Aerie, the lingerie branch of American Eagle, is going with a “The Real You Is Sexy” campaign for their spring line. My understanding is that the ads are not retouched in any way and show the models just as they were when the photographers took their pictures. Aerie deserves credit for this move, but this change alone does not fix the underlying problem. The greater problem is with us, not the fashion industry.
Reality is more complex than I am about to make it seem, but the basic premise is that we compare ourselves to models, feel pressure to look like them, feel bad about ourselves for not looking like them, and adopt certain behaviors – healthy or not – in an effort to match them. Other advertisement campaigns that do retouch photos can dramatically alter a model’s appearance making him or her seem flawless. When such a picture is held up as the ideal, we are comparing ourselves to someone who does not even exist. As such, who can possibly live up to that standard? Aerie deserves credit for at least removing this as a factor from the equation.
The larger problem though is that we compare our bodies to others in the first place, and that is not going to go away even if the fashion industry completely does away with retouching. For example, I work with a patient who watches women leaner than herself pass by in town and feels bad about herself as a result. No retouching there; she is comparing herself to people she sees with her own eyes.
We do not know what somebody does to look a certain way. I do not know any of the Aerie models and I have no idea what they do to maintain their looks, but chances are neither do you. They might look the way they do because they are genetically predisposed to have that figure and on top of it take excellent care of themselves. On the other hand, they could also look that way due to eating disorders, overexercise, or other unhealthy behaviors. One of my patients, a former model who is working to overcome anorexia, tells me of the pressure in the industry to gain a certain look at any costs, healthy or not. If a model gets his or her frame through an eating disorder, are we really to look up to that image as an ideal just because there is no retouching involved? In that sense, we still should not be using models – retouched or not – for a point of comparison.
To further the point, we should not be comparing our bodies to anybody else either. I discussed with my patient, the one who compared herself to other women in town, that we have no idea what those women do to maintain their looks. Some of them are probably perfectly healthy, while others might struggle with eating disorders or other unhealthy behaviors. Some of them are deeply unhappy and live rigid lives in isolation so they can do exactly what they need to do in order to maintain their physiques. Some of them would laugh if they knew other people look up to them because no matter how great somebody else says they look, they still hate their bodies themselves. I know all of this because I just described patients of mine. These problems are much more prevalent than one might think.
It is time to stop comparing our bodies to others. Weight, waist-to-hip ratio, and other anthropometric measurements do not define us and should not determine our self-worth. Love and accept yourself the way you are now, not X pounds from now, and focus on leading a healthy lifestyle built on a foundation of balance.