by Montgomery Jones, Madeleine Nesbitt, Mehar Gujral, Lilinaz Evans, Georgia Luckhurst, and Ben Ubiñas

You’ve probably seen that American Eagle’s Aerie brand has released a new ad campaign featuring models who have not been retouched.  The taglines for the campaign include “love me, don’t retouch me,” “Love the Real you,” and “The Real you is sexy,” along with the hashtag #AerieREAL.  Aerie says that “the purpose of ‘aerie Real’ is to communicate there is no need to retouch beauty, and to give young women of all shapes and sizes the chance to discover amazing styles that work best for them.”  The photos themselves show beautiful, fit models laughing in bed and doing the silly things bra and underwear ads always feature–the only difference is that you can see the models’ “imperfections,” including rolls, wrinkles, and probably a million other things people don’t actually notice.  In an era when literally every advertisemnt is retouched, and with so many many questionable marketing schemes on the market, will this campaign make a difference? We assembled a crack team of SPARK activists (and one boy blogger!) to discuss the issue.

Montgomery: So what do you all think of the Aerie ads?

Madeline: I think they’re definitely a step in the right direction– the models are not super diverse, but it’s better than a lot of advertisements, and I’m usually really skeptical of “unphotoshopped” ads because the models usually look shiny and photoshopped to me, so I guess my feeling is that the girls, even though they aren’t super representative, look a lot more “real” than what I usually see.

Montgomery: Pretty much took the words out of my mouth.  I actually really like the ads.

Mehar: I’ll just throw my feelings out there–I really like them because I appreciate that it’s a great effort and step in the right direction. I mean yeah they are definitely models, but observing them with their natural beauty is a lot better than looking at a fake pic of them.

Montgomery: I do wish they were more diverse in their appearances.  And yes! I wish there were more differing body types for sure but honestly, I love that they have rolls and armpit fat as [SPARKteam coordinator] Melissa said.

Madeline: Seeing bellies that are not flat is very comforting.

Montgomery: Obviously they are still gorgeous but I feel like it’s a more natural beauty if that makes sense?  Yes.  Did anyone else think back to Seventeen?

Madeline: yessss!

Montgomery:  Like we legit asked them to stop photoshopping and I kind of am in love that this company has done it as well.

Ben: Yeah, the executives who run American Eagle and the ad agencies that work for them should be proud of what they’ve done. But I feel like this is like congratulating A-Rod for no longer taking steroids. Three years into SPARK’s campaigns, it shouldn’t be an uphill battle anymore.

Mehar:  Yeah I just read an article about the ads the other day and this girl commented saying that the ads made her feel “insecure” or something because now she knew they were just as pretty as the pictures and not photoshopped in any way. And I just found that really weird because I don’t think you should think about beauty that way. But that’s another aspect of it.

Ben: One friend of mine said, “Wow, these ads make me feel even worse about myself. At least before I could say ‘Oh, they just look like that because they’re Photoshopped. I could look like that too if I were Photoshopped.’”

Montgomery:  Ohhhh.  Very good point.  People often say, “Well no one looks like that any who” and that is comforting.

Madeline: Definitely, like the models still hold to society’s pretty typical standard of beauty.

Montgomery: But these girls do look like that

Mehar: I mean there is still lighting and poses and stuff like that.

Ben: Yeah, I think one issue here is that these models still spend hours being retouched before-hand by make-up artist, stylists, and other handlers, with lighting designed by professionals to make them look as perfect as possible. All of this is just analog Photoshop.

Montgomery: Right.  Do you guys think it’s a gimmick?  Like just a way to boost sales?

Madeleine: I was thinking about that!  Like, they’ll do this for one ad campaign, but then what?

Mehar: Well I do think this will boost their sales because of free positive publicity (I’ll probably step inside the store now) but I wouldn’t just reduce it to a gimmick, even though they probably realized it was good for the company

Madeline: Are they just going to go back to photoshop, though, or is this campaign some kind of promise?

Montgomery: Yes Maddie!! Like is this their thing now forever and always?  And yes Mehar!  I mean even if it is, I think it still has a positive outcome.  That’s interesting that you will now check the store out.  Have you ever been to an Aerie, Maddie?

Madeline:  Yes, once or twice?  I don’t remember it much but their clothing quality is a++

Montgomery: I have been.  I would love if they offered a wider range of clothing.

Madeline: True! Their models were not very diverse and part of that might be because they don’t even bother to produce products that fit girls of different body shapes.

Montgomery: But I did like their yoga pants!  They had extra longs, which was awesome lol.  Their market is teens, would you say?

Teens/early 20s?

