It’s beautiful, unexpected, artistic, and… body-shaming?
“We can’t deny that there is a lot of body-based discrimination that happens … within our moves around the city,” Jill Andrew, co-founder of the Body Confidence Canada Award, told Metro News. “My experience as a radicalized [autocorrected from “racialized”?] woman, as a fat woman, I’ve been called an f-ing fat black b—- on the TTC,” she said. “Is this video really moving me? Is this video at all depicting me on the move?”
“The body types of most ballet dancers do not adequately represent those of most Canadians and, I dare say, most TTC users.”
You can read Ms. Andrew’s full statement at her Fat In The City blog. In it, she suggests an alternative take on the creative: “An ad like this could have been made more inclusive with the addition of non-pro/pro children and adult dancers of differing sizes, shapes, ages and abilities dancing with The National Ballet principals in the video. THEN we would be seeing MORE of Toronto’s superb beauty, art and culture in motion in collaboration – together.”
Metro states that Stuart Green, a spokesman for the TTC, countered:
The TTC does similar partnerships with a wide variety of organizations, including major sports teams like the Raptors and the Toronto FC. With those promotions, which also feature talented, athletic bodies, body-image hasn’t been an issue.
He also pointed to the TTC’s involvement with the annual Pride celebrations and the 2015 Pan Am and Parapan Am Games.
Speaking for myself, campaigns with athletes are immediately what came to mind when I saw this. Ballet is as much an athletic as it is an artistic discipline, and this could have just as easily been a campaign featuring the obsessively-engineered bodies of Olympians — physical ideals not obtainable by the average person. (However, an Olympic campaign could have feature Paralympians for more diversity.)
We live in an era in which arts and communications struggle with diversity. Dance, and sport, are aspirational elements of our society, providing us with an opportunity to watch and appreciate extreme examples of what the human body can accomplish. It’s essentially unfair, because not everyone is born with that potential, or indeed the resources or community encouragement to pursue these dreams.
But the artists and athletes themselves make huge sacrifices to give us this inspiration and entertainment. As children, they miss out on normal social life, and the endless opportunities for unique personal development that an unstructured youth can bring.
We would be ignorant to dismiss Ms. Andrew’s concerns as “political correctness.” She brings up important issues of inclusivity and marginalization that everyone needs to hear. But we can listen without, in turn, body-shaming Canada’s National Ballet dancers, who also have real human bodies that they live inside of every day. In this case, Principal Dancers Naoya Ebe and Heather Ogden, First Soloists Francesco Gabriele Frola and Jenna Savella and Second Soloist Rui Huang.
One way I have advised clients to embrace diversity, without falling into the trap of showing “everyone” in every single campaign (an impossible task), is this: Commit to diversity over the long term. If the TTC shows elite athletes or artists in one campaign, make the effort to show other, perhaps more marginalized, groups in others. Ordinary people, of all cultures, skin colours, and sizes. Extraordinary people, facing physical, mental, economic, or cultural challenges. Toronto is known as one of the most diverse cities in the world, so its transit system can show that too. Just not all in one ad campaign.
See the posters below, by National Ballet of Canada’s official photographer, Karolina Kuras: