Healthy Models: Why Normal Shouldn’t Be The Goal

Recently American Eagle’s aerie brand (a lingerie and loungewear line) launched a campaign called #aerieReal in which their models are depicted without retouching leaving “imperfections” on display.  (Read More about it HERE)

Great idea right?

Well almost as soon as the applause started, so did the backlash.  Throughout social media, well-meaning individuals argued that while the models remained untouched they weren’t representative of normal women.

aerie 1This made me think and I came to a conclusion that some people may find offensive:

We shouldn’t want our fashion and beauty ads to depict normal women.  Because, normal does not equal healthy.

We are all aware of media’s emphasis on the thin body and what has been deemed fat shaming.  I don’t debate these issues for a second.  But what worries me is the reactionary pendulum swing that I have been observing over the past few years.

There has been a public outcry to embrace and promote the “normal” body, especially in fashion and beauty ads.  And by “normal” I mean the average-sized body.  Unfortunately that is not necessarily a good thing.  According to 2009/2010 number released by the CDC, 69.2% of US adults 20 or older are overweight (including obesity).

Consequently, the idea of replacing anorexic images in the media with the average aka “normal” person is frightening.  Aren’t we then simply running the risk of creating a culture of unhealthiness at the other extreme?

aerie 2Both sides come with a slew of potential health problems.  So why are we insisting we promote either side in order to make people feel comfortable?

I know we all look different.  I understand that we come in different sizes and that we face different challenges –especially surrounding our weight (be it eating disorders, thyroid issues, PCOS, or a slew of other legitimate medical complications).  But that doesn’t mean we should give up on the aspirational; that we should simply embrace the status quo.

aerie 3

Wouldn’t the logical step be to promote healthy models and in turn healthy bodies?  As in, the body with a healthy percentage of fat (not BMI, as it can be misleading)?  Advertisements are aspirational at their core, promoting products that will in some way make our lives better.  I believe the people in these ads should represent that same goal.  Especially when the product being promoted is intrinsically tied to our bodies.

Being healthy doesn’t automatically mean being a size 0-2, but it doesn’t mean the average clothing size, 14-16 (in the US) is healthy either.  Depending on several factors (height, muscluator, etc), anywhere within that range (and perhaps even outside it!) can be deemed healthy for a particular individual.  Additional factors should also be considered, for instance even if your numbers all fall in the healthy range, but you carry your weight at your waistline the CDC tells us that you are at a higher risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

I want to be clear:  in no way am I suggesting that people who fall in the unhealthy categories (on either side of the pendulum) should be shamed, or that companies shouldn’t create products for people in all categories.  Also, this post is not about the #aerieREAL campaign (that was just the inspiration).  What I am saying is, individuals that we see in ads should fall in the healthy aspirational category.  Not simply the “normal” or “real” categories that I keep hearing public outcry for.

What do you want to see when looking at models in campaigns?  Are you for or against retouching?  And in the case of aerie, do you feel like they’ve gone far enough?  Do you agree that normal does not equal healthy?


  1. I am not sure what size these models are, they still look small to me in the pictures, of course they don’t have concave stomachs but who does, And many of us are not in our 20’s anymore. So I am for using healthier models that are not bulimic, because truly if we are promoting health we should think of our children reading these magazines and what images they are getting. I guess it depends on the images. It could go too far, but I don’t think that’s what they are going for as far as obesity or diabetes and such. I am sure there are two sides to the story, but that’s my 2 cents.

  2. I totally agree with your considerations!!!
    Don’t Call Me Fashion Blogger

  3. I love the not-retouched campaign and I agree with you that the the reaction is problematic. These women are real in the sense that they exist (not computer generated). By claiming that real women – normal women – are somehow different, it invalides women who look like this! It has parallels, I think, to the problem I have with “Real women have curves.” One the surface it’s trying to validate certain people, but it does so by invalidating others (are women without curves not-real?).

    I think advertising will stay aspirational, no matter the (usually temporary) public outrage. I wonder though if images of women of all sizes would lead less to passive acceptance of one’s current health state – but rather it could give people the self-confidence boost to start practicing self-care habits (such as exercise and good nutrition). I don’t know; It’s such a tricky situation, but this less-retouching seems like a good start!

