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13 Inclusive Images That Avoid Tokenism and Stereotyping

This pink, purple, and orange collage for February features a Black mother in an orange dress breastfeeding her infant.

It’s possible to create images that appropriately represent humanity’s diversity — it just takes time and thoughtfulness.

As a design firm committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion, one of the most frequent pain points we hear from creative teams is their inability to find “diverse photos” — and when they do, the images often tokenize people of color or engage in other harmful practices, such as inspiration porn or colorism.

And yet…inclusive representation in photography and images is possible, as the creative team at Brevity & Wit shows every day in their work, and every year in the Diversity Calendar we publish.

But creating an inclusive image for 12 months of the year (plus the cover — making the calendar a nice baker’s dozen of inclusion) requires thoughtfulness and a keen eye and awareness of what to avoid. So we thought it would be helpful to hear from our Creative Director Acacia Betancourt and our Senior Visual Designer Sophie Greenbaum about the thought process that went into each image this year.

An interracial family of four poses in front of layered pine cones, pine trees, and a green background for the January collage.

Acacia: Most of our calendar images feature a single person, but we try to include various types of families, as well. This year, for January’s National Family Day, we decided to showcase an interracial family. In 2022, same sex and interracial marriage were under threat, and this is an issue very personal to me because my marriage is interracial. This got us thinking about how many beautiful families wouldn’t exist if interracial marriage were no longer a possibility. These two sweet kids with their parents were a great way to kick off the calendar, and we put them in a nature scene to give the image an earthy feeling. It was also important to us to include an image of a white man this year, and this dad felt right.

This pink, purple, and orange collage for February features a Black mother in an orange dress breastfeeding her infant.

Sophie: Acaia had actually found this image for a client who felt it was a little too revealing for their report — so naturally we used it for the calendar. It’s a beautiful representation of Black motherhood and the love Black children receive. During the drafting phase of this collage, we originally had a series of Fs in the background to hint at the month instead of spelling it out. But we realized ffffff is actually the hex code for white, so we nixed that idea.

An older woman in a wheelchair smiles towards the camera. The March collages features tones of blue and overlapping jellyfish.

Acacia: One of the reasons creating this calendar every year is so much fun is that Sophie and I get to dream up scenarios for these characters, and make truly one-of-a-kind images. The fact that this woman is in a wheelchair is not the focal point of this image, even though it’s an important component since National Wheelchair day is in March. We are thoughtful about including images of people with disabilities, but we don’t want that to be the most important part of a person’s identity. We wanted to give this woman a fun, light, dreamy background that felt sort of ethereal. Jellyfish felt like a great fit, and they frame her lovely face so beautifully.

An Arab-American woman in a headscarf poses for the April collage. In the dark background, there is a geometric pattern that is commonly seen in Arab design.

Acacia: I love featuring powerful women. Images of women wearing headscarves are pretty common on stock photo websites, but they vary greatly in quality. The women we see featured are often either young, thin, and model-like or are much older. I liked this woman, in particular, because she looks like she’s in her 30s or 40s and she has a fuller body type (a dimension of identity that is often very hard to find when searching for photos). She looks confident, self-assured, strong, and thoughtful. It’s an intriguing image that pulls you in and makes you want to know what she’s thinking. It paired perfectly with the geometric background pattern that we see so often in Arab design.

An older Asian man and woman embrace as a couple, infectiously smiling for the month of May. The gentleman is holding flowers, which are included larger in the yellow background.

Acacia: I have loved this image for over a year, and was so excited to finally have an opportunity to use it. I LOVE this couple. As my mom always says, they make me smile with my heart. We do our best to feature people with multidimensional identities. When we see image of Asian people, they are often younger — either kids or young women. These two are so full of joy and laughter that it’s contagious. The gentleman is holding flowers, which we included larger in the background to pull the whole image together to make it feel bright and fun. We believe that joy is a form of resistance. There has been so much hate and discrimination against various Asian communities this year and we wanted to bring some joy to them through this image of two lovebirds.

Two women in white embrace for June's pride month collage. There is a colorful, gradient background — ranging from red to yellow to teal — with a fingerprint-like pattern overlaid.

