Body positive clothing? An improved version of Victoria's Secret? Supporting more diversity in body types? Yes, please!
Wait — not like that, though.
These statements entail my thoughts when I walked into Aerie, branded as aerie, for the first time. Yet another example of almost-but-not-quite body positivity, aka body positivity that still fits thin privilege standards.
If you haven't heard, Aerie is a store owned by American Eagle Outfitters and sells lingerie, bathing suits, athleisure, and other similar items of clothing. One of its campaigns is #AerieREAL, in which it encourages people to post untouched photos of their bodies no matter what they look like. It sometimes will even donate a dollar to the National Eating Disorders Association for every post with that hashtag it sees. In addition, the Aerie store is filled with pictures of women who have bigger than stick-thin bodies.
I chose the phrase "bigger than stick-thin" over "diverse" or "overweight" or "curvy" on purpose. While the bodies do have curves and are just as valid as the healthy body of someone who's thin or fat (reminder: fat is not a bad word, but a descriptor!), it doesn't fully encompass as best it can bodies of people who are Fat with a capital F, who are not able-bodied, who are very dark or very light, who are transgender, who are not conventionally attractive, who are really old or who have skin diseases.
Body positivity, at its best, is body politics. It's not only weight or shape, but it's also every other aspect of a body that exists and can be an object of privilege or oppression.
When I was in the store, I desperately looked to find a body that looked different than that of any other. I loved Aerie's campaign and really wanted to find a store that was embracing what stores should be embracing all along.
However, I have to be honest: Aerie did not fit the bill. As a society and as individuals, we still have so much to learn. Here are examples of photos you may see:
The video they created and the pictures of women on their website could be worse, I admit. Aerie is making progress that no other store has. Additionally, I just heard that their fitting rooms have sticky notes where people can write encouraging messages and that the bottom of the mirror says "This is what #aerieREAL looks like."
But walking into the store this past summer for the first time, for my first experience in Aerie when I had heard so many good reviews — well, I was not satisfied. Thin privilege was everywhere.
If you haven't heard, people who have thin privilege usually fall into these categories: can find their size easily in every store, aren't told to lose weight, easily fit into one airplane seat, aren't denied jobs because of discrimination against their size or the stereotypes that go along with them, and can eat "junk" food without others' judgement.
I'm happy to say that these women portrayed were mostly "regular people" rather than solely celebrities or other kinds of famous people. However, I did see one strong woman I recognized: Aly Raisman.
Raisman's advocacy for survivors, her teammates, and herself is something I look up to and greatly respect. She is the epitome of a strong woman and role model. I'm glad that she and the media have spread her message in court and on Twitter.
However, I hurt for her other teammates, fellow survivors of Larry Nassar's abuse, that have power in other ways that didn't show as prominently during their testimonies and messages to Nassar. Those women are just as strong and important and admirable. If they want it, they deserve a little spotlight and appreciation too.
My message to Aerie is this: keep doing what you're doing, but also do a little bit more. Strive for high levels of diversity. Change society's narrative on "attractive" and "worthy" and "admirable" and "beautiful." Use your power to spread unpopular but true opinions and advocate for those marginalized individuals and the rights they deserve. Don't play it safe; make a big statement. Be loud and proud about what you believe (or should believe, in my opinion) that's controversial. Include women who are transgender. Include women who are Fat. When you say #AerieREAL, mean it and show it. We don't want almost-real, or kinda-real, or real enough. We want REAL, and every, and firm.