I got an email last night from a brand that I love. At first, it peaked my interest because they were promoting a cute windbreaker (I didn’t even know that was possible), but after looking a bit closer, I realized this ad was promoting a lot more than a jacket.
This ad was promoting a flaw-free, unrealistic body image, and it was targeting me.
The most frustrating part about this ad? This girl is clearly stunning. Even if she had some skin rolls or wrinkles, maybe a few dimples, or even freckles or moles on her stomach as she leaned forward… she would still be the beautiful centerpiece. But all of her imperfections have magically disappeared, and the majority of women viewing it will find themselves comparing their real mid-sections to this not-so-real version. Don’t see it? Look a little closer.
To be clear, I’m not writing this to target a certain brand or even to fuss. I’m writing it because of how I felt last night when I opened this email. This was my exact thought process:
- That’s a really cute jacket.
- Oh my gosh, look at her perfect stomach.
- If you stopped eating so much and worked out more, you could look like that.
I went from feeling perfectly content on a Friday night eating lasagna and watching the Big Bang Theory with my friend to self-hate in seconds.
Did you know that the average BMI of Miss America winners decreased from 22 in the 1920s to 16.9 in the 2000s, when the World Health Organization clearly states that a normal BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9 (Martin, 2010)? Or that over 50% of teenage girls use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives to stay thin (Neumark-Sztainer, 2005)? Or how about that 42% of 1st-3rd grade girls have a desire to lose weight (Collins, 1991)? So this cultural ideal is even affecting our six year old daughters? Wow, how did we let that happen?
According to The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), 70% of people believe that encouraging the media and advertisers to use more average sized people in their advertising campaigns would reduce or prevent eating disorders.
And after last night, I can’t help but agree.
The good news is that efforts to end photoshopping and promote a positive body image in the media are already in full swing with campaigns like #AerieReal. We get that Aerie is trying to sell us clothes (and some of you might fixate on that part), but so is every other brand blowing up our social media feeds and sending us emails. The difference is that they’ve taken a vow to stop photoshopping in their ads, and whether this decision was made to promote positive body image in our culture or to make more money isn’t nearly as important to me as the fact that they’re doing it.
This shot from the Aerie campaign gives us a better idea of what a girl looks like when she’s leaning forward, even when she has incredible abs.
I scan every Aerie email that comes in just to see pictures of unphotoshopped women, and I smile because it’s obvious to me that they’re beautiful even with imperfections, and that probably means that I am too.