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These Lingerie Ads Pride Themselves in Using Unretouched Photos, But Are They Really Less Damaging?

By Dustin Rowles | Trade News | January 22, 2014 | Comments ()


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I’m a dude who wears jeans and t-shirts and baseball caps and isn’t all that concerned about my self-image because I’m married (I won!) and I don’t spend a lot of time obsessing over puckers or stray hairs or whatever it is that people with self-image issues obsess over, so I may be the wrong type of person (of the wrong gender) to critique these lingerie ads from underwear maker Aerie. The ads take pride in the fact that they don’t use retouched photos, nor do they use supermodels, insisting that the real you is sexy.

It’s a nice gesture, and the campaign definitely seems to have its heart in the right place (kind of), but I think if I were a normal 17 year old woman looking at these photos, I might feel even worse about myself, because I wouldn’t be able to at least fall back on the thought that the women in these ads have been airbrushed to perfection. While glossy retouched magazine ads might create unrealistic expectations, these ads seem to suggest realistic expectations, and if I weren’t able to live up to the image of these near-perfect bodies, maybe I’d feel even more depressed.

I mean, it’s a nice thought to abandon retouching in the service of commerce, but if you’re using blemish-free women with defined abs, gravity-defying behinds, and perfectly symmetrical shapes, it seems to me that the campaign might be suggesting that the “real you is sexy,” as long as you look like these near-perfect non-models with impeccable teeth, no wrinkles, and not a goddamn mole on their bodies.

There are plenty of 40-year old women who have had a kid and haven’t slept in two years as they try to juggle kids and a career who would look damn sexy in that lingerie, and wouldn’t it be nice if these “real” women were more reflective of actual women? But again, what do I know? I’m a dude wearing a holey sweater, and I would look terrible in a bikini.

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via Adweek







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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • annie

    On the one hand, I'm kind of put off by the self-congratulatory "these aren't retouched!" exclamations, but on the other, I like that they're making a statement. As long as we use only beautiful people in advertising and the rest of the media, we'll always be encouraging unrealistic expectations. It's a smart PR move, and the campaign itself is pretty and nice and adorable (freckles!). Maybe you're thinking a touch too hard about it, but we all have our moments of musings, and your heart's in the right place. You just happen to have a popular pop culture site to put them on.

  • ryallen

    Dustin... good intentions... didn't accomplish anything here. You didn't really make any sense. You're saying that this campaign to STOP retouching is bad because... some women will still feel bad about not being a hot 22 year old? Okay... but this is a good thing. We gotta stop having these magazine covers with Katy Perry and Beyonce looking... the way they do because of photoshop. Anyone who's trying to stop this retouching shit - I'm with them.

    Don't look for stuff to complain about. Especially when its a step in the right direction.

  • Nikki

    Quick note, which may or may not add to the discussion: Aerie (a sub brand of American Eagle Outfitters) has a target demo of females ages 17-22, which corresponds with AE's overall brand demo of college age shoppers. Since the topic of age was being discussed, I thought that point should be taken into account. It's not that women outside the demo would look bad in their offerings, but it's that they are still trying to play to their audience, which consists of girls in their late teens/very early 20's. As a 30 year old woman, I too am outside of the demo, but I appreciate that they are making strides towards a more normalized view of women's bodies, especially since that's such a critical developmental age for body image.

  • Dat ass.

  • malechai

    Yes, when promoting these "real" women, they have neglected to factor in Nature's re-touching: "awesome genetics" and "being 17 years old". Or is it just "touching", no "re-"? That sounds dirty.

    Sidebar: I'm really, really, really sorry I never appreciated my 17-year-old butt. I never put on sexy underwear and just looked at it, to appreciate its wonder. My former BFs all said I had a great butt, but I was all, "oh no, but it's not perfect"! This makes me sad now.

  • Kate at June

    I don't think the ads are problematic.

    It would be nice to see some more models that aren't size 0-2. There's usually one plus sized model and a bunch of typically thin models. I would love to see women who are a size 6 or 8 in these ads. It seems to suggest you are either model thin or "plus sized" with no in between.

