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.
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?
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.
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?