unique insight into the meaning, application and impact of imagery – photographs, illustration and film – around the world today.  Using the information derived from researchers around the world and custom-designed forecasting methods, plus the wealth of data generated by, Pam is able to identify – and perhaps even helps to shape – the visual language of tomorrow.  The current and future trends identified in turn supply advertising, marketing and publishing professionals with imagery that will resonate strongly with target audiences and sway purchase decisions.

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