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Why I'm Not Very Excited About the New 'Aerie Real' Campaign

aerie-real-campaign

A week or so ago, American Eagle's lingerie division, Aerie, launched a new marketing campaign named "Aerie Real." The campaign is all about Aerie's new stance on retouching --- the company says they're no longer airbrushing or editing photos of their models (some of you may recall that Debenhams did something similar last year). I'd actually heard about the campaign through Tumblr a day or so before it launched, and once it was officially live, I checked out Aerie's site. But I definitely hadn't planned on writing anything about the campaign. However, I've gotten so many messages in the last few days asking about my thoughts on Aerie Real that it just makes sense to address it in a blog post.

If I could describe my reaction to #AerieReal in a single word, it would be ambivalence.



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Of course, it is good to see Aerie this campaign. We need more images of unphotoshopped women. It's a vital step towards having more and varied representations of women in the fashion industry. But I'm not really on the "all photoshop is bad" bandwagon. I think of photoshop in the same way I think of makeup, only one is applied digitally and the other physically. Can makeup be applied poorly? Yes. Can photoshop be used poorly? Yes. Does the fact that people don't always know what they're doing with makeup or photoshop mean those products are evil? No. In the same way I wouldn't automatically question a model's "realness" because she's wearing concealer, foundation, highlighter, eyeshadow, blush, bronzer, and lipstick in a final image, I wouldn't question her realness because she's gotten stretch marks smoothed out or scars removed. And I say this as someone who used to have the scars on my arms removed before I posted photos to the blog. The marks on my body (and the presence or absence thereof) do not define my realness. Only I do that. And as Marianne discussed in her stellar piece on photoshopping, cameras and eyeballs don't work the same way.

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Besides all that though, it seems obvious to me that Aerie is going for the easy victory, the "low-hanging fruit," so to speak. They brag about not using supermodels (I can't recall ever seeing a supermodel in an Aerie campaign, by the way), yet the women in their campaigns are undeniably young, attractive, professional models. They're thin. They're fairly unblemished, at least as far as I can see. They have straight hair. Smooth skin. Toned muscles and a proportional body. In fact, the only "flaws" I can notice are an itty-bitty tattoo here or there and a slight bit of belly softness. Is this really the "brave new world" Aerie is ushering in? A world full of unphotoshopped models... who are identical in every way to traditional models? Call me cynical, but that's just not impressive.

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Granted, Aerie is doing some great things with this campaign. Regular readers of TLA know that diversity is a huge issue for this blog, and I love that Aerie is using women of color in their current campaign. There is also a little bit (very little, but it's there) of body diversity, and the more people you can see wearing a brand's products, the better. Yet if we're going to talk about body image and self-esteem and body positivity and pushing the boundaries of what's beautiful, I feel it's important to remember that a teenager or twenty-something model is still pretty normal by fashion industry standards. There's nothing radical, free-thinking, or forward-moving about using conventionally attractive people to sell lingerie. I don't instantaneously become just like your model because she's unphotoshopped. This campaign sounds good (and it certainly had the marketing hype to push it forward)... but once you dig deeper than the width of a sheet of paper or so, it's really just more of the same. Only in a slightly different package.

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I would have been much more impressed if Aerie had really stretched themselves and taken a risk as a brand and a company with #AerieReal. It would have been wonderful to see them recruit models from their customer base to be the first spokeswomen for this new campaign. I would have loved to read about a model with an authentic story behind her, something with real depth and resonance. But maybe my expectations were too high. American Eagle is a large company with a lot of investors, after all, and those kinds of brands don't usually take risks. Aerie went with the easy win because they knew it would be profitable. Because they could do so without really deviating from their core brand values or alienating any of their target customers. But I just can't get excited about companies that stay within the lines, and then declare themselves daredevils. Yes, this was a bit of clever marketing, and it was interesting to watch the PR for the campaign unfold. But I don't feel passionate or excited or even vaguely moved. It's just another marketing campaign in an endless sea of marketing campaigns. The only question I have now is if Aerie will stick with it.


