Last week, popular clothing brand Aerie, a subsidiary of American Eagle, announced that their spring collection would be modeled by unretouched, unphotoshopped models. In a public statement, the store claimed their new campaign was “challenging supermodel standards by featuring unretouched models in their latest collection of bras, undies and apparel.” Models sport Aerie bras, underwear, and loungewear with visible tattoos and stomach shapes that resemble an actual human. The campaign slogan reminds buyers “The real you is sexy!”
I was surprised and thrilled to see a campaign based on realness and representing young women as they are. Since I’ve struggled a lot with body image issues and the beauty standards set forth by models in clothing and lingerie advertisements, Aerie’s campaign means that much more to me. And I’m sure I’m not alone in these feelings – according to DoSomething.org, only about 5% of women naturally possess the body type portrayed by the media. By representing such a narrow body type as ideal, the media has played a huge role in the number of women suffering from body image insecurity, lower self-esteem, increased body monitoring, eating disorders, and depression.
It’s incredibly important to me that companies like Aerie are setting a good example when it comes to advertising. I thought it was especially cool to see Aerie not only commit to models with shape, but also to things like tattoos and body modifications. No one needs to be told what a digital age we live in. The number of ads we see these days is practically uncountable. While Aerie’s new campaign may be a whisper in the babble of damaging and inaccurate images that flood the Internet, magazines, and billboards, at least it’s a start.
But the more I thought about Aerie’s campaign and the images they were showing, I started to get a little disappointed again. I took another look at the models featured on Aerie’s main webpage. Can I really see myself in these models? Sure, they look a little bit more like I do, I guess. But these girls are still wearing single-digit dress sizes. According to the CDC, the average woman over 20 years old in America is 5’3”, 166 pounds, with a 38” waistline. Even though sizes vary incredibly store to store or brand to brand, based on those stats the average dress size in America is anywhere from a 12 to a 16. The girls in Aerie’s photos might not have been Photoshopped down to skin and bones, but they are still only representing an incredibly small variety of body shapes.
Continuing along the path of limited body type representation, these girls seem to be fairly well endowed in the bust department. These girls have boobs that are big enough to fit the standard beauty norm without being cumbersome. Aerie carries sizes 32AA through 38DD…but their models don’t seem to represent this variety at all. It feels hypocritical to me that Aerie celebrates “the real me” and tells me “the real me is sexy” but still chooses to show me the same cleavage I see in every advertisement ever.
And then there’s the issue of representation. The image that flashes across Aerie’s homepage features six girls. Five of them are the blonde or brunette white girls. One is black. These types of situations always make me roll my eyes. “But see! We represented the minority in these advertisement!” the message always seems to be. But equal representation doesn’t mean representing one minority group and calling it a day. Equal representation should mirror the demographic breakdown that exists in reality. Equal presentation means including a variety of minorities. It also means breaking away from the stereotypical images of beauty. Do we really need more images of girls with perfect skin, shiny hair, and brilliantly white teeth?
So I feel like I’m kind of at an impasse with Aerie. On one hand, I’m excited and relieved to see a brand trying to break the mold and give girls and young women advertisements that aren’t created with the help of Photoshop and digital wizards. I’m happy to see girls that actually look like they have fat and muscle in an advertisement. But then I think about the vast majority of girls and young women who are not represented by this campaign at all. Are these girls less real? Less sexy? That seems to be subtle, subconscious message Aerie is sending. And that’s not okay. So while we’re making progress, and that shouldn’t be negated, there’s still a long way to go when it comes to fair and equal representation of women in media and advertisements. But we already knew that, didn’t we?
Ava is a freshman Writer, Literature, and Publishing major. She is a tea and coffee addict, cupcake lover, and all-around nerd. Feel free to ask her about her fandoms. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
Image from aerie.com