The poster above my head reads, “The Real You Is Sexy.” The words accompany an image of a slender woman in a pretty bikini who has not been “retouched.” In other words, this girl has not been photoshopped to look like a Barbie doll. This poster can be found in an Aerie store, the lingerie branch of American Eagle, and is a product of the AerieReal campaign.
The campaign is, statedly, working to “challenge supermodel standards by featuring unretouched models in [our] latest collection of bras, undies and apparel,” in a world where images of women in the media are very often photoshopped and promote an “ideal” body type. This effort jumps on the fad initiated by brands like Dove and Seventeen Magazine that have sworn to stop retouching their models.
In spirit, this campaign is awesome. One major distinction between Aerie models and others featured in, say, Victoria Secret ads, is that these girls are all smiling. They’re promoting a sort of personality rather than posing as mere sex objects or canvases for the lingerie (I know, right! What a concept!). It’s a small change, but a big and important step for this industry,
Another plus? The AerieReal campaign models are exhibiting confidence in their bodies. Again, this is definitely easier if you match the ideal skinny white girl look, but nonetheless, these girls are putting themselves out there in the raw and inspiring women to embrace their natural beauty without makeup or touch ups or surgery.
It has been proven time and time again that the marketing industry has a major effect on women and girls and how they perceive their own bodies. As a result of this industry, men expect women to live up to the unattainable standards of beauty, while women hold themselves to these standards in order to meet these expectations. This often promotes negative body image in young girls and can lead to eating disorders and mental illness. This campaign is an honest attempt to reverse this trend.
But despite this Aerie’s best intentions, it has unfortunately missed the target in a number of areas. As a rule, marketing campaigns should be taken with a grain of salt, because in the end, they’re still trying to sell you something. As I stand in the Aerie store with the knowledge of the problem as well as Aerie’s intentions in mind, I can’t help but feel a little disappointed in this effort.
First of all, the models don’t differ all that drastically from the typical Barbie doll shape that is so often sold to us. Maybe some girls have dimples or birthmarks, or maybe a wider-than-average range of cup size is represented. But for the most part, these girls are predominantly white and thin. They’ve won the genetics pool game in that they’ve achieved model-ready bodies without the photoshop.
This problem runs deep. Joan Jacobs Brumberg put it perfectly when she said in her book The Body Project, “women [have] exchanged external controls of the body of internal controls.” corsets and restrictive undergarments have been replaced with dieting, waxing, cosmetic surgery, and “no-makeup” makeup. These ads reinforce this message, and end up saying, “you can be sexy, but only if you look like this–naturally.” In some ways, this promotes an even stronger negative body image in girls, because the campaign demands “sexiness” without the assistance of filters or makeup or photoshop.
Second, and perhaps less obvious, is the fact that these ads are still selling sexiness-a physical characteristic- as an end goal. These ads continue to to remind young women- their target audience- that sexy is a characteristic that you should strive towards. To Aerie’s credit, this angle is not entirely their fault. In order for the campaign to be successful within its industry, it must focus on physical attributes and as a means to self-confidence in order to reverse decades of harmful focus on women’s bodies and the commercialized need to fit a certain shape and size. What we Really need, however, is a shift in the conversation entirely; a woman’s confidence should not have to come from her looks but rather from her potential, her drive, and her internal peace.
These ads are evidence of major progress towards promoting positive body image for all girls. This campaign, however flawed, has started a movement. And it has certainly given me hope for the future of the ad industry. Perhaps, with a bit of luck, other major lingerie stores and fashion companies will soon catch on to the trend and take the movement farther, to the point where the industry is exhibiting all body types without perpetuating unrealistic beauty standards. But ultimately, I hope to one day live in a world where underwear is just underwear, and not a tool through which confidence is achieved.
Rachel is a rising freshman at Brandeis University. In her spare time she enjoys watching Orange Isthe New Black, eating popcorn, and thinking about going to a yoga class (and then not going). She is an advocate for all things feminist and dreams of one day finding out how high a sycamore grows.