    I was heavily influenced by how women in magazines looked when I was that age. If I didn't look like a Victoria's Secret model, I was unhappy. Seeing more women who are really blessed in the looks dept (like the ladies above) but have a more average figure would be nice. I don't think having pretty women model is somehow disingenuous.

    tl;dr
    lack of airbrushing=good.
    + more variety=even better

  • grr arrgh

    What kills me is when I look at a site's plus sized section and the models are usually somewhere around 10/15 pounds heavier. Don't they consider plus sized anything over a 10/12? I'm a 16/18. Show me the women who wear that. I'll be far more likely to buy your product if you can show me a woman who looks like me wearing your clothes and looking great in them.

    Edit: What I was trying to say was that the plus sized models seem to be in the 12/14 range, rather than 16/18.

  • Kate at June

    Exactly, if you can show me what a woman who has a similar body to mine looks like in your clothes, that can only help you. I'm not going to be pissed that they are prettier than me.

    And oh yeah. And I think for high fashion modeling, plus size is like a 6?

  • grr arrgh

    I also wouldn't be mad that the model is prettier than me. I would even settle for a model who is at least my height. That dress on the 5'10 model is gonna look a lot different on 5'4 me.

    6? Ugh. UGH. That is really terrible. That's terrible for people who are a 6 and people who are larger than that. No one is being represented accurately that way.

  • grr arrgh

    It's great that they at least claim they're not going to use airbrushing. I do think that's a step in the right direction, but I think they should couple that with using models who represent more diversified body types and weights. I just checked out the models for the 38DD bras and yes, they were closer in size to me but they still looked like models, if that makes sense. I'd love to see women with bellies,cellulite, rolls, stretch marks, even slightly mismatched breasts. I'd love to see a model whose bra digs slightly into her belly fat the way mine does. Course I would also love if it bra makers would get their shit together and regulate sizing better so that I don't have to try on 12 bras to find one that fits. I can't tell you the rage I get from trying on a bra that I can't even get it to close and then trying on another style in the SAME SIZE and it fits fine. What the hell? It's almost as bad as jean sizing. ....okay, that rant went a little off-topic. Sorry.

  • /boner prepared

    /studies pictures intently

    Hmmmm....

    I think a see a blemish on one. Might be a shadow, but I'm not taking any chances.

    /boner disengaged

    Seriously though, somebody is going to say any advertisement is unrealistic. Because they are unrealistic. They are not designed to emulate reality; they are designed to project the fantasy supposedly possible through their products.

    The reason ads like this matter isn't because the women are attractive; it is because they are attractive naturally. It isn't a case of computer alterations that result in an image that literally no woman could achieve without damage. Yes, these women aren't "average", but then again, maybe they are. Maybe our perception of the "average woman" has been so skewed that we are shocked when pictures aren't retouched, we still feel like we are being tricked.

    I mean, there is still some artificiality here: the lighting, the lenses, the makeup (even if it is fairly light). But it is still based in reality. It IS something achievable, something tangible (oh so very tangible). It does take work to look like this, but it isn't anything impossibly difficult or dangerous.

    I hope I make sense here. I guess I'm just saying that maybe the "average" is a bit higher than we think it is.

  • Liblan

    I very much agree. A few years ago I stumbled onto my husbands Playboys from the very early 80's. There were still some fake tits and plenty of bleach blonde hair. However, it was an absolute revelation. The women squatting (because squatting is the hottest, right?) had little tummy pouches. Thighs galore and real breasts that fell naturally were on almost every page.

    The women were still undeniably beautiful. But holy shit did I feel better about my own body after seeing those. The ladies had armpit meat for fucks sake. I can't remember one fashion spread past the age of 16 when ladies had any semblance of such 'imperfections'.

  • grr arrgh

    I get what you're saying. "Average" doesn't have to mean not beautiful or attractive in some way. I agree.