Sophie: Since this couple is wearing white, I wanted a colorful background with a lot of vibrancy and details. The pattern reminded me of fingerprints, so I opted to use it to symbolize individuality, as well as the rainbow gradient to signify Pride month.

The collage for July depicts a smiling boy of South Asian descent, with pop art illustrations surrounding him. These include bright clouds, lightning bolts, stars, and pointed speech bubbles over a black background.

Acacia: I really wanted to do something in a pop art style this year, and some last minute changes to the order of images allowed me to make space for this adorable kiddo. We not only like to highlight different kinds of people of all ages and backgrounds, but we also try to make them seem like complete, whole people by including their imagined interests and personalities. July is Disability Pride Month, which could be interpreted in countless different ways. We like to imagine that perhaps this young man has a non-apparent disability, but that doesn’t stop him from being creative and energetic.

August illustrates a a woman of short stature standing in bright blue plants over a terra-cotta backdrop. Her hair blows in the wind as she strikes a pose in black athletic gear.

Sophie: This one is for my fellow millennials. Earth tones and plants have been so trendy over the past few years, especially in the Pinterest-era, so I wanted the design to be a reflection of her age. Plus, she’s wearing black athletic wear, which has been all the rage since the pandemic. She looks fabulous!

September depicts a festive Latina woman in a colorful floral dress with large red flowers in her hair. She is surrounded by blue-and-yellow macaws as they sit over a royal blue background with faded poppy flowers.

Sophie: Acacia had selected this colorful image of a dancing Latina woman. What better way to frame her than with blue and yellow macaws? The macaw can symbolize flair and visibility, and I wanted the symbolism to parallel Hispanic Heritage month. A script S was also included to depict movement.

A white woman with teal hair and a prosthetic arm sits in a throne of light purple hydrangeas over a mint-colored background for October.

Sophie: I was immediately drawn to the teal color of this woman’s hair, as well as how she was positioned — it was easy to imagine her sitting on a throne and becoming the Queen of October. This led to the idea of using the colors of the image to create a patterned background, as well as using an “O” to circle the hydrangea seat. She became our first completed collage. It’s clear this woman is an artist who knows how to make herself into a work of art.

A Native American man wears an "I Voted" sticker for November. He has large blue butterfly wings behind his back, along with little blue butterflies surrounding him.

Acacia: It’s incredibly hard to find pictures of Native Americans — even harder to find quality images that feature Native American men (particularly of them wearing everyday clothing, not full traditional costumes or headdresses). I searched for at least an hour deep into the libraries of several stock photo sites, and my determination paid off when I found this gorgeous image that features a Native American man. But the real icing on the cake was that he is wearing an “I Voted” button on his shirt.

An older Black man in a fedora cheerfully smiles for December. Collaged feathers, snow-covered tree branches, and a snow-falling pattern sit behind him, over a slate blue backdrop.

Acacia: We went back and forth on how to represent December. Originally, I wanted to have a young Jewish boy for Chanukah because there’s clearly been a rise in anti-Semitism this year. We also are very intentional about including everyone when we aim for diversity, including young white men. But we also wanted to avoid promoting one particularly holiday in December, so we instead decided to focus on promoting the joy of the season. Older Black men are seldom centered, so this joyful image showcases a delightful man with darker skin, beautiful smile, and winter coat that closes out the year perfectly.

The cover image features a non-binary person with bleached hair and blue eyeliner. The Brevity & Wit blue ampersand wraps around them.

Acacia: I picked this image of a non-binary person mainly because I loved that their eyeliner matched the Brevity & Wit blue! But it ended up being an incredibly poignant image as we announced that the Diversity Calendar was ready shortly after the shooting in Colorado at a drag show in a gay nightclub. I think that’s the power of inclusive images — when you have enough of them, you can appeal to folks in a timely manner without being exploitative, performative, or manipulative.

Hopefully this peak behind our creative curtain has given you some insight into what it takes to create inclusive images of humanity’s diversity. If you have questions, leave a comment. And if you like what you see, there’s still time to purchase your copy of the 2023 Diversity Calendar! When you do, you’ll be supporting a minority- and woman-owned business — and our mission to design a more inclusive and equitable world!