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Cora
Cora Harrington

Founder and Editor in Chief of The Lingerie Addict. Author of In Intimate Detail: How to Choose, Wear, and Love Lingerie. I believe lingerie is fashion too, and that everyone who wants it deserves gorgeous lingerie.

28 Comments on this post

  1. Stace H. says:

    The issue that I noticed right off the bat was the fact that I didn’t see any women with brown skin and it looked like the same generic type of models you always see for clothing ads like this. I was trying to look for a Black girl that looked like me when I saw this ad posted all over the train station. I saw ONE Black girl who had brown skin like mine and box braids in her hair. While this did make me a bit happy for a moment, I noticed that the placement of this Black girl’s photo was in the corner where it could easily be missed if you weren’t intentionally looking. The other women had a recurring photo and this Black girl only had one. Another thing is that there is a complete absence of brown skin in genera, and I’m not just referring to Black women with brown skin but brown skin is a universal thing. There are women of many different backgrounds who have brown skin and I wish it were advertised more along with women of other skin tones. I like to see variety and see that women of all different shades and body types are appreciated and seen as beautiful.

  2. Laura says:

    I don’t agree. The point of photoshop is to create unrealistic images. You see it in Ralph Lauren when they created a too-small model who looked alien-like. You see it in magazines, where Jennifer Lawrence is photoshopped with PERFECT, glowing skin that’s damn near unachievable. People are photoshopped without their blemishes or flaws or tattoos or belly fat. & You say that there isn’t much fat on these girls, yet the third picture down, you see a stomach. The point of photoshopping is to get a flat stomach. No company would want a girl with a big stomach! How absurd! (That’s sarcasm)
    But the point being, that’s a sort of flaw. A majority of women want a flat stomach, a toned stomach. Not a little bulging food baby. So most magazines and companies photoshop the stomach to be smaller, toned, flatter.
    One minute, all of you complain about how companies photoshop & photoshop & OVER photoshop their models, & then when they start making the move to STOP photoshopping, you bash them on it because they didn’t do it enough or they didn’t incorporate other people in to it. You do not go in head-strong & bursting in with everything you’ve got. You move in slow, taking baby steps, & you test the waters. You make that move & you continue. No one jumps to the finish line… They take steps to get there.
    If you had the chance to be photoshopped & slightly look better than what you do now, don’t tell me you wouldn’t take that. Everyone likes to feel better about themselves. We all don’t like some part of our body. Everyone edits & edits pictures of themselves all the time on Instagram & Facebook & if you tell me you’ve never done that, you’re lying.
    Aerie has tons of different models but just because they don’t have an Asian model or a heavy-set African American model or a stick-thin freckled model doesn’t mean they are prejudice. Those models may have just not come along yet or had the skill set for the job. You don’t get hired as a model if you’ve had no training as a model, just like you don’t get hired as a doctor if you’ve had no training to be a doctor, or hired as a construction worker with no training in construction. I’m sure we’ll see more variety & diversity with Aerie. I back them & stand with them & I APPLAUD THEM in their move to stop photoshopping their models, whether it’s photoshopping out tattoos, belly fat, stretch marks, or scars.
    Again, one minute the world is up in arms about how much companies photoshop & then the next, you’re up in arms over how they don’t photoshop. Make up your minds.

    • Cora Cora says:

      I’m not sure who the “you” you’re referring to in this blog post is? We’ve discussed the usefulness of photoshop as a tool on TLA before. In fact, the article itself contains the following sentence, “But I’m not really on the “all photoshop is bad” bandwagon. I think of photoshop in the same way I think of makeup, only one is applied digitally and the other physically.

      The article also praises Aerie for using diverse models, as the following sentence indicates, “Regular readers of TLA know that diversity is a huge issue for this blog, and I love that Aerie is using women of color in their current campaign.

      In short, two of the largest criticisms you’ve levied against the article don’t actually exist in the article. But I do appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment.