  • Thank you.

    I'm just wondering how many women have been convinced that they aren't beautiful or attractive because of the "average" label.

    Like, you know that thing when people are talking about somebody attractive, and somebody says "I've seen hotter women walking down the street"?

    I'm not saying that isn't an assholish thing to say (it is), but that maybe that the sentiment holds some kernel of truth. That everyday (rather than "average") women are a lot more attractive than they think they are. That maybe, when they see the magazine racks or the movies, that they somehow see themselves as less attractive than they really are. And that feeds into this idea of an "average" woman not living up to these imposed beauty ideals, when in reality they are a lot more.

    Even on a purely physical level, I just see women out there discounting themselves much more than even the crassest dudebro controlled by his penis could even possibly do.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Yes, precisely this.

  • Genevieve Burgess

    When I was 17, I was a size 0 naturally. You could see my rib and hip bones easily, and what little booty I had was pretty high and tight. I was just as "real" as my friends who were a larger size, and had my own insecurities about my appearance just like any other teenager. I've filled out a bit since then, but I'm still a lot closer to looking like these models than Adele, a woman frequently praised for having a "real" figure.

    I understand that in the grand scheme of things, women who are overweight or larger have a much harder time socially than slender women. I'm a big fan of the effort to get a more diverse array of women in advertisements and on TV in order to portray the full spectrum of what women can look like and believe that all clothing should be shown on more than one body type and offered in a wide variety of sizes.But those changes don't have to happen by denigrating women who happen to be slender. Not airbrushing models is a big help, because seeing that everyone has skin that folds, or bulges in places, or eyes that crinkle when they smile, is a great start even if the models are slender. Aerie's target demographic is girls in their teens or early 20's, so using models of that age makes sense.

  • THIS TO, LIKE, THE 90th POWER.

    Speaking as one who once toiled in the plus-sized department of a major retailer, I can tell you right now that - no disrespect to America Ferrara - a lot of this "real women have curves" BS is marketing pablum spouted by women who would stop eating for a month if their Size 2 dress felt tight (and men who would tell them to). The truth is obvious in what we see in front of us every day: some women are curvy, some are wispy or angular or twiggy or whatever. None of them are apparitions. Tilda Swinton and Bar Refaeli are every bit as real as Adele and Oprah and Melissa McCarthy, and your 400-lb sister-in-law is every bit as real as your pale bony neighbor who throws up half of what she eats. Feminism will chalk up a win when women of ALL shapes/sizes realize that self-respect, dignity and worth come from within, and stop deriving "self-esteem" from disparaging other women. Manufacturing conflict via this fake "you GO girl" divisiveness, and letting this group or that group wear the "ideal" crown this week because fuck those fat/skinny bitches, just misses the whole point.

  • Mrs. Julien

    [standing ovation]

  • jennp421

    "There are plenty of 40-year old women who have had a kid and haven’t slept in two years as they try to juggle kids and a career who would look damn sexy in that lingerie, and wouldn’t it be nice if these “real” women were more reflective of actual women?"
    I would just point out that in this particular case it's not their target market. Aerie is American Eagle's underwear line so they are aiming for teens/young twenties.

  • Can't we just be happy that pretty ladies are getting photographed in their undies?

  • Mrs. Julien

    Struth. I'm a pre-internet heterosexual and even I am mesmerized by the tushie in those pink underpants.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Um, it's fine. There is always going to be someone prettier, better skin, etc. These girls seem to be a variety of cute, and no company is going to advertise with ugly.

    Btw, Zappos doesn't airbrush their models, and it's pretty remarkable. They are on the skinny side, yes, but the site provides dimensions. And you see everything from veins to stretch marks.

  • Kate at June

    Modcloth doesn't either. My friend works/models for them and most of the women have average body types

  • Mrs. Julien

    THERE IS SOMEONE PRETTIER?

    God damn it!

  • JenVegas

    No. No one is prettier than you Mrs. Julien. Clearly someone was misinformed.

