What Was Vogue Brazil Thinking With This Paralympic-Themed Shoot?

Photo: Helene Wiesenhaan/Getty Images.
Vogue Brazil is coming under heavy criticism for a series of photos in which able-bodied actors were digitally altered to look like they have disabilities, The Telegraph reports. The shoot features actors Cléo Pires and Paulo Vilhena, both of whom are able-bodied ambassadors for the Brazilian Paralympic Committee (CPB). The problem, however, is that their bodies were photoshopped to look like Brazilian athletes Renato Leite and Bruninha Alexandre — altered limbs and all. Pires had her right arm digitally amputated to look like Paralympic table tennis player Alexandre's, while Vilhena appeared to have a prosthetic leg like Leite, a Brazilian sitting volleyball player. The editorial is part of a publicity campaign for the Rio 2016 Paralympics, which Vogue Brazil shared on Instagram with the hashtag "We are all Paralympians" in Portuguese.
Unsurprisingly, the campaign has come under fire — mainly for using able-bodied celebrities as the face of the Paralympic Games, which has long fought for recognition equal to the Olympics. "There’s no shortage of disabled people to take the place of spokesperson in these adverts and show society that, yes, they exist and they deserve as much space in the media as us," wrote Natália Belizario of feminist website Lado M, according to The Telegraph. "No, we are not all Paralympians. We still do not understand the reality of people with disabilities." Richard Lane, who works for the U.K.-based charity Scope (to bring equal opportunity for people with disabilities), echoed Belizario's concerns: It's "hard to understand why Vogue Brazil felt the need to use models who aren’t disabled in a Paralympic photo shoot," he told Huffington Post UK, noting that it was a missed opportunity to "celebrate Brazil’s talented Paralympians as sporting equals." Many are using social media to expose the problematic nature of the imagery, suggesting more appropriate models who could have easily starred in Pires and Vilhena's places.
The controversial campaign apparently stems from reports that ticket sales for the Rio Paralympics have been slow: As of last week, just 12% of tickets had been sold for the event, which is due to start September 7, the BBC reported. According to Clayton Carneiro, Vogue Brazil's art director, the concept for the shoot was Pires' idea and had the Paralympians' blessing. "We knew it would be a punch in the gut, but we were there for a good cause," Carneiro told The Telegraph. "After all, almost no one bought tickets to see the Paralympic games." Pires took to Instagram to defend the campaign, saying in a video: "We lent our image to generate visibility. And that’s what we’re doing. My God." Unfortunately, like the visuals themselves, the response seems to miss the mark.

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