By Louise Kinross
Saatchi & Saatchi New York launched this ad yesterday for Italy's CoorDown, a national organization representing people with Down syndrome.
The ad features American actress and model Olivia Wilde looking in the mirror while a woman narrates: "This is how I see myself. I see myself as a daughter, a sister and a best friend...as a person you can rely on." We see images of Olivia Wilde living her life, at work and play. "I see myself meeting someone that I can share my life with. I see myself as an ordinary person with an important, meaningful, beautiful life." The camera then pans to reveal the real narrator, a young woman with Down syndrome, who asks: "How do you see me?"
I suppose the objective is to make viewers question their judgments about this woman when they assume she's a conventionally beautiful actress, then compare them with their reaction when they realize she's a woman with Down syndrome.
We know from a 2012 French study that adults who say they accept children with Down Syndrome show, at an unconscious level, a negative bias when shown photos of a child with Down syndrome as opposed to a typical child. These negative stereotypes "are the result of social attitudes and values carried by our cultural environment," said lead investigator Claire Enea-Drapeau. "As long as we don't know about them...we are trapped in automatic attitudes or associations. But when you are aware of it, then you can start to struggle."
I suppose the Saatchi & Saatchi ad may wake viewers up to the negative stereotypes they hold when the young woman with Down syndrome is revealed. But then what? How does it challenge those stereotypes? How does it make the viewer think differently about beauty?
And why is a young woman with Down syndrome being compared to a conventionally beautiful actress and model in the first place? Would any of us want our daughters, or any other young woman, to be measured against a Hollywood beauty?
The young woman in this ad will continue to face the world with features that don't meet Western standards of beauty, and, which we know through the French study, generate automatic stigma.
As a contrast to this ad, I much prefer this one: "Because who is perfect? Get closer." To honour International Day of Persons with Disabilities in 2014, shop windows in Zurich displayed mannequins with the shapes, curves and height of real people with amputations, short stature and a curved spine (see photo below). Meticulous measurements were taken and drawings made of each model's body and limbs, so that exact replicas could be produced. This campaign communicates the value of real bodies, real people.
Unfortunately, the young woman with Down syndrome in the Saatchi & Saatchi ad is not even named in the AdWeek article. According to a director from Saatchi & Saatchi: "This year we're thrilled to work with world-class artists including director Reed Morano and actress Olivia Wilde."
Wouldn't respect start with including the young woman with Down syndrome in the actual story? Naming her? After all, it's her story, right? Not Olivia Wilde's.
This reader comment on the Youtube video sums up the discomfort I feel watching this ad: "Disabled people shouldn't have to imagine they do not look disabled to be beautiful...Disabled people are beautiful exactly as they are...this is erasure and violence to disabled women."
It sickens me to imagine what on earth the young woman with Down syndrome took away from this experience. How is this ad going to help that woman feel comfortable in her own skin, let alone other people with Down syndrome who watch it?
The ad is being launched for World Down Syndrome Day March 21.