“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me…” Artist Rich Johnson dispels the old saying with a powerful collection of images.
The Weapons of Choice project strives to provide a visual demonstration of the power of verbal abuse
These photos aim to provoke conversation about the problems of domestic violence, child abuse, and bullying.
"We called the project “Weapon of Choice” because we found that physical abuse and verbal abuse often go hand-in-hand, and the choice to render emotional harm rather than physical harm is just that: a choice" - Rich Johnson
Professional Makeup artists donated their time to the project to create realistic looking injuries on the models.
"The scars of emotional abuse are invisible, and victims of abuse don’t often talk about it." -Rich Johnson
"I want people who are quick to dismiss bullying or verbal abuse to take a second look. We’re going to make the use of these photos free for non-profit organizations serving victims of domestic violence, child abuse, or bullying, and I hope they can use these photos to spread awareness of the problem" -Rich Johnson
According to the project crew, the younger children who took part said the word they identified as the worst word, the word they were shy to say aloud - the word they only dared to whisper - was “stupid.”
"A lot of people have a "sticks and stones" attitude towards bullying and verbal abuse, but I kept hearing stories about how deeply it affects people. I felt that if people could see these photographs, more people might take this issue seriously" - Rich Johnson
Most of the children who participated had been affected by bullying, and they told Rich and his team about their experiences.
Some of their stories surprised not only the project crew, but also the children’s parents, who in some cases had never heard about the experiences the children recalled.
"It’s one thing for a parent to volunteer their children to participate in an anti-abuse campaign, but once they showed up to the studio and saw the list of hurtful words that we had prepared, they were uncomfortable picking out a bad word that would be painted on their kid’s face. Some parents couldn’t do it, and they said they trusted me to pick the word. A word has a lot more gravity when you contemplate literally wearing it on your face." - Rich Johnson
"My brothers and sisters and I were all abused as children — physically and emotionally. For me, I feel like the verbal abuse hasn’t had a life-long impact, but I know that for some of my siblings, it’s deeply affected their lives." - Rich Johnson
"There were people that I’ve known for a long time who participated in this project, and I heard personal stories of abuse that really surprised me, stories I had never heard … It was a cathartic experience for a lot of us" - Rich Johnson
Rich discovered that much of the verbal abuse directed at women and teen-aged girls was sexual in nature.
The woman who had posed for this picture was once often told that she was “less than trash.” Being called “trash,” she said, would have been an upgrade.
"One thing that really became apparent during the shoot is that in any abuse situation, there are three people: the abuser, the abused, and a witness. I don’t think I’ve ever been the abuser in my life, but I realized that I’ve been a passive witness to abuse — I didn’t do anything to report it or stop it — and that’s just as bad." - Rich Johnson