      Best,
      Cora

      • Laura says:

        The “you” I’m referring to is just the whole world. They complain photoshop is over-used & then complain it’s not used enough. I know what you said about how it’s like make-up, but I’m making a point that other people complain it’s used too much & then that it’s not used enough.
        Also, some commenters were complaining about how they had more room for diversity with this ad & didn’t use it because there wasn’t an Asian woman or a lanky freckled-faced woman or a big African American woman… & My argument for that was that just because Aerie doesn’t use a big African American woman or an Asian woman or whoever doesn’t mean they’re prejudice. Maybe the right one hasn’t come along because modeling does require training & work.
        I’m not making criticisms in your article except for the fact that you (anyone) need to take steps & test the waters before going head-first. You (Cora) would like more depth to the ad, but it’s possible Aerie just needs to test this before diving in. Not saying maybe they aren’t taking the easy way out, but it’s possible they are just testing the waters before diving in.

  3. Windie says:

    I felt fairly ambivalent toward this as well, despite feeling like I *should* have been more excited. I hadn’t really worded precisely why, but now I don’t have to because you did that perfectly. There was just so much more room to really make a statement, and they didn’t. Very glad I read this :)

  4. Courtney says:

    To me, this was very similar to what Dove did with their recent #beautyis campaign. It seems like they’re deliberately playing on the insecurity of women to boost their stock. I agree with you–if they had revamped the entire company and marketing campaign to REALLY be #AerieReal, then I would’ve been more intrigued.

    In addition, the lack of photoshopping shows how truly ill-fitting their bras are. Look at the first photo of the woman in the lime green bra. A bra simply should not fit like that!

  5. Maria says:

    Here’s what I liked about it. The first thing I noticed was that the bras were shown as they actually fit on the model, not shopped to look perfectly rounded. I also found that they have a spot to see how the size you wear looks on a model who also wears that size. Granted they seem to just go by cup size, but for me (I’m a 32AA) it was nice to see roughly how the bra would actually sit on breasts similar to mine. I think this was a good step he right direction and I hope they continue to walk forward.

  6. brandie says:

    Thank you so much for commenting on this I don’t know if you read my article or not, so I will post it here anyways http://betterbrascanada.com/lingerie-retailers-in-canada-is-aeries-realsexy-campaign-a-step-in-the-right-direction/

    I can’t help but feel annoyed by the amount of hype this campaign is getting. I really urge people to think critically about whether or not this actually a step in the right direction or more of the same disguised as innovation.

  7. Maggie says:

    I’m very much in agreement with everything you said, Cora. It has a very friendly veneer of being “real”, but only in the ad campaign. The merchandise models are still rail thin with very little to suggest hips or a larger bust. It would’ve been nice to cruise the shopping aisles and see someone who looks more like me in the product that I’m interested in buying (I could be wrong, I didn’t check the whole site). Perhaps it’s too much to swallow at once? I don’t know, since I’m not a marketing director. Also, I think it’s kind of shallow to say that these women are being shown “flaws and all”. Should we care what flaws they have? What exactly is considered a flaw? I think Rachel is right, no need to add to the perfect body pressure that is rather prevalent these days. We don’t need to be perfect to wear the lingerie, and what the industry considers flaws is so misguided.

  8. Amber says:

    Yawn. I’m bored with this campaign, and I totally agree with you Cora. I thought the slogan “aerie real” was kind of foolish the first time I heard it on Twitter. I think they were trying to do something right, but it just came out all wrong. There is no diversity. All of these women look like models. I don’t see different body shapes or any cellulite, I don’t see any darker skinned women or plus sized women. This all looks so familiar to me, only thing different is that they slapped a “these aren’t photoshopped” sticker on the package. Same product, different wrapping.

  9. Ms. Pris says:

    The point of not photoshopping, to me, is not about whether or not a model is fit, or conventionally attractive. It is that photoshopping is very often used in fashion magazines and advertising to make already-fit people look extremely unrealistic. Think of the dramatically slimmed thighs and waists, and plumped cleavage, you could see in a VS catalog.

