Tag Archives: art

Real People Silhouettes

I recently had the opportunity to talk to the Church lab about Open Humans, and in the course of preparing slides I needed to represent “people” somehow. The standard “person” icon felt irritatingly male-default (the one on men’s bathroom doors), and mixing it up with the stereotyped “dress equals woman” felt like a miserable propagation of gender binary. So I looked for some silhouettes of people (and I looked for them on OpenClipArt, where all artwork is supposed to be public domain).

I found these1 – and they’re better than icons. People, after all, vary. Humans aren’t a bunch of identical rubber stamps.2

Four silhouettes

You’ll probably think I’m too picky, but I was still dissatisfied. There was only one woman, and she still felt … extra feminized. I mean, it’s not offensive at all, she looks very normal. But the hair, the legs, the shoes… it still felt like a “performance of femininity” and not just “here is a person that happens to be female”.

Recently I saw that Inkscape has a trace tool and thought I could try my hand at making some “real people silhouettes” from real photos. So I searched Flickr and found this CC-BY photo by downstairsdev. From that I made these three figures:

Silhouettes of three people

Can you guess which of these are female? (Answer: all of them.3) Chris wasn’t sure if these were female or male when glancing at them. I think we are collectively inured to the exaggerations made by media: men and women aren’t as different as we make them out to be.

I’d like clip art with less gender-exaggeration to be available to all, so I’ve put them on Wikimedia Commons. I’ve marked these as CC0 because I think clip art really shouldn’t expect stuff like attribution.4 The photo was CC-BY (and not CC-BY-SA) so I think this licensing choice is allowed (let me know if I’m mistaken). (Sorry, I’ve requested deletion of the images per Sage’s correction below.)

I also made a nice “man with a cane” silhouette from this photo by ragesoss of his grandfather (going by the title there) but the photo is CC-BY-SA. As a result I’m not really sure what to do with it I’ve shared it with a CC-BY-SA license, but I really wish it could be CC0. Maybe Sage can change the license to CC-BY…. 😉 Thanks to Sage relicensing this, I’m able to share it as CC0.


1: All four were by rejon, links: Person Outline 1, Person Outline 2, Person Outline 3, Person Outline 4
2: Indeed, the fact humans vary — and that their risk preferences vary — is why something like Open Humans should exist. Some participants will be okay with publicly sharing data that others prefer to keep private.
3: If you crank up the curves – or the gamma on your computer – you can see the faces of the silhouetted folks in the original photo.
4: Well, to be fair, I decided to CC0 all my media shared on Wikimedia Commons.