  • Mrs. Julien

    I knew all of that virgin blood would be worth the potential indictment.

  • Jesus, Amazon. We get it. You really do sell everything.

  • Yeah...by the way, I still don't appreciate you attacking me with that syringe.

  • Mrs. Julien

    Hit baiting and sincere but misguided feminism.

    [golf clap]

  • JJ

    "I think if I were a normal 17 year old woman looking at these photos,"

    How about we go ahead stop you right there. Nothing good has ever come of you pretending to understand how a "normal" 17 year old woman feels. And can we please stop using the term "actual women"?

  • L.O.V.E.

    My thoughts on Dustin's piece match up perfectly with my thoughts on these pictures:

    Furious hand wanking motion.

  • cox

    Oh, god, pajiba. Ever heard of "little victories"? When did this place turned to femenist controversy central? And why? They look happy. They look healthy, lets call it a win and move the fuck along. And whats with the complaint of them being too symmetrical? If you mean their lady boobs, then thats what langerie does! It evens out the otherwise frequently unsymmetrical body parts.

    Yes, i guess there will be a few whining about not representing ALL the possible shapes and sizes. Probably on tumblr and jezebel. But.. You know. Lets not stoop that low. I personally dont need somebody representing my exact shape to feel belong. I am imperfect, they are impferct, lets bask in that shared experience instead of tearing it apart.

  • dizzylucy

    I don't mind the ads, it's at least a step in the right direction. In an ideal world, companies would use a greater variety of body sizes and shapes to advertise their products, since the general buying public is so varied. But if a company is at least taking the step of not photoshopping every inch of the models to the point where they don't look human, I'm good with that.

  • JustOP

    I understand criticisms of photoshopped advertisements - they can create false and unrealistic expectations.

    But these are untouched photos of women. These aren't 'unrealistic' expectations. These women are as real as it gets in advertising (which is what this is; advertising).

    So some people are going to get upset because they don't look like this? Okay, so what? At some point you have to face the reality that you may *gasp shock horror* be flawed physically or always hate some aspect of your body. Take the steps to change it, or try and embrace it and try to live with it. Don't complain that other women set 'unrealistic expectations' of beauty when those women are completely real and deserving of respect.

  • I would re-touch (touch and touch and touch and touch and touch and touch) any of those ladies.

    Consensually, of course.

    I dunno, I'd rather this than an airbrushed twig, both because of the message and because that's more my type.

  • JustOP

    Calling somone an 'airbrushed twig' isn't very nice, you know? It's needlessly insulting; in the same vein as, for example, calling somebody like Melissa McCarthy a 'unfunny hamplanet'. It's just uncalled for.

  • Danar the Barbarian

    "Twig" could be seen as derogatory and is an opinion. "Airbrushed" is a point of fact.

  • Skyler Durden

    Stop trying to find controversy where there IS none. They are beautiful models who look pretty and HAPPY. If I am going to have aspirations to look like anyone, I would rather aspire to look like SOMEONE WHO EXISTS.

  • BWeaves

    Agreed. I like that these women look real and beautiful. Trust me, nobody wants to see the real me in a lingerie ad. There is a line to be crossed where the lingerie just won't sell.

  • Danar the Barbarian

    Agreed. Whether we like it or not, fashion is aspirational. The message is, and always has been, "If you buy these clothes, you will look and feel good!" There is a line that cannot be crossed, where the models will just look too real, too ordinary, for the product to sell. It's nice to see an ad campaign that is at least attempting (successfully? Check back at earnings time) to push that line a little bit, and reel in the media's rampant Photoshop abuse.

  • B. Garcia

    Rather than just trying to imagine or "what if" what a woman feels when she sees an ad like this, why not just ask a woman how she feels? Or, better yet, why not just have a woman write about the subject to begin with?

    I recognize that your heart is in the right place, but...you might have stepped in some mansplaining here.

