Phrase “fashion victim” takes on new meaning in ad

Handicap International “Fashion Victim” ad

The term “fashion victim” typically conjures up images of a walking billboard; a person adorned in name brands, wearing the latest trends and manicured from head-to-toe. At first glance, that’s exactly what is portrayed in Handicap International’s new ads, seen in metro stations throughout Montreal. However, it’s in that second glance, a brief moment after, that the ad’s purpose becomes clear.

The ad uses codes of beauty; a supermodel, an evening gown and a Miss Universe sash, and turns them upside down. The ad is designed to catch the viewers’ attention, as their eyes move down the image and they experience a brief moment of shock, realizing the woman is an amputee. The powerful image gets people to stop and think, moving beyond what is normally associated with the phrase, “fashion victim.” The ad plays with the words, highlighting that landmines and cluster bombs continue to be fashionable in some countries.

“We wanted to take what people are comfortable with and challenge that,” said Jérome Bobin, communications and mobilization manager for Handicap International.

Handicap International is a non-governmental organization that fights against the use of landmines and cluster bombs. It also provides support, assistance and advocacy for people in developing countries with various forms of disabilities.

The international organization got its start in 1982 when two French doctors were working in refugee camps in Thailand. At that time, many Cambodians had fled to Thailand to escape the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge had planted landmines throughout Cambodia, including along the Thai border, leaving many refugees as amputees. The doctors saw a need for a resource for this population and people living with disabilities in developing countries. In the 30 years since its beginning, Handicap International has grown and is now active in 60 countries with more than 300 projects.

Currently, the organization is working in the field in Syria and in refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon. With over two million people living in refugee camps, often without proper roads and infrastructure, Handicap International is providing direct help for the most vulnerable populations in those regions.

Handicap International visits Libya in a military base near Tripoli. Explosives were found and collected by those in charge of protecting the area.

The fashion victim ads aim to raise the visibility of Handicap International and create awareness about its current projects. The provocative ads were designed and launched in Luxembourg, and the organization felt they had a high degree of success. According to Bobin, the campaign has received similar attention in Montreal, garnering messages of support and significant reaction from the public and the media.

The ad is also being used to promote Handicap International’s upcoming event, the Pyramid of Shoes. On Sept. 28 at the Mont-Royal metro station, participants are asked to throw their old shoes onto the pyramid in a symbolic gesture to protest the continued use of landmines and cluster bombs.

The event will have interactive activities, concerts and appearances by superhero favourites, Batman and Spiderman. The organization is expecting a great crowd and organizers are hoping to beat last year’s one-ton pyramid of shoes. Shoes from the pyramid are donated to an organization that reuses and recycles used goods.

“If I see lots of people participating and learning about the importance of the issue I will be happy,” said Bobin. “We want to mobilize people in a positive way.”

The Pyramid of Shoes is taking place on Sept. 28, 2013 at the Mont-Royal metro station, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m..  For more information


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