“One of the quickest ways to make people think differently about something, is to change the visuals around it.”

That’s businesswoman Cindy Gallop.

And she should know. The British-born entrepreneur was an advertising executive for many years – an industry with visual representations as its bedrock. And she now runs MakeLoveNotPorn – a campaign and online TV channel dedicated to promoting images and notions of  “real world sex”, as opposed to hard core porn. (Log on to MakeLoveNotPorn.com for some wry myth busting, e.g. “Porn world: Saliva all over everything, as much as possible. Real world: How much saliva features in sex is up to you. If you’re not wild about it, say so. If you are spit away.”)

Jenny Jones
This is how you “be what you see”.

But in the quote I opened with, Cindy is actually talking about a new partnership between Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In organisation and global picture agency Getty, to improve the representation of women in “stock” images. You know the ones they’re talking about – The Businesswoman in boxy suit and outdated briefcase; The Full-Time-Mum with glossy hair, glassy smile and two cherubic blonde children – with father no ever taking a hands-on role; or The Working Mum, depicted, as the NYT quite rightly points out, “holding a laptop in one hand and a baby in the other”.

It says Getty’s expanded range of Lean In images will aim to diversify the representations of  women, business and families, because as Sandberg proclaims, “you can’t be what you can’t see”.

Which brings me to these images, and these – the “sexy Sochi athletes”. Women at the top of their chosen sporting fields, prostrating themselves over their field equipment. Now there’s a visual representation likely to get them taken seriously for the skills they’ve spent years honing… What if we all chose to represent our professions in this way – pictured at our desks covering our tits with legal writs? Or lying across a GP’s examining bed, shielding our dignity with strategically placed medical instruments? And while some “hot Sochi” rundowns have included men, none (that I’ve seen) include them baring almost all.

sochi 2014

But what’s even weirder is this seems to be a step back. After London 2012, it felt like we had begun to see female athletes as strong, positive role models respected for their feats on the field – and a lot of the visuals around the games reflected this. What is it about the introduction of a bit of snow, and winter sports, that’s sent us sliding backwards?

If aspiring snowboarders, or curlers, or skiers, or whatever, want to “be what they see”, you’d hope it’s on the cold stuff.

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