Aerie, American Eagle’s lingerie and underwear brand, has beautifully reminded us what matters most in business: the customer. Customers, specifically people and women who wear bras and panties, come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. But women’s bodies are more than numbers or physical characteristics that fit into boxes. Some women carry silent pain, visible disabilities, or chronic illness. No woman should carry shame, but it is hard to feel good about yourself when you don’t see yourself in the media or big business advertisements. Aerie is chipping away at the stigma and has launched a new campaign featuring women with various health conditions and disabilities.
Of course these women are gorgeous, not in spite of their differences, but because of them. Look at these smiles. Look at the freedom these women are radiating by being themselves.
One model has Down syndrome. One has diabetes and an insulin pump. One uses arm crutches and another sits in a wheelchair. There is a model with vitiligo. One has an ostomy pouch. One model even has armpit hair. The representation of real women with real bodies, limits, illnesses, and a variety of abilities is more than refreshing in a world where women are constantly told they are not perfect enough. Turn on the TV or open a magazine and you will find several ways to improve that belly, those arms, or that complexion. We need to be done with that.
One Aerie model, Abby Sams, posted this on her Instagram account: “A wheelchair user is a model for a major company! I am PROUD to say I’ve done this. PROUD to be a part of it. PROUD to be a model representing a community of disabled and chronically ill people. PROUD to be comfortable in my own skin.”
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Time for something very big. Earlier this summer I was chosen to be an #AerieREAL model for their newest campaign and the other night they surprsied us all by releasing some of the products early. A wheelchair user is a model for a major company! I am PROUD to say I've done this. PROUD to be a part of it. PROUD to be a model representing a community of disabled and chronically ill people. PROUD to be comfortable in my own skin. As a Christian a lot of people have expressed to me their distaste with what I did here with Aerie, but I have something to say to that. God gave us this life, our bodies, and our struggles to glorify him. These photos are not risque, or provocative, or slutty. This campaign is the epitome of confidence and beauty in who you are as your true self. I have confidence in who I am in Christ even with my disability and my wheelchair, and that translates physically. Being a model in a wheelchair for a major company is kind of a big deal and I want to be transparent about it all. Confidence is hard to come by and even harder to master. Just when I thought I had it my disability and illnesses stripped it away. I was embarrassed to be seen in public with mobility aids, hated how everything looked while I was in my chair. Then God put his hand on my heart and reminded me that i am fearfully and wonderfully made in his image. He put me on this path of life to be the light I needed when I was struggling. To remind young disabled women that they're beautiful no matter what. Beautiful with mobility aids. Beautiful in a wheelchair. Beautiful with an invisible illness. Beautiful, not despite those things, but because of them. That is Aerie Real. . . Image description: Abby holding her hair up and smiling over her shoulder. Shes wearing a black lace bralette and sitting in her wheelchair.
A few years ago Aerie pushed the rules of the industry by not airbrushing the models in their ads. The #AerieReal campaign was good for body positivity—and sales. After launching the campaign, sales grew 20% and kept growing. Aerie’s website is full of beautiful, real, and strong women. I honestly couldn’t stop scrolling through the photos of women rocking curves, bellies, scars, hair, no hair, ethnicities of all kinds, and ages spanning generations.
As a queer, gender nonconforming person, I rarely—almost never—see myself in the media or advertisements. There are few places I feel comfortable shopping because of this. I tend to go to sites like Tomboy X or Outplay. Anyone can purchase bras, underwear, and swimsuits from these retailers, but they were started because there is a need for clothing that fits those of us with bodies that don’t fit the mold. Our gender often slides along the spectrum too, and buying a bra or underwear is more than supporting our parts; it is also about supporting our identity.
But shouldn’t all major retailers carry clothing that accommodates all body types, gender identities, and physical abilities? Aerie thinks so and understands the importance of representation.
In a statement, Aerie’s global brand president, Jennifer Foyle, said, “Our newest bra models are part of our brand’s ongoing commitment to show real, authentic and unretouched women, who are at the core of everything that we do.”
Twitter users have expressed their gratitude for being included in Aerie’s latest diverse campaign.
Thank you, Aerie. Representation matters, and you made so many feel like they matter.
Photo credits: Aerie