    I see your point, Cora, about the fact that there’s not much diversity here, and I think that’s meaningful. I am pleased to see one curlyhead, but I would like to see more diversity in general. The comments about how “these women don’t need to be photoshopped” though, are missing the point. No, these women don’t “need to be photoshopped”, but in most lingerie campaigns, they would be photoshopped anyway.

    • Cora Cora says:

      I’m not sure I agree. I think the most egregious examples of photoshopping we see are just that…the most egregious examples. You mention Victoria’s Secret, and it made me think of the compare and contrast Jezebel did last year with photoshopped and unphotoshopped images of the VS models. The differences weren’t all that dramatic. Those women are naturally thin, and there are plenty of ways to create “plumped cleavage” without the use of photoshop. The models’ proportions weren’t changed at all; they just have a rather exceptional build.

      However, I think my point is a valid one. Aerie is making the claim that they’re showing these women “flaws and all,” but the “flaws” are so minor as to not really be problematic at all. If this is what Aerie considers to be flawed, then I think they’re actually buttressing traditional standards of beauty…as opposed to deconstructing them, which is what their marketing campaign implies.

      • Courtney says:

        Just checked out the Jezebel piece you linked to in the comments. I think that’s the perfect piece to support your argument. It’s basically like taking what are considered culturally perfect women and making them even more perfect.

      • Jon says:

        While I concur that the Aerie campaign is not much to get excited about, I would also argue that their campaign makes no claim about deconstructing dominant beauty standards. Aerie’s only claim is to resist an aesthetic sensibility that has been layered on top of the dominant conception of beauty such that even that ideal is no longer attainable.

        Indeed as the Jezebel article that Cora links to notes: while the changes in the VS campaign may be minor, even those minor changes have significantly impacted the female bodily ideal.
        With Photoshop, the pre-digital retouching standard of beauty was made over with a new aesthetic sensibility that only exacerbated the unattainability of the bodies depicted in even minor Photoshopped campaigns.

        Even if the overwhelming majority of women cannot attain Doutzen Kroes’ body, even she cannot attain the bodily aesthetic depicted in the Photoshopped campaign. She may be able to attain the ideal of thinness that has anchored the ideal of beauty for decades without Photoshop; however, as the Jezebel article notes, without Photoshop she cannot “fix” the “the place where the pectoral muscle meets the armpit” which is now seen as something “ugly.”

        At best Aerie’s campaign only claims to return us to an image of body and beauty that is pre-digital editting–no more, no less. How significant this is is left for us to decide. As I said I agree with others that it is underwhelming because it is not much of a victory. Yet it is unfair to charge Aerie with failing to live up to an intent it never aspires to: the deconstruction of the ideal of beauty and ideal body that underwrites the aesthetic sensibility made possible via Photoshopping.

        It is right there in the image, Aerie is clear about what it takes to be beautiful: thin and young with blemishes, folds, blotches, and tattoos. One only needs to consider the difference between this campaign and Dove’s real beauty campaign to see the difference between a campaign that specifically attempts to address the standard of beauty that underwrites the Photoshop aesthetic and the Aerie campaign which limits its claim to disrupting the Photoshop aesthetic. Returning us to a pre-Photoshop era is disappointing, but alas that is all Aerie claims to do.

  10. maria says:

    Hi Cora! It’s me again. I love that you pointed out that the women in these photos are MODELS. Models are real people too but their profession is to keep up with a particular standard held by their agencies (agencies are very strict about scouting and grooming their models to have particular measurements, height, proportions, skin clarity, hair quality, bone structure, facial features etc). Models are also a very minute, selected percentage of the population and agencies sign them based on quotas (they don’t sign more than x number of minority models but will sign on plenty of white, girl next door types). Aerie doesn’t disclose to the public that the girls in these photos are the same girls you see in other advertisements and catalogs. They’re selling the same standards. One of the models even worked for Victoria’s Secret catalog a few years ago.
    If Aerie really wanted to stick by the words of the campaign, they should have sought non-models or done a street casting (like American Apparel).

