Illustrating Diversity and Inclusion

In working on the ABC Girls book, I’ve worked hard to show diverse groups of women and girls; socially diverse, economically diverse, ethnically diverse, etc. The books we read, and the pictures we see as children really stick with us through our lives, and form the groundwork for our understanding of the world. They help form the framework that be build our ideas, and opinions on. If we can only access limited media, than our framework is incomplete. Without realizing it, our understanding of the world is incomplete from the start. We are limited in the ways we are able to understand the things we started out missing. That is why I have been working so hard to include diverse portrayals of women and girls. When I was young, the perception in toys, books, and cartoons was very simplistic. Girls wore dresses and liked pink. That was the idea femininity that was presented to me and my peers from a young age. When we encountered anyone who fell outside that, they were outside of our limited world view, and were perceived as strange. It took until I was an adult to dismantle and rebuilt that scaffolding. I’m sure there are parts I have missed. What I want to do, is to start children off with a better, more accurate picture than I had, of the inclusive diverse society we live in. The idea of feminine is so much more than pink and skirts. It’s even so much more than XX chromosomes.

J is for Justice
J is for Justice

We live in a society where many, many groups of people are marginalized, forgotten, and oppressed. Through this book, I don’t just want to radically change the conversation about what it means to be feminine, but also to tackle what it means to be feminine and part of additionally marginalized groups. What it means to be feminine and to interact with people or groups who are marginalized or oppressed. I want break down the boundary that often exists in our minds that our identity can only be one thing; I am a woman, I am Hispanic. I want to blend those identities, and explore what it means to have multiple identities; I am a Hispanic Woman. Really, this book is about intersectionality. Intersecting identities, intersecting individuals that build eachother up, and use their qualities, careers, and attributes to strengthen eachother. Some of the women or girls in this book may be in a position where they have more social or financial power. This could be because they have various jobs, and are more financially independent, because they are older and are able to access that independence, some may have been born with outside of certain societal constraints, such as having particular skin color. However, all the women and girls in this book take their power, and use it to better themselves and the other women and girls throughout the book. They use it to empower their communities. They magnify that strength. We have women who, individually, have very little social capitol, who are oppressed and marginalized, but who gather together to help eachother. J is for Justice perfectly illustrates this, with a social justice movement from India. Those are real women. That is a real movement, that speaks out against violence against women and children, domestic violence, and police brutality. While the individual women may have almost no power, together they are able to protect their communities and county for the better.

M is for Moral
M is for Moral

In M if for Moral, we see a similar dynamic again. A young girl is handing out food to the homeless. The young girl is also albino, which in many places in the world means she would be on the fringes of society. In this picture, however, she is not on the fringe, and she has enough power in her own life to be able to help others who have less power in their lives. The homeless teen in the image is wearing a rainbow shirt, which represents the LGBT community. I chose to do this because LGBT youth are at much higher risk of marginalization, abuse, and homelessness than their straight or cis counterparts. In many places LGBT youth and adults have to choose between being marginalized, hurt, or living in secret. However, in this image I chose to present the two girls, both often lacking in power and social capitol, sharing their capitol, power, and resources with one another, to build eachother up.
The themes behind the illustrations in this book can be summed up with a quote by Martin Luther King Jr: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” I’m working to capture that sentiment in all these images. Not just of justice, but of collaboration, of community building, of freedom, and at it’s core, humanity. I want these girls in this book to show the kids who read this book all the wonderful things it is to be human. To help others, to love yourself. To build your community, to respect others. And I’ve chosen to do it in an exciting, fun way. This isn’t a boring, lecture. It’s a bright, colorful, fun book. The pictures are full of details that pop out and beg to be wondered at.

I also included women and girls who are variously-abled. In our society, we have an idea about what it means to be “abled” and what it means to be “disabled”. However, there are diverse physical disabilities that aren’t visible. There are mental illness, one of the biggest problems facing our society, which are also not visible. These often affect people who are homeless which is another reason I chose to include homeless people, who are too often invisible. They are people, and their struggles are real. We need to stand together, not face the other direction, and I drew these women brave enough to do that. I also have girls who have seemingly small physical impairments, such as eye glasses. And larger disabilities like a wheel chair, or missing limbs. I chose not to portray these women and girls as weaker, as they are often shown. I’ve know many of people with physical disabilities. My friend’s nephew, who was born with only one leg, has a special bike and won a bike race in his local area. I worked with a woman who had only one hand, and she typed faster than me. I’ve known many people in wheel chairs, or with other physical aids, and not only were they active in their community and at their jobs and with friends, but they were independent and were the people I knew who were most likely to help a stranger. And that is a quality I think kids should emulate. Having a body that is physically different than “average” doesn’t mean you can’t make a difference or live the life you want. It doesn’t make you weak. In the words of my friend’s six-year-old, “I choose my own destiny!”

I hope, as I finish the illustrations for this book, you continue to enjoy them, and to enjoy the theme I’m trying to build. I’m not just illustration a book. I’m illustration inclusion and diversity in our communities and our world. I’m illustration a new way to talk to kids about the way we view our peers, neighbors, and our society. Their world, that they will build with the tools we give them, after our time has past.


Ariel Shultz

artist, educator, environmentalist, sailor

One thought to “Illustrating Diversity and Inclusion”

  1. Ariel I love this. Been noticing the wide range of girls represented in your illustrations so far and think it’s so great! I’ve always been frustrated by responses to representation that demonize the prevailing image instead of calling for more diverse images and questioning why they aren’t there. There’s nothing inherently wrong with traditional pink femininity, or thin white models in fashion magazines, but when that’s the only image represented, it becomes extremely dangerous and damaging. Visibility is the key, making all kinds of people visible in all kinds of different roles and empowering kids to see the limitless possibilities for themselves and people around them. Your book is exactly what the world needs. Thank you for being so thoughtful and putting so much effort into visibility and diversity. Can’t wait to read it!!!

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