There is an expression that says, “You cannot be what you cannot see.” I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Images are powerful, and every day, we are bombarded with hundreds of them on television, the internet, books, magazines, and billboards. The images we see can have a huge effect on us. They can challenge us, scare us, make us happy or inspire us.
The most inspirational images are usually those in which we see ourselves. For example, as a Latina woman, I feel particularly inspired when I see other Latina women succeed. Just last week, Fortune announced its 50 Most Powerful Latinas in Business list, and I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride and renewed sense of motivation to keep moving forward in my own ambitions.
On the flip side, every time I search for images to use for this blog, I go through tons of stock photos on sites like Pexels or Pixabay, and I can’t help but be disappointed when almost all of the images are White. When I search for “leader,” I get pictures that are almost exclusively of men. When I searched for “career woman,” there was an image that looked like this:
The tags for this included, “Dog” “Woman” “Business” “Bitch”
So, what happens when there are no images in which you can see yourself? Or worse, when the images that do exist portray you in ways that are negative, stereotypical, and untrue? How much smaller do you dream when you can’t see just how big your dreams can become or how far they can take you?
I’ve heard people ponder why it matters to have films with women or minority protagonists. Who cares if the director is a Black man? So what if the Latina woman made it to CEO? What difference does it make that there are no Asians on the Supreme Court bench? Why does it matter that the Black and Latino characters on television shows are always the villains?
I say it matters because the inclusion or absence of images and the way in which we portray them sends a powerful message about what we value as a society. And, whether we realize it or not, we internalize these messages and perpetuate them. If we say we value things like equality and inclusion, and if we want to create a more equitable society, then we must be mindful of the messages we send that undermine these goals. And, most importantly, we must be proactive in sending the messages that support and advance these objectives.
To be sure, there will always be trailblazers who dream bigger than the limits society imposes. These are the people who make it possible for others like them to dream big as well. Let’s work together to make the trail easier to navigate for everyone and create environments where everyone who wants to and works hard can succeed. For me, there is no image more inspiring than that.