  • libertyftw

    *sigh*

    Sorry...so the male perspective on whether or not an advertising campaign exploits women is deemed "mansplaining" because men are "incapable" of empathizing with the opposite sex on issues? (Aside: I'm not even sure the term 'mansplaining' is used correctly here.)

    Doesn't he mention that he's married? What if he's concerned that his wife's self-image is constantly under assault by media that both airbrushes and doesn't airbrush its models?

    The feminist movement is kind of a mess right now, and it's because of comments like that. This guy is clearly trying to understand women, share what he felt about it, and is treated to an all-but-unhelpful comment.

    Let's try this: How do *you* feel about the models?

  • B. Garcia

    My comment broke feminism! Yay! What do I win?

    One way for guys to understand women (and feminism) is to STFU and listen to women and not think that just because they're married (or have daughters or sisters or mothers) that they have the right to speak for women (or to tell us how we should feel or think about a given issue).

  • libertyftw

    That's where your disconnect is. He wasn't trying to 'speak for' or 'speak on behalf of' women. He prefaces the statements he made in way that you should take his opinion with a grain of salt...which everyone is clearly doing.

    He's trying to empathize. He's not trying to 'understand feminism' or 'speak for women.'

    Your comment didn't break feminism. It's just not really helping.

  • B. Garcia

    Listen, you're the one who brought feminism into the discussion--A, and B: feminism isn't a mess because I, a woman, speak my mind or criticize a man whose opinion is based on what he imagines it's like to be a woman.

    He could have come at this with an opinion from a man's perspective but instead he chose to try to explain how a woman should/would feel/think about this. One approach I would respect. One approach I find disrespectful.

  • libertyftw

    Speaking someone's mind and criticism isn't up for debate here. Clearly not what I have a problem with.

    Second part is completely valid. I just hope that had he wrote it that way some of the people screaming about it in the comments section would share your respect/appreciation for it.

    Also...this is clearly not 'trade news.' It's a thought piece.

  • B. Garcia

    Your validation means the world to me, truly. I was wondering how I was going to get through the rest of my day had you withheld it.

    My job, just so we're clear, as the world's (and maybe even the internet's) most strident (some may even use the dreaded term "radical") feminist, is not to give out cookies to those men who are baby stepping their way to empathizing (or whatever is going on here) with women.

  • JustOP

    if you're the 'worlds most' something, surely that already encompasses the internet as it is apart of the... world?

  • Sara_Tonin00

    IF - IF - his wife is feeling insecure about these ads, he should tell her not to be flipping through teen girl magazines

  • libertyftw

    That's valid. She should do that. And what if they're featured on Times Square Billboards, banner ads on websites, etc.?

    My point is.... Give the guy a break. The world probably needs more empathy between men and women. Not less.

  • B. Garcia

    If some man wants to empathize with women, let them put on a dress and cut their salary by a third or more and then I'll take them seriously.

  • libertyftw

    I mean...I completely agree when it comes to the very real glass ceiling that exists in the marketplace for women. Let them do all those things.

    We're discussing image in the media though, right?

  • B. Garcia

    Do you think the issues are unrelated?

  • libertyftw

    It's not that they're unrelated. There are so many nuances in both the way media portrays women *and* the way they're compensated in the workplace, that they deserve individual attention.

  • B. Garcia

    It must be difficult (not to mention time consuming) job to police how feminist issues are approached, so I'll just give you my absolutely most sincere kudos for even attempting it. Feminism is not a complete and useless mess only because of people like you. Thank you!

  • libertyftw

    On behalf of women everywhere, you're welcome.

  • B. Garcia

    Your muffin basket is in the mail. But don't hold your breath while you wait for it.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Yes to empathy. But also yes to common sense. Maybe even yes if he had just listed this as a think piece rather than trade news. Because - and I think is a GREAT example of a modern man - this is a piece that if it had been run by an editor or maybe even run by his wife? wouldn't have gotten published. Because it's overthinking things along the lines of "everyone should get a medal because everyone tried."

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Dustin was just trying to illustrate Elizabeth Hasselbeck's point yesterday about the wussification of American men.

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