Though “retouched” images continue to plague newsstands and online publications across the globe, one can no longer peruse the pages of their favorite magazines and catalogs without the keen sense that something just isn’t right. We are all increasingly aware of the fact that Photoshop now allows photographers to smooth out imperfections, enabling them to remove wrinkles from both clothing and skin, yet its undeniable presence across all media outlets has left many desensitized to the damage such alterations may inflict upon our psyches and our youth.
However, as more women start to speak out about the pressure to look “picture perfect” despite these digitized standards of beauty, we are beginning to see a resurgence of “real” photographs that demonstrate the true beauty of the female form.
In what appears to be a blatant attempt to increase brand awareness and attract new customers, Aerie, the underwear, loungewear, and fitness wear extension of American Eagle Outfitters, decided to embrace the issue by creating a new campaign that touts the company’s refusal to Photoshop any of its models. Referred to as #aerieREAL on a recent direct mail piece, the campaign features (supposedly) average women that have not been distorted in any way. Yet, while I want to appreciate the retailer’s attempt to shun the sleazy façade that fuels its competitors—namely Victoria’s Secret—the brand neglected to break down its own personal barriers and erase the stigma these images perpetuate.
You see, while the moles and slight stomach dimples unmistakably reveal that the models remain au naturel, Aerie forgets to acknowledge that these “real” models are just that—models. They are all incredibly fit, with each exhibiting the same basic body shape and toned physique. All are impeccably groomed, as not a single one has a hair out of place (if you know where…ahem, what I mean). And all are most definitely taped into their bra. (Have you ever tried on one of Aerie’s bras? Or any stylish bra for that matter? Trust me, if your breasts are even remotely rotund, one will fall out the moment you roll over on your side.) Not a single one of these “real” models looks like the kind of young, impressionable girl you may find rummaging through the sale panties at the back of the store.
Honestly, it’s difficult to embrace a campaign that claims “the real you is sexy” when these models look like cookie cutter copies of one another. Aerie clearly wants to maintain a certain image, and that image will inevitably alienate those this campaign was intended to reach. None of these girls have stretch marks. None have belly fat that droops just over the band of their undies. None of them have rippled thighs or bumpy armpits. No, these girls were chosen for their practically flawless appearance and their willingness to be “retouched” through makeup and body wax.
But, then again, what more can one expect from a brand that must stow its double-D selection within the confines of its dressing room? Aerie may be trying to break ground with this newfangled notion its conjured, but the retailer has many miles to travel before it reaches the point of inclusion and representation for all female body types.