Canva's Natural Women Collection: Creator Elle Hughes on challenging societal standards of beauty and gender norms

This International Women's day, lets embrace womanhood in all forms, shapes, sizes and colors with Canva's new project as creator Elle Hughes sits down with MEA WorldWide (MEAWW)


                            Canva's Natural Women Collection: Creator Elle Hughes on challenging societal standards of beauty and gender norms

In the 21st century, women have been more free of inhibition and more comfortable in their bodies, especially under the body positivity movement. Many people would agree women have been so stereotyped historically, their representation often dipped into parody.

While the standard appearance for a female model in stock photography is young, slim, attractive in an obvious sort of way you'd see on magazine covers and Caucasian, in recent years, the more popular women in stock photography have graduated from half-dressed women lounging in bed or politely laughing over salads, to ones exerting power over a boardroom or defiantly scaling rugged mountain tops.

Many people would agree that women have been so historically stereotyped that their representation often dips into parody. (Source: Canva Natural Women Photo Collection)
Many people would agree that women have been so historically stereotyped that their representation often dips into parody. (Source: Canva Natural Women Photo Collection)

Therefore Canva, a graphic design tool that features a huge collection of professional stock photos that can be downloaded and used on just about any project, recently launched a photography collection, called 'Natural Women', which celebrates women in their natural state, in particular, women who are usually excluded in representation by the media.

In this collection, you won’t find overly-photoshopped images that perpetuate traditional stereotypes. Instead, they have put together a collection of everyday women, whose personal stories and experiences challenge both gender norms and societal standards of beauty. Every woman reflects an important yet under-represented minority in stock photography, in the collection. Women whose distinctive body shapes, facial features, or tattoos may not conform to the traditional norms of beauty, but who deserve to be seen are given proper representation.

In this collection, you won’t find overly-photoshopped images that perpetuate traditional stereotypes. Instead, they have put together a collection of everyday women, whose personal stories and experiences challenge both gender norms and societal standards of beauty. (Source: Canva Natural Women Photo Collection)
In this collection, you won’t find overly-photoshopped images that perpetuate traditional stereotypes. Instead, they have put together a collection of everyday women, whose personal stories and experiences challenge both gender norms and societal standards of beauty. (Source: Canva Natural Women Photo Collection)

In an interview with MEA WorldWide (MEAWW), Elle Hughes, the head curator for the photo series, spoke about how they want to challenge how women are often stereotyped and represented in stock photography, and highlight the need for change in order to better represent diversity in women.

What is body positivity according to you?

Body positivity is the acceptance and celebration of our bodies, exactly the way they are, regardless of gender norms and societal standards of beauty. By promoting body positivity, we aim to celebrate our body’s unique beauty and make the world more inclusive and diverse.

Women whose distinctive body shapes, facial features, or tattoos may not conform to the traditional norms of beauty, but who deserve to be seen and given proper representation. (Source: Canva Natural Women Photo Collection)
Women whose distinctive body shapes, facial features, or tattoos may not conform to the traditional norms of beauty, but who deserve to be seen and given proper representation. (Source: Canva Natural Women Photo Collection)

What inspired you to be a part of the 'Natural Women' photo collection?

To find models for the collection, we used an ad on a model finding site, explaining our campaign and what we were hoping to achieve. Within 24 hours, we had hundreds of responses! Women wanting to volunteer and take part as they felt so strongly about our mission.

One of the models, a woman born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy shared that being part of the Natural Women collection “has taken me into this process of self-acceptance, where I’ve learned to recognize my body’s own beauty, as well as my grandeur and strength.” Many of the photographers reported the project to be incredibly rewarding because typically they'd never had the opportunity to work with such a diverse range of models.

They want to challenge how women are often stereotyped and represented in stock photography, and highlight the need for change in order to better represent diversity in women. (Source: Canva Natural Women Photo Collection)
They want to challenge how women are often stereotyped and represented in stock photography, and highlight the need for change in order to better represent diversity in women. (Source: Canva Natural Women Photo Collection)

What was the general reaction from women who were primarily approached for this photo shoot?

Below are just a handful of the amazing and empowering responses we received from models:

"This sounds like an amazing project I’d love to be a part of. Any message that empowers women to embrace who we really are is important. Being a young female I admit I’d never upload an Instagram without it being retouched and that is sad. I used to be 25 kgs heavier and I have stretch marks, I have acne scars from when I was younger, and other imperfections."

"I would love to do a shoot like this, I am from a Greek background, have body hair and am not scared to show this as it is so natural and all women should embrace their natural selves."

While the standard appearance for a female stock model is young, slim, traditionally attractive, and Caucasian, in recent years, the most popular images of women in stock photography have graduated to ones exerting power over a boardroom or defiantly scaling rugged mountaintops. (Source: Canva Natural Women Photo Collection)
While the standard appearance for a female stock model is young, slim, traditionally attractive, and Caucasian, in recent years, the most popular images of women in stock photography have graduated to ones exerting power over a boardroom or defiantly scaling rugged mountaintops. (Source: Canva Natural Women Photo Collection)

"I just wanted to start by saying that I really like what your creative idea is about. I personally have always felt like my stretch marks, visible veins and imperfect body shape were a flaw. Only time has changed my way of thinking and I believe I would make a perfect candidate for your shoot."

"I have lost an incredible amount of weight over the last year and I have had to undergo a few skin removal operations. I have large scars down both my arms and across my stomach. I don’t like my scars but they remind me of the struggles I went through and that makes me proud."

"What a fantastic idea to show the real woman. I would adore to do this campaign. I have a passion for size diversity in the media and am a body positive advocate."

Many of the photographers reported the project to be incredibly rewarding because typically they'd never had the opportunity to work with such a diverse range of models. (Source: Canva Natural Women Photo Collection)
Many of the photographers reported the project to be incredibly rewarding because typically they'd never had the opportunity to work with such a diverse range of models. (Source: Canva Natural Women Photo Collection)

How do you think the photo series will contribute towards body positivity in its entirety?

The feedback of the collection was that it represented a positive way to introduce and promote these rarely depicted images of women in stock photography. By showcasing this diversity, we have the chance to push these ideas into the mainstream. The models wanted specifically to raise awareness of extremely common female concepts that are often underrepresented in stock photos and the media.

One said, "I have leg hair and armpit hair that I am currently embracing and celebrating. I have an Instagram page dedicated to [...] images of women with body hair because the media is full of images of women with hairless legs and underarms." Another model explained, "I notice that women of my shape aren’t represented much in media - I would be grateful [...] to contribute to a more diverse portrayal of big bodies!"

Some of the women in the photo series believed that "Any message that empowers women to embrace who we really are is important." While some others added, "I want to show and inspire others that they can accomplish their goals if they dedicate themselves and work hard and to never give up on yourself."

The feedback of the collection was that it represented a positive way to introduce and promote these rarely depicted images of women in stock photography. (Source: Canva Natural Women Photo Collection)
The feedback of the collection was that it represented a positive way to introduce and promote these rarely depicted images of women in stock photography. (Source: Canva Natural Women Photo Collection)