If you haven’t heard, Aerie (the lingerie brand) is doing a campaign with un-retouched photos, displaying beautiful women in all their natural, imperfect glory. It would seem the reactions to this are from opposing camps: the first, thrilled at any sign of social progress, are infiltrating every social platform with the awesome news (guilty); and the second, genuinely pissed that people are making a fuss over the fact that this is still a display of some ideal beauty, are saying that it’s a ludicrous thing to be celebrating. It’s as though because the women in the campaign aren’t one exact idea of what a perfect representation of an imperfect body should look like, the sentiment itself is inherently wrong and invalid.
Let’s start with this one. At the end of the day, Aerie isn’t a social advocacy group fighting for women’s rights. They are not setting out to change our ideas of what women’s bodies should be. They’re out to sell underwear. Some genius in the marketing department probably realized that by not retouching the photos, they were actually drawing infinitely more attention to the campaign than not (ehem, this article), so they’d be benefitting and sending a nice message along with it. Awesome. But they aren’t measuring the success of the campaign by how many girls feel great about themselves at the end. They’re measuring it by how much attention is garnered; the self-esteem thing is just a side benefit.
The girls pictured are beautiful, though indeed still inarguably thinner than the “average” woman (statistically speaking) and naturally pretty. But they’re models. They’re supposed to look beautiful in things so we want to wear them. Though the idea of what’s “beautiful” is up for interpretation, this is what the media perceives it to be because this is what we perceive it to be and this is what we respond to. If we didn’t, at some level, agree that models’ looks are unattainable but still visually appealing, prompting us to do whatever they are doing so as to attain them, they’d change how models look entirely. In the words of my coworker Jessica, “the media is a responsive thing. They are not curators of interest, they are servants of public demand.”
Realistically, are we ever going to see actual, average sized bodies on mainstream campaigns? Maybe. Maybe not. The idea of what’s average is subjective (is it national statistics? Measurements? Average in comparison to a model or a “regular” person?) and so we should just be happy that there is yet another baby step toward representing normalcy in the media. That it’s just another instance of someone countering our culture of being hellbent to smooth out every flaw of being a human being– an issue that extends much further than our physical appearances. A step in the right direction isn’t failure because it’s just a step, not a leap to the finish line. Perfect is not the enemy of good.