We’re living in a period of social backlash following the Age of Photoshop. Like many, my tweenage and teenage years were spent devouring images of airbrushed models and feeling impossibly out of touch with what I was “supposed” to be. Marketing tactics at the time fed on these insecurities successfully funneled our babysitting cash directly into the Health and Beauty aisle at CVS.
This multi-billion-dollar industry pushed thinness, whiteness, clear skin, sleek hair and purposely promoted these images to make women question whether they were enough. Is that a no? You should probably buy this Dolce & Gabbana perfume then, it evokes scents of “perfect calves” and “I guess I just have good skin genes!”. You’ll feel so beautiful wearing it.
The past few years however, I’ve been watching this tactic shift. Instead of showing us something unattainable that we know we’ll never look like, companies are showing us a more realistic portrayal of their products. Cult-favorite Glossier populates their social media feeds with close-ups of their makeup on people’s faces with visible pores, shine, uneven skin etc. They make an effort to represent a wide range of skin tones and body types so that people can look at these photos and think “Ah, that is how that would actually look on someone like me”. Glossier’s disruptive entry into the beauty industry and exponential growth is widely contributed to their warm, inclusive, “real” social media presence and content-first marketing approach.
The same goes for Aerie, the lingerie and swimsuit brand owned by American Eagle that refuses to Photoshop its images. Aerie has been wildly successful in its #AerieREAL campaign which encourages all women to send in photos wearing their swimsuits to be featured on social media to break down the singular idea of a bikini body. There’s a reason Victoria’s Secret dominated lingerie and swimwear in the early 2000’s and 2010’s and there’s a reason Aerie has been stealing the show in recent years. The reason is pretty simple: We’re sick of marketing that makes us feel like s***.
This is a new movement, and for some it is legitimate. But it’s also a trend. And like all trends, it can and will be exploited by executives looking hungrily at their bottom line. Once again, this brings into question the idea of ethical consumption under capitalism. So Aerie is normalizing body positivity through their marketing, and that’s wonderful and you want to support that, right? But are those values reflected and truly felt throughout their corporate culture? If you walked in to an Aerie store, could you really find sizes bigger than large? Are those feel-good Instagram posts actually being crafted by a bunch of dudes in suits trying to tap into the latest way to get you to part with your money?
As usual, the burden falls on the consumer to decide whether we’re moving in the right direction. Exhausting, isn’t it?