Can-Do-Ability: Answers and Solutions from my personal experiences of living with a disability

Look me in the eyes.... I said the eyes

21 Oct 2010What does the name Tanja Kiewitz mean to you? Probably not much, yet. But it will...

Tanja is a 35 year old mother, and a graphic designer turned European model, and disability activist. Tanja was born, missing part of her left arm, just below her elbow. She was asked to model for a campaign run by European non-for profit organization CAP48.

She is pictured with her beautiful locks of blonde hair, a lovely smile, wearing only a black bra. Her left arm is in focus, she stands in the same pose as Czech model Eva Herzigova from the 1990's Wonderbra campaign did, there's a slogan below her picture that says “Look me in the eyes..... I said the eyes” – which was the same slogan also used in the Wonderbra advertisements. Tanja says “They (people) have to see that I'm a woman above all and that I can be beautiful and sexy, and the handicap is secondary”.

Tanja's ad campaign was placed in newspapers and on postcards that were distributed around Brussels, in cafes and restaurants. CAP48 wanted to show Tanja in this way, to raise awareness for people with disabilities. It seems to have worked, as Tanja has become an overnight celebrity, getting bombarded with phone calls from journalists from all over the world.

Her campaign even appears to be responsible for raising more money in an annual telethon that's run through CAP48. They managed to gather over 4 Million Euro's, which is up 10% on last year's efforts.

Johan Stockmann, Communications and Partnership Officer for CAP48, says “The idea was to try to change the way so-called normal people view the handicapped. They look at the handicap, not at the person. We want to change that”.

It's been reported that Tanja felt self conscious about her arm, not wanting to get into a bathing suit in public. But now, since appearing in the ad campaign, she is starting to embrace her disability and feel proud of it.

Tanja laughs off suggestions that her pictures could lead to a new modeling career, but she hopes that it could open up more opportunities for the handicapped in advertising and the media. “It would be good if handicapped people started to be used to advertise other things,” she said. “Why shouldn't somebody with a disability be a model? It would make a change from those models who all look alike. Why don't we have more people in wheelchairs speaking on TV, they can speak as well as anybody else.”

This could be the start of a revolutionary change that is well overdue for disabled public figures. I am very proud of people like Tanja, who are trying to change the way that people around the world look at people with disabilities, great work and keep it up people!

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