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Actor-director Justin Baldoni was at MacEwan to speak about masculinity and body image.  (SAMU)

‘I don’t believe in pedestals’

Justin Baldoni speaks out about our
out-dated notions of masculinity
By Jasmine Graf

FANS OF THE show Jane the Virgin and the romantic drama film Five Feet Apart will know Justin Baldoni. What they may not know is that he is also a mental-health advocate.

The actor-director was at MacEwan University on Feb. 28 to discuss positive masculinity and body image practices with his seminar, “Redefining Expectations.” His aim was to open up a conversation about male privilege in the #MeToo era.

Baldoni’s talk mirrored the topic of his web series Man Enough, launched in 2017, which discusses what it means to be male today, but rather than criticizing toxic masculinity, his approach is to encourage men to be more in tune with their feelings and direct that positive energy towards women.

Baldoni’s seminar took place in The Lookout event space.  (Jasmine Graf)

“What I can tell you is how it feels to be a man and be punished for emotion,” said the Five Feet Apart director. “Women’s socialization matters, too.

“Praise those moments.”

Baldoni said that, while portraying heart-throb Rafael Solano in Jane the Virgin, he experienced first-hand the amount of pressure men face when they try to attain an ideal body type. It made him want to speak up about how these social ideals negatively affect mindsets.

“I started to see how it was being put on a pedestal,” he said about the physique he had to maintain for his role. “And I don’t believe in pedestals.

“I still think it’s so weird that you guys want to hear what I have to say. We’re here to go deep; it’s not just ‘take off your shirt!’”

The sold-out event saw 280 people in attendance – including students and members of the public – with 50 purchasing VIP tickets. Baldoni also took a moment to acknowledge the facilities around him.

“This is a nice new building,” he said about The Lookout in the newly-constructed SAMU space.

The Students’ Association of MacEwan University officially opened its new building on Jan. 17, and it has received a lot of publicity. However, it isn’t the only thing that impressed the fitness-conscious Baldoni.

“You guys have a beautiful facility here,” he said of MacEwan’s Sport and Wellness centre. “It’s like paradise.”

Jaime Beagan, SAMU’s director of programs and services, says Baldoni isn’t the first guest to take an interest in the campus.

Since 2014, the organization has brought in around 15 notable speakers, including YouTuber Jenna Marbles, Natasha Lyonne of Orange is the New Black, One Tree Hill’s Chad Michael Murray and Tan France of Queer Eye.

As well, SAMU has brought in such popular musical acts as July Talk, Dragonette and Mother Mother for MacEwan’s annual Fall Fest.

“A lot of these performers are American or British,” Beagan says. “They don’t know a lot about Canada, so they’re really intrigued as to who we are and what we do.”

She adds that SAMU’s Speaker Series has created one of the university’s largest followings by repeatedly bringing in “entertaining but relevant” acts.

The actor and the author pose for a photo.  (SAMU)

“We do hear – quite frequently – from U of A students that they would like speakers along those lines. Our Speaker Series name has really made something for itself in Edmonton.”

Bringing in these guests is a process that involves months of pitch meetings and student polling, as well as clauses and contracts.

“The only complication is mother nature,” Beagan says. “We had almost two cancellations with Tan because of weather, and there’s really nothing you can do about that.

“The contract is fairly straight forward, so that’s the easy part.”

The next act coming to MacEwan is Indigenous singer-songwriter and guitarist Sebastian Gaskin from Winnipeg. He will perform in The Lookout on March 25.

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