Beauty in Advertising: Where Aerie Got It Wrong

Two campaigns launched this week about what beauty is, both with the ultimate goal of inspiring confidence in teenage girls. One wildly misfired, one hit it right on the mark.

I was appalled a few days ago to see several Facebook friends sharing the new Aerie ad, which is so proud of itself for refusing to retouch the model’s figures. It is so proud of itself, in fact, that the ad itself says “This girl in this photo has not been retouched,” with the tag “The real you is sexy.” I scrolled from one picture to the next to find the “real” girls shown, but just saw one beautiful bod after another. They are curvy, or skinny, or busty. One features an amazing booty. I wish I could critique their bodies in any way and say, “There is a typical American girl.” But all I saw were head cheerleaders and Homecoming Queens.

The campaign made me sad. The fact that people were sharing it made me sad. People are sharing it because it’s progress. Prior to this, I guess that Aerie took away the tiny shadow created by the tiny bit of extra skin around one of the girl’s middles. Prior to this, they instructed their designers to trim away the natural flattening of the arm that happens when someone touches even the skinniest of arms to their body. Instead of being proud, Aerie should be embarrassed that they used to touch up these fab figures.

I see a typical teenage girl checking out the new Aerie ads and feeling worse about her own figure. At least before they could say that these girls had the help of editing to look this good. Now an average sized girl can check these real bodies out and make a true comparison to the same definition of beauty she has always heard, and she can go cry into her pillow.

What Aerie needed to do to make a real statement about beauty is to redefine it. They needed to say that smart is beautiful, confidence is beautiful, funny is beautiful. They needed to find a Lena Dunham-type and catch a perfect picture of her in some Aeries and say, “The real you is sexy.” They need to do what Dove did, the very same week, which redeemed the advertising world and its capability to empower and change mainstream beauty.

Check out Dove’s “Selfie” video. Show it to your teenage daughters. And rip up those Aerie ads and shred them.

If you don’t have 8 minutes to watch, here’s a summary. Dove takes girls of all shapes and sizes, teaches them how to take selfies and then has them display their selfies in a show. People write what they notice about the girls and post it on the pictures. Often, the things the girls are most insecure about get the most compliments. Beauty is redefined. Girls feel good about themselves. It’s beauty in advertising at its best.

When my daughter is older and wonders if she is beautiful, I’ll point her toward Dove. I don’t want her to be #aeriereal. Dove knows what #beautyis.