  4. Sono assolutamente d’accordo con te :-)


  5. I agree with the comment above that the less-retouching on photos is a good first step to take, but frankly, even the pics above still looks retouched to me. This whole “normal’ thing kinda freaks me out sometimes because these models (may they be the usual thin ones or the more “averaged” sized ones) are still not normal in the sense that the people I see on the streets normally don’t look like them.
    I don’t know….sigh….
    Great post, Alexis:)

  6. Amazing post!


  7. First, love these images. I’m for and against retouching…I don’t think there’s anything wrong with like removing a pimple if you have one in a photo and you don’t necessarily want someone to see it or adding a color wash to photos to create a dreamy look etc.. Healthy is definitely what I think people should be looking for …..and healthy comes in all shapes and sizes. Curvy, straight, flat, pear shaped etc… one of the things I most dislike are those images with a curvy woman depicted and it’s caption says…”This is what a real woman looks like.” …because that’s only one type of woman…there are so many others.

    Great post!!

    – Gina
    Margarita Bloom: Retro Modern Beauty & Skincare

  8. I think it’s a good thing when companies put out their campaigns where the models have been untouched in photoshop. That way people can see the real person behind all the editing. They can see that the person has a little belly fat, or that their thighs are a little bigger than the rest of their body. Females, especially younger girls, need to know that you’re not SUPPOSED to look like what you see on the billboard or in a magazine.

    And “normal” isn’t the best word to use because as you stated there are so many different forms of “normal”. Some people are big-boned, some have super fast metabolism and therefore don’t really carry any fat. When I think “normal” I think the healthiest version of yourself.

  9. Sam @ Frills & Thrills says:

    This was a wonderful and refreshing read. I love that the campaign shows off untouched models, all fashion campaigns should be promoting this. Happy End of the Week!

  10. I agree with you.. I model myself and I find it really hard to make my body as thin as possible- I would be healthy than look like a stick. But I also think obesity is a huge problem, so this aerie campaign seems like a good idea to me

  11. And here I thought I was the only one who thought about the consequences of having “normal” women put up as models. The truth is, we as a country (America) are unhealthy. We’re obese, fighting diabetes, and struggling with eating good and staying active. The lifestyle today is one of laziness.
    Glad you made this point! While I understand that people have many different builds and shapes, it shouldn’t change them from striving to be HEALTHY. Not super skinny or not caring at all how overweight they are. There’s a delicate balance to find.

    The Dragonfruit Diaries

  12. she is beautiful ^^
    lovely post :)


  13. I absolutely agree with you. I actually wrote a few posts on the subject in the past. As a nutritionist and simply believer in all things healthy, I do think that the meaning of being “normal” is no longer normal and I do believe that being an average size simply because it allows people to stick with unhealthy habits isn’t a norm (and I will always maintain a simple rule that a healthy body, truly healthy body, is never overweight (or underweight) simply because it works as nature intended). Unfortunately, models and slim people in general, still being a minority, make a fantastic target (and topic of discussion), so whilst I applaud American Eagle for promoting an image of glowing beauty (and I don’t find these models unrealistic-looking either, they just look like normal healthy girls), I do feel that, on a larger scale, this is going to be misunderstood and criticised for a while. x

  14. Great compain and photos, real beauty (not because of Photoshop) is always the best!

  15. I definitely agree. We all come in different shapes and sizes, but the “average” size isn’t necessarily a good thing. I’m naturally small framed and go to the gym regularly. I’m healthy for my size and shape. I would be annoyed if someone called me out for being too skinny because it’s actually just the best shape for my frame.
    I do appreciate models that are somewhat athletic and come in a variety of shapes. It’s unfortunate this campaign was criticized because I certainly laud its aims.

    Chic ‘n Cheap Living

  16. Great post! I totally agree with you!!

    Viky — MySecretFashionPoison

  17. I totally agree with you, Alexis. I don’t want to see a bunch of ads with overweight, unhealthy “average” women–nor do I want to see a bunch of ads with anorexic, size 0 women. I think there needs to be more ads that feature women (and men) who are simply healthy. Not skinny, not fat–just healthy. And I think these untouched images are a good start, for sure.

