QL Speaks: TTC, National Ballet of Canada and Body Diversity
The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) sparked controversy with its new ad campaign in partnership with the National Ballet of Canada.
The TTC’s new campaign features five national ballet dancers performing at several Toronto transit locations. Body Confidence Canada released a statement criticizing the ad campaign for the lack of size, shape and weight diversity. More specifically, Body Confidence Canada stated that this ad campaign unknowingly communicates negative ideals about physical beauty:
“While we completely agree with the intent of message: one of acknowledging and celebrating Toronto arts and culture, we believe initiatives like these, executed in this manner, continue to perpetuate unrealistic and highly regimented bodies as some sort of an ideal of ‘beauty’. More specific to this ad, the bodies pictured become unintended signifiers of some sort of higher ‘art’ and ‘culture’ to aspire towards.”
The TTC’s Senior Communications Specialist responded to the critique by reaffirming the TTC’s celebration of Toronto arts and culture:
“The TTC is incredibly proud to be able to partner with the National Ballet of Canada to create an exciting and interesting campaign that showcases our respective places in the social and cultural fabric of Toronto”.
Juris Diction asked the Queen’s Law student body for its opinion about the TTC’s new ad campaign. Here is what three contributors had to say.
The Ballerinas are not gratuitous aesthetic-objects
Representations of the self in media can subtly undermine human dignity in at least two ways:
(1) Unrealistic and/or Unhealthy Ideals. Media tends to idealize its subjects. Unrealistic and unhealthy representations of self in media can encourage unhealthy choices, and it invites a comparative devaluation of real selves.
(2) Objectification. Humans are valuable and deserve respect – inherently. Human dignity is undermined when people are “objectified,” meaning: treated not as inherently valuable, but as valuable only insofar as they satisfy the demands of instrumental utility in a particular domain (aesthetics, sports, etc.).
The TTC ads may be an example of problem #1. The ads feature ballerinas. Professional ballerinas are thinner than most people. So, BCC is right. The “bodies” in the TTC ads are not representative of the norm.
Yet, to fixate solely on the ballerinas’ “body size, shape and weight,” as BCC does, risks objectifying them (problem #2).
Media often features gratuitous “body beauty.” That is unhealthy. But that is not what TTC is doing.
The TTC ads feature ballerinas – not as gratuitous aesthetic-objects – but as artist-athletes who evoke higher, positive values by virtue of the craft to which they devote their lives. These include:
- Dedication and the pursuit of excellence
- Attainable modes of healthy living such as dancing or walking to the subway
- Supporting the arts and vibrant communities
Advancing dignity and socially-just public services remains a project of paramount importance, and BCC’s message is an important part of that project. However, I am sure that BCC can find better targets for its message than the ballerinas.
– Andrew Bala (3L)
There is a more viable argument for Body Confidence Canada
I disagree with Body Confidence of Canada’s criticism of the TTC’s ad collaboration with the National Ballet of Canada. In my view, it is futile to argue that professional ballerinas are not of a particular build and overall aesthetic; both very limited in diversity and perfectly corresponding to the ballet profession, its history and specific beauty. Their bodies are reflective of the physical demands of the art form itself. It is reasonable to argue that the public should expect nothing different than the resulting images in the sense that they understandably depict the particular athleticism and beauty of the inherent art form they are portraying. If there is any basis with which to judge the diversity of the ad campaign, body diversity is not it. A more viable argument may be the lack of inclusion of different racial groups.
– Lorena Mance (1L)
The TTC has made a patently unrealistic campaign
With regards to Body Confidence Canada’s statement on the TTC’s “We Move You” advertising campaign, I agree with their statement that the campaign does not “reflect how users of the TTC ‘move’ regularly”. The TTC has made a patently unrealistic campaign which depicts lithe, athletic, dancers moving easily through empty subway stations, subway trains and streetcars. This clearly does not depict the typical reality of moving through a streetcar or subway train of children and adults of differing sizes, shapes and ages that is part of the trek tens of thousands of Torontonians make to access the city’s arts and culture scene. Moreover, the advertising campaign implies that like the quick, smooth and graceful movements of the dancers in the video, service on the TTC is also quick, smooth and graceful. Anyone who has ever had to ride a train downtown would know that this is patently false advertising. I think I will be more “moved” by a campaign showing the reality of fat, racialized, disabled, elderly and pregnant Torontonians stoically bearing through another signal delay or power failure at Eglinton Station on a weekday morning.
– Jason Liang (3L)