I remember Melissa thought it was weird that they said
 “The real you is sexy.”

Lili: I think they are using a very specific type of “real” models that only have acceptable flaws. Like hardly any of them have significant stretch marks

I didn’t find their wording particularly odd, but I think I know what she’s saying.  Her point was that it was marketed towards 13 year olds.

Madeline: Definitely, and like, the idea that to be confident in yourself you have to feel sexy is just eh.

Montgomery: Right.  There definitely could have been a better adjective and I didn’t see any stretch marks.

I think its strange they went straight for sexy instead of beautiful.

Well their biggest competitor is who? Victoria’s Secret.  THE sexiest bra company in the business.

Madeline: I think it makes sense for the market they are in, @ Lili, since it’s pretty much just underwear.

: No idea, I dunno the American markets.

Victoria Secret is in England too.

Yeah but its freaking expensive. No one actually shops there.  Primark for the win.

Primark! Yes 
but Victoria’s Secret is like a bigger budget, more options, sexier, & slightly older Aerie.

Montgomery: Yes!  I think Aerie wants to tap in to that market.  From a business stand point this is very smart.

Lili: I love the actual photos/concept of the campaign but I don’t like the slogan.

Slogan is weak.

Definitely, but overall I feel it’s a job pretty well done.

Ben: Yeah, this is a great step in the right direction, and I hope others follow suit, but it is just a start.

Same.  I give it a B?  They really should consult a SPARK girl for this stuff.

I want that job.

 Dove needs to consult us too to be honest.

Lili:  Also, I believe advertising made to sell you stuff is inherently bad anyway. They have to create a market in which to sell their products so the use supposedly “real” pictures/models that look “just like us,” but to be honest the models still adhere to MANY of the patriarchal beauty standards. They are all thin, without many blemishes or stretch marks.  It’s still unrealistic and gives girls a (slightly less) unachievable goal. It is important to remember when looking at ad campaigns like this and Dove’s, their goal is not to make us feel good or smash patriarchy, it is to make money.

 Yeah. Well put.

Madeline:  I love you Lili.

Lili: In this case they are telling media savvy teens who KNOW about Photoshop that these standards still need to be aimed for. Even without photoshop these models are still very carefully picked to tell girls that they are not good enough. They are taking advantage of the vulnerability girls have about the way they look (which the beauty/fashion industry has been working on for years and years) to say even unphotoshopped these models are better than you, and of course it is Aerie underwear that is going to make you look more like these models. Its a pair of knickers or a bra or whatever that a teenage girl is going to buy, not body positivity and not satisfaction because these ads aren’t saying love yourself, they are saying if you buy into our brand, we might deem you acceptable. Exploitation.

See, that’s the way you interpreted it.

: This is me putting on my anti capitalism hat and taking it to the extreme, although if you want to take a deep look into what is really saying I would agree with me (obviously) but just generally it is better than most ads.

I however, did not look at it that way. I did not turn around and say, “well wow because they are so beautiful and have not been retouched, I am not worthy.” I saw it as these gorgeous girls DO have “flaws,” and they are still gorgeous. It may be because I grew up in the U.S. but I think that is a cynical approach. 

Not that there is not any truth in it; I am really looking in to what you are saying.  I just don’t 100% agree. These ads are supposed to make you want to buy the product. If you are kind of anti capitalist from the get go then you will never really love anything they produce because it is in fact mass-produced. I want more diversity in color, shapes, everything!  But I don’t think they will ever choose someone who is not unattainable in a way because we are supposed to always want to be that girl.  I buy things sometimes because a celebrity wears it or it looked good on this friend.

I’m hoping that Aerie’s photos will lead other companies to creating the same kind of positive adverts (hopefully more diverse ones, too, when they realize how diverse the girls they are selling products to are.)  Although I agree, it’s not great concerning the exploitation of it and the capitalist slant, I do believe that ads like these are greatly worthy because in a flawed society like ours we do consume a lot of media, a lot of which is comprised of adverts, and I’d rather have adverts like these, which are stepping stones to greater things, than none of them.  Also, I agree with Lili that it’s just a means of getting girls to buy the products and is not immediately going to instill body positivity, but then I’m not an Aerie customer at all and these adverts truly made me feel fantastic about myself.  I’ve had complicated issues with my body all my life, like so many others, and hearing my friends say I’m beautiful is lovely, but in all honesty seeing the general world accept more bodies as beautiful is an amazing feeling too.  So even though Aerie should definitely be more diverse, and represent more girls, it did honestly make me tear up!  It was just a relief to see something so good come out of a line aimed at teenage girls.