  11. Ali says:

    I definitely see your point and agree for the most part, but sometimes it feels like even the slightest effort is still a move in the right direction. Yes it is true these girls are all thin and relatively flawless, but they aren’t waifs or clones. And it doesn’t bother me in the slightest that 20 year old girls are modeling Aerie, after all, isn’t their target market college age females? I think it would look odd (to my eyes) to see a more mature woman in this line of lingerie. I have to disagree a bit with Katrina (above) as well, I firmly agree that we need more diversity in marketing, but every young woman having a representation? Can you imagine what kind of nightmare this would be for the company? Realistically this would never happen. I think we should be happy with every inch we can get here, because lets face it, these people are trying to sell a product and make money, they are not a charitable company with a public service message striving to increase the self esteem of every woman on the planet.

    • Cora Cora says:

      I think you can acknowledge a company’s progress (which I did here) and also talk about the ways they still fall short. And I disagree with the notion that we should be 100% happy with any and everything just because we’re told to. In the same way that I’m glad when a brand chooses to use black women as models, but still disappointed if those models consistently have lighter skin and straighter hair, I can be happy that a brand is pushing the conversation forward a tiny bit, but disappointed that they’re not actually moving very far at all. It doesn’t have to be a case of either you love it all or you hate it all. And I think in the case of this particular Aerie campaign, when they’re deliberately invoking body positive messaging and studies related to young women’s self-esteem in order to promote the initiative, it’s absolutely appropriate to call them out on their so-called “public service message.” In other words, the company doesn’t get to have it both ways. If a brand is using the language of body positivity to sell a product, it’s a legitimate and valid critique to then talk about the ways they’re not fulfilling that part of the message.

  12. Beth says:

    Totally agree. There’s nothing new or different about this campaign, except that you can see the models’ tattoos. All of the models are young and fit and wouldn’t need much PhotoShopping anyhow! Even the back view shot focusing on the panties – that young lady doesn’t even have any cellulite! AE definitely took the easy road, and in a way they really didn’t need to, in my opinion. Their target demo – college students and other ladies in that age range – are already some of the most forward-thinking and open-minded ladies. They would surely love to see more diversity and un-retouched images of women who reflect themselves in an ad campaign, wouldn’t they? I don’t think it would have hurt sales one bit to go with a “realness” campaign that actually reflected their audience in a real way.

    • Cora Cora says:

      Right. That’s the other thing I was thinking as well. The company took the easy route, true enough, but I’m not convinced they had go this easy. There was definitely room to be more risky and still be an Aerie campaign.

  13. Thanks for calling attention to this. When the campaign came out I was a little disappointed…their “real bodies” still looked pretty darn perfect. It almost makes the pressure to achieve the “perfect” body even more intense. It’s almost like saying “these models are so hot they don’t even NEED photoshop, you better work harder girl!” I’m not trying to be a hater and I’m thrilled with any kind of movement towards body love, but I too feel like Aerie could have taken this to another level.

    • Cora Cora says:

      Thanks for the comment, Rachel. I’m glad I’m not the only person who noticed this.

    • Em says:

      Rachel, my thoughts exactly. It’s hard to be really excited for this campaign. I was also a big fan of Nina Agdal lol, but since they’re touting the whole “no supermodels” thing now I’m sure she won’t be in any future aerie ads… :/

  14. Katrina says:

    I too am a little underwhelmed. The models are have the exact same body type: on the slimmer side with large breasts. They are beautiful young women, to be sure. But I would have liked to see variety. A small busted model with freckles (in something that’s not an add-10-cup-sizes push-up), an Asian model, a heavy-set model, a very-dark skinned model, etc. Aerie had a great opportunity here, but they took the safe route. Aerie is aimed at teenagers and college students, and I think every young woman deserves the opportunity to see a representation of herself in marketing. I hope that as they continue with this campaign, they will showcase a wider variety of body types and ethnicities.

  15. al fair says:

    the thing that bugs me about photoshopping is in catalogs, because I want to know how the clothes actually look.

    I agree that aerie took the easy road, but that the easy road is still so different than the main road is pretty crazy. none of the models who get photoshopped need to be photoshopped. they all look like these women, don’t they?

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