Thursday, September 17, 2015

Truth in Lingerie

Last week, I found myself in Boston's Copley Square. I had an appointment and then I was going to pick up my mother at the bus station. It was a gorgeous day, hot but sunny and dry. Everyone was out and it was the kind of day that makes me miss living in a city. (What am I saying? I miss living in a city pretty much every day.)

But, I digress.

Up above me, hanging from the rafters of Back Bay Station, was actress Emma Roberts. Several of her actually. Huge, black and white, in various states of undress. She smiled down at all of us. She laughed, flipped her hair, covered her eyes, puckered up for an air kiss. All in very attractive bras from the advertiser, lingerie retailer Aerie. 

The headline assured us that "The REAL you is sexy."

A second headline added, "Emma Roberts doesn't need retouching. Neither do you."

Waitaminute. Isn't one of the benefits of being a model that you get retouched?  But, I digress. Again.

Aerie, which is the underwear division of American Eagle Outfitters (AEO), started a progressive new policy early this year. In an effort to promote healthier body image among their predominantly teen audience, their models would no longer be retouched. On the corporate website, AEO describes their "Real Campaign" this way:

We support real young women, not the airbrushed, unrealistic versions of what they’re told they should look like. We launched the aerie REAL campaign for our Spring 2014 line to bring this support to life. Our photographs of the aerie line feature un-retouched models and challenge the outdated ad campaign handbook. We understand that the media impacts young women, influencing how they see themselves, their bodies and their futures. Encouraging a positive self-image is one way aerie supports ongoing wellness. It’s time to feature beautiful images that reflect all realities. 

Wow. Of course, they're still using preternaturally thin and fit models. But removing that layer of un-reality is a good place to start. The girls have freckles, birth marks and even some small (very small, very very small) bumps and folds and bulges.

The brand has also extended its product offerings to fit young woman of various shapes and sizes. For example, their bras — youthful, pretty, sporty — are available in AAs through DDDs. Until now, more buxom teen girls were often forced into structured "old lady" styles. So, this is a nice change.

I wasn't surprised to learn that the president of AEO's Aerie division is a woman, Jennifer Foyle. She also happens to be the mother of a young daughter. One of the reasons she moved to Aerie (after years at The Gap and J. Crew) was the opportunity to create more appropriate — but still fun — undies for the tween market. The result? "Bralettes" that allow younger girls to have stylish bra straps showing (don't ask), without dressing like ... um ... professionals.

This would just be a "feel good" story for my feminist, mom and feminist mom readers. But, it's also proving to be good business. Since launching the "Real Campaign," Aerie's sales growth has surpassed that of other AEO divisions, nearly double same store year-to-year figures as the rest of the company. Aerie is on track to earn $300 million in revenue this year and to open another 20-30 new stores each year going forward.

That's a lot of bralettes.

I hope the "Real Campaign" gets even more real in the future. Most of all, I hope it continues to be successful. To that end, I plan to "vote with my pocketbook" the next time my daughter and I go to the mall. Aerie seems a better place to shop together than Victoria's Secret.

After all, my daughter's no angel. But, she's definitely real.

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of my book  Lovin' the Alien at



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