Visible Women

Why these brilliant women are campaigning for more diverse emojis

Posted by
Hannah-Rose Yee
Published
Women in a one piece swimsuit with emoji hearts on it

First, they advocated for the flat shoe, hijab and dumpling emoji. Now they have their sights set on adding a one piece swimsuit to the keyboard

Right at this very moment, as the mercury rises, and rises, and rises, you might find use for a very specific set of emoji.

You might be texting your friends, setting up some time to throw a few things into a basket bag and head down to your local lido or swimming pond. You open your keyboard, scroll to the clothing and accessories section and look for swimwear. You only find one: an itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny, pink and yellow polka dot bikini.

Florie Hutchinson and Jennifer 8. Lee of Emojination, an advocacy group working to make the emoji keyboard more diverse and representative, want that to change. 

Their solution? A simple, sophisticated one piece swimming costume for every woman who doesn’t want to use the bikini emoji. Both have experience in this field. Lee has campaigned for the inclusion of the dumpling and hijab emoji, while Hutchinson was responsible for the introduction of a ballet flat emoji to complement the only other existing footwear options for women. (High heels, the lot of them.)

“With the flat shoe it wasn’t about saying ‘down with stilettos’,” she tells Stylist.co.uk. “And it’s the same with bikinis. Why is that the only option for swimwear? It’s very limiting and exclusionary. I want to give women the choice to find the apparel resonates with their lifestyle best.” 

The proposed one piece swimsuit emoji

This is the proposed one piece swimsuit emoji, and we can already imagine using it in our text messages and Instagram captions

Hutchinson and Lee settled on a utilitarian one piece swimsuit as their chosen design. 

It is simple, functional and, they argue, can be used in multiple purposes both for professional and recreational bathing as well as standing in for a leotard. It’s also a brilliant shade of purple, the same colour as the suffragette movement, which can’t be a coincidence.

Not that long ago, Hutchinson says, the only available options for female emojis were the Playboy bunny, the salsa dancer, the princess and the bride. Now, there are female superheroes, detectives and doctor emojis, to name just a few. There’s also diverse skintones, a greater variety of relationship options and – finally – a bagel emoji. 

But change in the emoji world is a slow and convoluted process. A non-profit organisation called the Unicode Consortium, based in Mountain View in Silicon Valley “regulates” the emoji set, accepting proposals from the public every quarter. 

The one piece was submitted by Hutchinson and Lee in April and is currently under consideration, though some on the committee have resisted its inclusion. 

“Why?” one (male) committee member commented, according to the New York Times. “A person wanting to indicate the use of swimwear can’t use the existing BIKINI? Is this really necessary? What about a Victorian bathing costume? Or a wet suit? Or water wings?”

“Coming from the male perspective this smacks of small-mindedness,” Hutchinson says. “I’m disappointed but I wish I could say I was surprised. But I’m not.” Lee points out that there were several men on the committee who were in favour of adding the one piece to the keyboard, but she does note that anti-inclusionary mentalities “reveals gaps of empathy that is revealing itself in other social fissures.”

Just because you can’t think of a reason to use that particular emoji in your own life, doesn’t mean that others might want and need it. I’ve never used the crème caramel emoji before, but am I happy that a very specific group of Francophiles enamoured of lightly-set custard are available to share their obsession in emoji form? Of course!

“Why are there emoji of 12 different phases of the moon?” Hutchinson agrees. “But not a one piece emoji?” 

When Hutchinson tells her girlfriends about her plan their first response is usually surprise upon hearing that there isn’t a one piece emoji currently. “That’s the danger of implicit gender bias,” Hutchinson muses. “Until someone points out that omission it is easy to submit to the accepted reality.”

As for other gaps in the emoji keyboard, Lee wants to improve the musical instrument range, food and the “holiday” offering to include more destinations in the Middle East, Africa, India and Latin America.

Hutchinson’s focus remains fashion. “The whole apparel category could be reworked,” she says. She wants more options, more choices, more possibilities.

“The emoji itself is not my legacy,” she says. “However, I hope it serves as instruction to my daughters that if they think categories of people are excluded that they should seek to identify the solution and remedy it. Anyone who dismisses emoji as playthings is missing the scale we’re talking about when it comes to the global ubiquity of these tiny visual representations of life.” 

Stylist’s Visible Women campaign is dedicated to raising awareness of women past and present who’ve made a difference, celebrating their success, and empowering future generations to follow their lead. See more from Visible Women here.

Image: Unsplash, Unicode