How Aerie’s “Real” campaign is failing its customers

American Eagle’s intimates brand Aerie started a campaign titled #AerieReal to promote positive body image in its advertising. It reads: “We think it’s time for a change. We think it’s time to get real and think real. We want every girl to feel good about who they are and what they look like, inside and out. This means no more retouching our girls and no more supermodels.” Dear #AerieReal: Thanks, I guess, for getting “real.”

It’s empowering that Aerie has decided to stop photoshopping models; the media and popular culture have recently begun to understand that women want to see more realistic representations of bodies modeling the clothes they plan to buy.

While it’s a step in the right direction, the rhetoric of Aerie’s campaign and its execution are still problematic.

Aerie, what is “real” to you? The images the fashion industry, popular media and culture present are often skewed. As a plus-sized woman and long-time buyer of Aerie undergarments, when I initially saw the campaign, I was excited. “Finally,” I thought. “Diverse representation of bodies is breaching the mainstream.”

Yet, the campaign almost exclusively features insanely fit women who look nothing like me or many women I know – they’re supermodels, no matter what the company says. Of course they’re “real”; they’re just as real as any other individual that identifies as a woman. But is this a different kind of representation of a body than previous campaigns? These images are not telling me that the “real me is sexy.”

It is extremely rare that I see someone with my size 14 body or beyond modeling products that I intend to purchase. The exclusivity of thin, toned women in the realm of underwear modeling leaves women such as myself feeling insecure and wondering if these products were ever intended for our curvaceous bodies. “No more retouching our girls and no more supermodels” was a beautiful, refreshing and really exciting promise to see.

While the sentiment of this campaign is benevolent, Aerie is using body positivity and self-acceptance as a means to sell a product.

The company’s target audiences are women and girls between the age of 15 and 25. This demographic is one of the most susceptible to developing eating disorders, with the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders reporting that 86 percent of female college students have had an eating disorder by age 20. Additionally, women and girls ages 16 to 24 are 12 times more likely to die of anorexia than any other cause of death.

Aerie, I want you to understand how incredibly capable you are of making real change. If #AerieReal is trying to sell undergarments to “real” girls, perhaps consider a broader scope of women to redefine the currently narrow public perception of beauty.

Yes, the women in this campaign are beautiful and sexy, but you know what else is? Love handles, body hair, dimples, cellulite, tummy fat and belly rolls; girls short and tall, girls with scars and beauty marks, girls with back fat, girls with big breasts and girls with no breasts at all – women of all shapes, sizes and colors.

If Aerie wants its campaign to instill confidence in women – inside and out – in a nation where the average woman’s size is a 14, they need to stop using body positivity as a marketing campaign and show women that it finds all body shapes and sizes sexy. I definitely agree with #AerieReal: It’s time for a change.

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