The spring ad campaign for Aerie, the American Eagle brand’s lingerie store, features the standard underwear-clad models in its photos, but the photos remain “unretouched.” In other words, Aerie is not using Photoshop to airbrush or enhance the models. Retouching is commonplace–and generally expected–in most ads today. The ad campaign’s premise is that the “real you is sexy.”
Why is retouching problematic? Because when human bodies, both female and male, are altered the audience can experience unrealistic expectations for their own bodies, which can lead to numerous emotional and physical disorders. We’ve all experienced it: feeling terrible about our own body after seeing a “perfect” human form gracing the pages of a shiny magazine ad. And, of course, the audiences most susceptible to these feelings of inadequacy are tweens, teens and young adults.
While it is rare, Aerie is not the first brand to do this. But, as this Huffington Post article points out, Aerie’s target audience is young women ages 15 to 21. So while Aerie’s message of the “real you” is certainly a positive step, we must be careful not to laud the brand with too much undeserved praise.
In a recent news release, Aerie states that the ad campaign is “challenging supermodel standards by featuring unretouched models in their latest collection of bras, undies and apparel.”
But let’s take a look at these ads (see the Huffington Post article and the image below). Retouched or not, let’s be honest: these ads still feature supermodels. And these supermodels have bodies that most of us could never have–not to mention the fact that most of these women would be considered dramatically underweight on any BMI calculator. These ads feature only white women with slender bodies, bulging breasts and toned bottoms.
So with that consideration, does Aerie really have the best interests of its target audience in mind? Do these ads really reflect the diversity in bodies of young women?
And here’s another critical point. Based on the featured poses and scantily clad bodies, these young women are clearly being sexualized, and thereby victimized. Is this really what we want for our 15-year-old daughters? Retouched or not, the message is clear: the “real you is sexy.” But only if you look like a supermodel. And only is your self-worth is based on your sexuality.