‘What the hell is Aerie?’, you might be asking. Well, Aerie is a sister brand of American Eagle, their lingerie line, targeting customers ages 15-25 . And they announced recently that they will be using unretouched photos from here on out.
Ok, now I know that letter seems kinda corny and contrived. Because corporate America is heartless and doesn’t care about your feelings and this is most likely a response to a consumer driven desire, and they think this will make them more money. I get that.
But you know, the pictures do have a different vibe than the totally spotless photos we usually see.
Look, I know they aren’t breaking any huge barriers when it comes to beauty standards. These are all able bodied models with conventionally beautiful features and long hair, and they are all on the lighter end of the skin color spectrum. But I can see belly wrinkles, freckles, and out of place hair in these photos. Even tattoos!
I read an article about this that was a complete criticism. They see no value in this incredibly small step in the right direction. And I do think, of course, that there is room for much much more race and size diversity, and maybe even one day a girl with short hair (DREAM BIG), etc. But I think throwing complete shade on this move is a mistake. The level of airburshing and digital changes made to photos of women are causing a cognitive dissonance in the culture. Even though you know that no one looks like that, not even the subject in the photo, you never see the real image. It’s hard to convince ourselves that what we see isn’t real.
I know that seeing slight skin discoloration and freckles and tattoos on models isn’t exactly earth shattering, but consider that most photos are edited to within an inch of their lives. Even women who’ve won the genetic lottery, and fit the nearly impossible standards in place, are airbrushed to a truly impossible standard, leaving us all chasing an ideal that doesn’t exist in real life. I do not expect a company selling lingerie to just abandon beauty standards in one foul swoop. We should not scold them when they take little steps, or else they will stop taking any steps at all. And if this is profit driven, purely a reaction to what consumers say they want, then that’s AOK! Let’s respond with, ‘Good job! We want more! More size diversity and more racial diversity! Short hair! Throw in a differently-abled body and we’ll be life long customers!’
I mean listen, hopefully one day the beauty standards will explode and there will be space for a truly diverse array of people and bodies. And hopefully one day women won’t be so focused on chasing an ideal, and everyone can learn to love and appreciate themselves as they are. But this whole airbrushing thing is an extra insidious layer to the struggle, because it messes with our actual grasp on reality. It’s disingenuous, it’s irresponsible, and it’s damaging our collective beauty world view. So let’s pat Aerie on the back for now, offer some friendly advice about how it could be even more awesome, and go about our business. This isn’t the moment to throw our hands up and declare that we’re free from all gender norms and constraints, obviously. But it is a small victory in what often feels like a sea of setbacks and regression. For today, I’ll take it.
(all images belong to Aerie!)