Pinterest May Be Reinforcing A White, Thin Bias

Recently I wrote a fun little article about wedding fashion and incorporating your wedding’s theme into your bridal party’s OOT(wedding)D. My goal for the article was to highlight five to 10 various themes, create a suggestion/inspiration collage of photos for each, and give my thoughts on why the outfits would be a good pick for your wedding. I had a great time writing it: coffee in hand, hermit mode engaged,  looking up all the wedding fashion photography—perfectly-lit and uniquely angled, of course—on Pinterest.

Sigh, Pinterest. What a delicate collaboration of the Internet’s most desirable images. What a wide variety of things I will never have or do. I was picking out wedding dresses left and right, gathering loads of inspiration for bridesmaid attire, and surprising myself on the decent variety of Pinterest menswear I was able to add to my collection (spoiler alert: I am clueless about men’s fashion; my husband taught me that there is a difference between tuxedos and suits when we were preparing for our wedding).

For each of my eight paragraphs, I uploaded three pictures: one depicting a bride in her dress, one of bridesmaid(s) in her/their gown(s), and one of wedding menswear. I created each collage separately, writing in between, and finishing up by saving the collages in a folder on my computer. Finally, when I was satisfied with the writing portion of my article, I sat back to happily view my collages one by one.

That’s when it first hit me: out of the 24 pictures I had collected, every single one depicted extraordinarily thin men and women, and 22 of them were Caucasian.

OK, no, I wasn’t SHOCKED by the overall result of these collages, having become used to the atypical “Pinterest aesthetic” over time. But, when I thought about it objectively, I found the result distinctly unsettling. I was, for example, very irritated with myself for naturally gravitating towards skinny models. And  I was really surprised to discover that my two non-white pictures were 1) a possibly mixed race or VERY light-skinned African American woman and 2) a possibly mixed race or VERY light-skinned Middle Eastern woman.

I immediately signed back into Pinterest thinking that I had unconsciously chosen those (I had, after all, been looking for style more than the model wearing the style) and geared up to choose the same dresses/suits/tuxes, this time being worn by a wider variety of models. I found next to nothing. It wasn’t my subconscious bias, although it could have easily been; it was Pinterest’s.

Every single model or person photographed was light-skinned and extraordinarily thin. Searches like “wedding dress,” “blush wedding dress,” “blue bridesmaid’s dress,” “black tuxedo,” etc. showed no diversity. I had to specifically  search under phrases such as “plus size wedding dress,” “Asian bridesmaids,” or “African American tuxedo” to find anything I could use to show a wider range of humans in my collages.

What in the world is an “African American tuxedo?” I don’t know, but I had to search for it to find an image of an African American man wearing a tuxedo on Pinterest. That search yielded a good amount of results; I found that the photography was phenomenal, their outfits were sharp, and they were good-looking guys—basically, all the tell-tale signs of a Pinterest photograph. So why did my search have to be so bizarrely specific? Searching for “Caucasian wedding dress” brought up a handful of Circassian wedding dresses (apparently a fair number of Pinterest users don’t know the difference between Caucasian and Circassian), but a search for “wedding dress” brings up exclusively white, thin women.

Let me be clear: This does not bother me because I hate skinny white people. The thin Caucasian men and women whose outfits I initially chose for my collages are beautiful. They are real people—stunningly gorgeous people—who are just as entitled to be in these pictures as anyone else. As long as the men and women wearing the clothes aren’t starving themselves or staying thin in other unhealthy ways, there’s nothing wrong with being a size 0, just like there’s nothing wrong with having white skin. But why does Pinterest not offer a wider variety without having to search under such specific terms?

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I hope this isn’t ignorance on my part. As I attempt to explain my confusion, I wonder if I’m being insensitive to those who may be proud of having their own unique category. It’s not something I’d want to take away from them—in fact, it’s quite the opposite. I think we should all be celebrated for our individuality when it’s appropriate; however, I think that a search for “wedding gown” on Pinterest shouldn’t have to come with the words “African American” or “plus-sized” to see a little variety.

The sad fact is, exclusive cultural norms still exist. Being white and thin is to be “normal,” and all other humans can be categorized as “others.” What good can come out of this? I don’t want to find myself mentally excluding anyone; if I can change the status quo, I should. Nothing will ever change if I don’t; white, skinny models will continue to dominate the content that I’m exposed to on my daily news feeds, thus enhancing the subliminal message that to be skinny and white is to be normal. It is a vicious cycle—emphasis on the vicious.

The issue of race and diversity in the media is a tangled web of problems; overcoming diversity on an individual level is the first step to making progress. So the good news is, if we want to see more diversity on our social networking sites, then the power is in our own hands. Pinterest is a prime example of a networking site that the users are, to an extent, entirely in control of. Wherever we exercise this control, we take responsibility for the content that we republish and, therefore, promote. For example, if you repin a photo you find under “plus-size wedding dress,” don’t pin it on a “plus-size” board. Change the caption under the pin so it no longer emphasizes the bride’s weight. Hashtag normal terms such as #weddingdress, #bride, and even—gasp—#beautiful.

It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.
― Maya Angelou

View Comments (4)
  • I have had this problem 100 times over in the fitness/wellness industry. Working in Higher Education lends me to push even harder to ensure that I show diversity in my marketing. Usually I photograph my own students and participants but this is not always an option so I begin looking for high quality photos on google and when you search terms like yoga photography, fitness, women running, personal trainer, etc. you will mostly find photos of skinny or very fit white men and women. I find myself doing just as you did and searching things like “African American bench press” in order to find high quality photos of diverse individuals. Sad but true.

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