Picrew: Voicing Representations and Identities Through Avatars

April 28, 2021

By Aedrian Josef Mariano

Art By Sydney Udag

A profile picture is worth a thousand words! As a self-chosen public representation on digitized platforms, they give face to the personalities behind accounts and reveal how we see ourselves and how we want to be seen by others.

Recently, Picrew caught the attention of social media users which started the trend of creating avatars and displaying them as profile photos.

Picrew me

Picrew is an online avatar maker developed by Japanese company TetraChroma Inc. The platform allows artists to submit presets which other users can use to design their own avatars. While this paper doll-style avatar creator is not entirely new, Picrew’s growing community of contributing artists opened opportunities for designs to be more representative and inclusive.

As the platform designs come from a diverse digital artist community, it allows various personal and social identities to manifest in the avatars people create. Some artists gave the particular effort to add customizations that not only had normative and conventional looks but included designs that are representative of diverse features and identities.

Representations and inclusivity in avatars

Some avatar designs gave the options of varying body types. Skin color choices not only lingered within white tones but explored a spectrum of brown to dark shades. Persons with disabilities can accessorize their avatars with hearing-aids, canes, and wheelchairs. Headdresses like hijabs and turbans are also available for women whose identities deeply culturally connect with these pieces. LGBT users similarly have a pool of accessories and decorations to express their sexual orientation and gender identity expression.

See these Twitter threads of Picrew presets which have inclusive designs:

The availability of these features in avatar creation is a nod to inclusivity because art is not completely a one-size-fits-all case. On the part of artists, this is an acknowledgment of the diversity of humanity, that no single skin color, body type, gender, or culture is above another; and equal representation for all matters, even in art production.

A self-portrait

Avatars patterned to one’s likeness is similar to self-portraiture. Avatars that are not only aesthetically pleasing but also culturally, socially, and intimately representative of oneself give weight to the personalized art created through Picrew. While the style is the artist’s, the identity embedded in them is our own choosing.

People tend to be conscious of actual photos of them, but through the alternative of Picrew, one may better express their identities through self-portrait avatars. Using these icons as profile photos can be empowering for social media users. This may be especially true for those who identify with often oversighted groups like minorities and the marginalized. Picrew gives the opportunity to these underrepresented individuals to claim a voice through art in a mainstream media saturated with overly represented groups.

Some find digitized platforms as spaces where they are freer and more comfortable in expressing themselves. The inclusivity of Picrew avatars can assist in establishing and reclaiming identities. By using a display picture that is truly representative of them, users find confidence and liberation by putting themselves out there and just owning their identity. This consequently opens the opportunity to promote visibility on online social platforms where reach and discussions can be far and wide. 

Our identity is a matter to be shared and celebrated – both online and offline – with others.

As Picrew actively involves the audience in the creative process, the result is an art more intimate and soulfully imbued with the user’s reflection. An avatar with proper representation in which the individual sees themselves resonates more meaningfully and is an embrace for one’s unique identity.

A bigger picture in the works

Owing to diverse contributors, Picrew opened doors for inclusivity in avatar creation which in effect empowered social users to embody identities through art and express in social media. This is a nod towards a positive direction for social media representations, however there is still much work needed to be done both online and offline. For Picrew artists, the challenge is to continue expanding inclusivity in their character designs. For the art audience, there is still a need to translate promotions of online visibility and self-expressions offline and further advocacies for underrepresented groups. But for now, we can comfort ourselves with the idea of a next possible profile picture with Picrew around.

Featured Picrews

Smile Maker by Smile: https://picrew.me/image_maker/457566

Poicon Maker by Poika: https://picrew.me/image_maker/296093

Character Creator by Sangled: https://picrew.me/image_maker/94097

Girl Maker by Ummmmandy: https://picrew.me/image_maker/114808

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