Swedish start-up dvarg.se is attracting criticism for renting out people with dwarfism to corporate events and private parties, for entertainment purposes. Some of the controversial services include ‘dwarf-boxing’ and ‘dwarf-bartenders’, priced at 4,000 kronor each, and ‘dwarf-bodyguards’ priced at 5,000 kronor per dwarf. Clients can also hire dwarves for customized services, at 1,000 kronor per hour.
The ethics of such services are obviously questionable, and the company has been accused of setting a bad example to the nation’s youth. But dvarg.se CEO and founder Johannes Erikkson insists that there’s nothing wrong with what his company is offering. “We cater for everything from nightclubs to bachelor parties,” he said. “Last weekend we had a request for some of our employees to kidnap a guy at a bachelor party.” However, the company did remove a service called ‘dwarf-tossing’ from the website, after it was reported in the national media.
28-year-old Erikkson said that he was inspired to create the website after he met a dwarf named Arash Ayatinejad, who used to work for a similar company in Denmark. “He said he was terrible at internet marketing and I offered to help him,” Erikkson revealed. “After doing some keyword research, I found that there were lots of people searching for it online and I couldn’t find a single agency in Sweden.”
Ever since Erikkson launched the site, he has received hundreds of requests for dwarf services, with three to five events booked per week. He has about 10 employees, some of whom have worked with high-profile clients such as Spotify and HBO Nordic.
Several human rights activists in the Nordic nation are raising their voice against the services offered by dvarg.se. “It makes me very angry but also sad,” said Maria Persdotter, chairman for the Swedish National Association for Disabled Children and Young People. “In Sweden, the goal is that everybody is entitled to a good education, supposed to have a normal job, a family, raise children and have a home. This is like a giant step back in history to when people would pay to watch strange-looking people.”
“I think that if someone is diagnosed with dwarfism and is an adult then they have the right to do whatever they want. But it doesn’t set a good example to children and teenagers growing up today,” she added. “The idea that this is the way you’re supposed to earn money as a dwarf is very disturbing.”
Photo: Sveriges Radio
But Erikkson refuses to be moved by such arguments. “I don’t think I need to respond in any other way than that I am a liberal man and I think that everyone should be able to do what they want with their own body,” he explained.
Interestingly, Arash, the dwarf who helped found the company, has no qualms about it either. He admitted that he was insulted at first when a woman tried to sign him up at an agency in Denmark, but he soon got used to the idea. He realised that he’s actually happy to rent himself out, because it makes other people happy.
“Why not,” he said. “If I can make money on my appearance and I feel okay with it, what’s the problem?” In fact, he insists that some of his jobs have been quite interesting, like when he was hired to dress as Game of Thrones character Tyrion Lannister. He does draw the line at some jobs though. For example, a client once wanted to hoist him from a flagpole, which he flatly refused do.
Arash also added that he has no problems being called a dwarf, as long as people don’t mean to be disrespectful. “I’m just like any other except that I’m shorter,” he said. “Otherwise, I have exactly the same quality of life as others. Had I been the medium I would have probably been drawn to the entertainment business anyway.”