Step in Right Direction or Propelling Stereotype: #AerieReal

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In a recent shocking move, aerie, the lingerie sister brand for American Eagle Outfitters, decided to go for the ‘au naturale’ look when it comes to their models. There will be no retouching, no Photoshop; just positively radiant young women wearing their clothing.

The campaign, known as #aerieReal is aims to debunk the stereotype of the airbrushed-to-perfection, totally unrealistic “super” model, as can be seen in any Victoria’s Secret ad. They even added a site feature for online ordering, where a model who is a 34AA bra size actually wears that size to portray the fit in a photograph, rather than the usual busty model sporting the 36D. Yes, the photos still have the perfect lighting, with made-up models in flattering poses, but the message is prevalent: women should not need to be airbrushed to be sexy.

However, what is still perplexing about this campaign is the size of the models. They are as close to flawless as they come, and perpetuate the stereotype of the slim woman as advertising gold. Sex sells, and though these women have a realistic look, they are still the gorgeous, straight-teeth, blemish-free, “ideal” woman of our society.

The step in the right direction for this campaign is this African American model who is curvy and busty, but still healthy and beautiful. It calls to question the use of a black woman to propel diversity within the campaign, but overall sends a better message. She is also much lighter-skinned, which in our recent discussions, has been more positively received by the general population (i.e.; the executives) than a darker skinned woman.

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Another good move for aerie is the model with a visible tattoo. Tattoos are extremely taboo in this industry, and can sometimes lead models not to find work with certain brands who have a “clean” image. aerie proudly displays this model’s tattoo and it really grounds the campaign. Though she is not covered head-to-toe, it is moving towards inclusivity of a market that is not generally reached by feminine clothing brands.

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I commend aerie for this revolutionary ad campaign that empowers women to aspire for real, not airbrushed, but there’s still more to improve on. When they begin to include women from a more diverse race pool, or larger models, as seen in the Dove beauty campaign, they will have really started something great in an industry that starves and retouches girls, shaming the ones off of the page and the screen.

This campaign challenges the super in super model, and recent fads like fat-shaming, #thinspiration, and the thigh gap phenomenon, but I don’t believe it’s far under the radar of the womanly stereotype of our society. When they truly take women who look like they could be on the bus with you, eating an entire pint of Ben and Jerry’s on a bad day, or has beautiful tattoo sleeves, they will have truly broken the mold.


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