Every time I scroll through the Victoria’s Secret website on the hunt for a new bra or a pair of yoga pants, I feel a wider range of mixed emotions than should ever accompany the purchase of anything but a pregnancy test.
After somewhat unwillingly feasting my eyes on the ridiculously retouched images that were once, presumably, pictures of human beings, I feel disgusted by a culture that so drastically alters women’s bodies to sell fashion; I feel ashamed that I am supporting this concept by buying the damn yoga pants; and I feel a certain maniacal glee that results in out-loud laughter at how absurd some of the particularly horrendous botch jobs are–clearly-missing ribs, grotesquely-stretched legs and necks, and, sometimes, body parts that don’t even seem to connect to each other.
By the end of my transaction, however, I sigh with a sense of heavy acceptance that this is “just how it is,” and then feel a bit angry and guilty about that acceptance.
All just to buy some underwear.
Now, Aerie, American Eagle‘s underwear brand, is taking a stand to say that this no longer needs to be “just how it is,” and has committed to using completely un-retouched photographs of “real girls” in the new campaign for its spring line. While this bold move appears, at first glance, wholly positive, I found that after thinking about it for a while, those old mixed feelings showed up again–and it seems I’m not alone. While some are celebrating the campaign as brave and revolutionary, others feel it doesn’t go nearly far enough and accuse the brand of doing the bare minimum for a pat on the back and a few extra dollars.
Personally, I can see both sides. Is it great that Aerie is using real, un-retouched photos in ads geared toward the highly-impressionable 15-25 demographic, rather than forcing its audience to aspire to look like an unattainable, completely fabricated ideal? Of course. But at the same time, the gorgeous, slim, well-toned girls in the ads are hardly a realistic cross-section of American women their age, and still present a fairly unrealistic ideal.
While it’s a huge step in the right direction that Aerie’s underwear is being advertised by actual human beings rather than freakishly stretched, blotted, and chopped virtual paper dolls, the fact that this concept is revolutionary is disturbing in itself, and illuminates how far we are from accepting and admiring the diverse beauty of the female form.
At the end of the day, though, whatever the company’s motivation, however lovely the models may be, and however far we may still have to go, the campaign’s message of “the real you is sexy” is an undeniably positive one, and anything that brings us even an inch closer to valuing the beauty of real, human women is a good thing.