    By the way, this is like what I was talking about in Wednesday’s post. It’s not the same topic, but it’s the same theme. Whenever someone tries to do something positive (like Aero in this case), there is always someone there ready to bring negativity. Like it’s never good enough.

    Anyhoo, I’m done ranting for now.

  18. There are so many variables to this! Healthy is different for all of us. It depends on one’s height, BMI etc. That’s why this is an ongoing debate. Someone will always be displeased. I love this campaign.

  19. As you pointed out, what has become normal today does not equal healthy. I admit that beauty comes in all forms and sizes, and I often see women who are not necessarily thin (but not overweight either) who are so comfortable in their bodies and look more beautiful than skinny models. But I truly believe that a healthy body can never be overweight. I don’t understand why people have become so indolent about their appearance, just because such a large proportion of the world’s population is overweight. Why not judge things right? A body with extra pounds simply does not look healthy. As you well noticed, I think it’s also important to know that even if your body is between the right parameters (say according do your height your weight is ok), it may be predisposed to gaining weight in certain areas, which is not right, and you must take this into consideration and work on those problem areas. As for retouching, I am against it, yes. But I am also against too skinny models, they don’t look healthy either and that is not normal either, but I don’t know why this subject draws so much more attention and criticism than over-sized bodies. I want to see normality promoted, not what is now average, or extreme. I mean let’s look at the supermodels of the 80s, 90s. They were thin, toned, athletic, exuding health and beauty. Even Kate Moss, who was skinnier than the most, did not look unhealthy compared to many models today. I want to see healthy women, in magazines and on the streets.

  20. The thing is – retouching or not – these photos feature models, who if you’re ever seen them in the flesh are freaks of nature, tall thin and with amazing hair and cheek bones. As they say on Sex and the City – they are giraffes with cheekbones. They are not even close to looking like the rest of us, well the people I mostly know anyway, I don’t live in Sweden where every second person is stunning. I do think there is nothing wrong with aspirational. Think always interesting for magazines to do both models and real people and keeps us in touch with reality. Great post! Though provoking

  21. I admire companies that take a positive step to something better, but to be honest, women are all different sizes, and shapes, and no one campaign will ever please everyone! It is great to see untouched or rather less untouched photos, but there is still this idea that a “healthy,” and “beautiful” woman is one of two or so sizes with the perfect body and proportion. Anyway, I agree with your thoughts as well.

  22. I think, like others have said, that the unretouched images are a good start. It’s better to be more realistic. It’s always annoyed me that beauty companies can use photoshop – shouldn’t the product be good enough on it’s own that you can show what it really looks like? haha!

    Away From Blue

  23. I think those girls look great and I don’t like how far magazines have gone with Photoshop…I like to see beautiful, healthy models but sometimes they are so retouched that they are evidently fake, unreal…so I like the fact some companies are trying to be more “real” to their customers ! :) Kisses

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  24. I kind of agree with you to be a point. I think the some of the women above still look like models in terms of their bodies I’ve seen the full pictures from the campaign and there are some that I consider ‘normal’. As in if I was to meet a random girl on the street she’d have a similar body. I think as someone else mentioned in one of their posts there will always be an aspirational element to models and I agree having obese models wouldn’t really attract people to invest in a brand. There is a UK department store called Debenhams that ran a campaign that featured a diverse range of models that are probably more ‘normal’ than the girls in this campaign. You can check it out here.

  25. First of all, THANK YOU for writing a post about fashion that actually delivers food for thought! I so appreciated this article.

    I’ll have to admit, I never considered the opposite spectrum–that showing photos of “normal” women may also be a detriment to society. But you make valid points that make sense. We certainly don’t want to advocate for obesity.

    As another reader posted, I think what would be great is to move away from being so focused on “sizing” but show photos of women who are different “shapes.” I feel like models tend to look the same–tall, thin, and with boyish figures (bonus if they have large breasts). I’d love to see more pear-shaped models, for example, or petites like me. The average American woman is not 5’10” but closer to 5’3″ and it’s frustrating that clothing that looks a certain way on a tall person never translates well to a shorter person.

  26. have a nice Monday!

  27. Well you know, I love this campaign. I think “helthy” is something very subjective, depends and is different from each person. Retouching photos push women toward an unreal perfection while in this way they aim to be just as they are, real. Kisses! xo

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