By Alexandra Embiricos

On Valentine’s day 2011, MTV EXIT (End Exploitation and Trafficking) launched the newest phase in their campaign against human trafficking with a creative competition to get both you and your lipstick involved. The Bold Lipstick competition culminated in six shortlisted winners as voted for by the public, and aimed to increase awareness of this critical issue through an engaging medium. The contestants were encouraged to write a resonating phrase representative of their thoughts and emotions on trafficking…in lipstick.

The result was an emotionally charged and powerful portfolio of photographs which poured in from all over the world, highlighting what an international problem human trafficking really is. The use of lipstick, usually a symbol of women’s freedom, is particularly poignant as it reminds us of the thousands of women sold into this modern day form of slavery.

Every year 640,000 women and children are coerced and forced against their will to don lipstick, dress up, and enter into a world of prostitution. The EXIT team express this competition “as a way for people to demonstrate empowerment and to speak on behalf of those who can’t speak for themselves” and a way to send a valentine that really matters. As runner up Soleil S. Pamatigan exemplifies: “a single voice can make a lot of difference. Who knows, it could even save lives.”

The six winners of the competition hailed from all over the globe, including one from almost every country in South East Asia that has been touched by the MTV EXIT campaign. The 6th place runner up of the competition Mau Thi Thanh nahn from Hanoi, Vietnam created a very relevant image of a girl in amongst the aisles of a supermarket, with the words ‘I am not goods’ emblazoned across a sign. The image has the uncanny ability to make the viewer emphasize with the emotional desolation victims face when they are sold merely on the basis of profit. As she comments here: “So much tears and pain, we need to realize that people are not goods!”

In 5th Place is Isela Guerra from Rio Grande Valley, Texas. Her photo cleverly shows two hands forming a heart and bearing the message “There Is Hope.” She says the phrase was inspired by the empowering stories recounted by survivors of human trafficking, and enthuses “we have the power to lend a hand and the power to open our hearts to these people who are in desperate need of it… I believe that if we can raise an extreme amount of awareness on the issue of sexual trafficking around the world then there is hope for the future…. let us be bold!”

Landing the 4th place slot is Weaw J from Bangkok, who works with youths on anti-human trafficking projects, and creates short films to raise awareness on the disaster of child prostitution. Her photograph depicts a woman with the word ‘SLAVERY” imprinted on her arm, echoing the fact that “we are taught to believe that slavery has been abolished a long time ago, however, that’s not the case…it’s only been abolished on paper.” Keep up the good work Weaw!

In 3rd place is New Yorker J.T Liss, who mirrors MTV EXIT’s idea “that if art of any medium can provoke thought, then change can ultimately be created.” She was inspired to create her emotional image after watching ‘Planet Better,’ and shares the sentiment that if only the young women affected had been empowered with some awareness of the situation, their plight could have been avoided.

Our runner up is Soleil S.Pamatigan, a native of Las Pinas city in the Philippines, she passionately reminds us that “there is no gender or age required to support this fight against this ‘modern slavery’.” her photo depicts a piece of paper in the process of being engulfed by flames, bearing the words ‘women & children, abuse & violence.’ This emotive photo brings to mind how the lives of those affected can be destroyed, and just like paper reduced to ash if people don’t intervene.

Finally, congratulations to our winner, 19 year old Chuah Siew Lin from Malaysia. A live Twitter interview was held with her on the 1st of April detailing her thoughts on both the competition and the campaign in general. Her image sports the quote ‘I want 2 go home’, a direct and ultimately central theme in the battle to end trafficking, returning freedom back to those who have been deprived of it.

Over 5000 votes were cast, acknowledging the breadth of the human trafficking situation. Unfortunately this issue is creeping closer to home every day, as Mau Thi Thanh nahn from Hanoi, Vietnam says: “Most of us think that human trafficking is something in the mountains, near the borders, where poverty is…but in recent years[…] trafficking is something closer to my doorstep forcing people like me to learn and understand.”

‘Bold Lipstick’ was launched in conjunction with the newest music video in the MTV EXIT series, which in the past has featured the likes of Radiohead, Muse, and The Killers contributing to the ‘Some things cost more than you realize’ trilogy with songs such as ‘All I Need’, ‘MK Ultra’, and ‘Goodnight, Travel Well’ respectively. The video, a two minute animated feature called ‘Planet Better’, is directed by Edouard Salier, who has previously worked with Massive Attack and Air. Along with independent sound designer Brian Emrich of Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream, music house Black Iris provided the driving force of the video with the captivating song ‘When Will I Feel Love’. Composed by Lewis Pesacov, it features a harrowing performance from L.A based indie rock band Best Coast’s lead Bethany Cosentino. Her songbird voice lilts a sweet melody which is almost misgiving of the content, and serves as the perfect foil to the dark subject matter it is expressing.

The video portrays a young woman being promised a better life by an attractive stranger, unaware to the danger of placing her trust in him. She is launched to this ‘better planet’ in a rocket symbolically shaped as lipstick, only to find that she has been sent to a place of desolation with no means of escape. This reflects the situation thousands of women unwittingly find themselves in, with young men being sent out to rural communities as ‘talent scouts’ to seduce both young women and their families with the pretence of affluence and the promise of a better life.

However, an unfortunate truth is that it is not only strangers who act as recruiters, the perpetrators can often be friends or even close family members. Menno Kluin, the creative director at the time of Young & Rubicam New York, who also collaborated on the project, said: “the music video tells the story of a girl who is tricked by a man to follow her hopes and dreams across borders in search of a better life. Just like in reality, this journey ends in tragedy. Hopefully we can raise awareness of human trafficking among the general public worldwide, and most importantly, among the young women who are in danger of being exploited.”

Together we can help end the trafficking and exploitation of human beings. By simply watching music videos and engaging in creative competitions, word is rapidly being spread to all corners of the globe, bringing us step by step closer to a solution.


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