Aerie's "No Photoshop" Ads Still Don't Cut It

By Janey Dike on February 13, 2014
"Aerie Real" Model

“Aerie Real” Model
Courtesy of

Recently, Aerie advertised it’s lingerie line without using Photoshop on the young female models. It follows suit of Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign ads, one of which tries to show women that they see themselves in a more critical light than the rest of the world. Both advertisements focus on promoting the idea of women feeling beautiful with their individual bodies.

While the campaigns seem like a good idea on paper, the delivery is weak and the messages of “real beauty” are lost because of the limited representation of women in the ads, despite the lack of Photoshop.

The “Aerie Real” campaign makes it clear that their models were not enhanced through Photoshop. The company placed the phrase, “The girl in this photo has not been retouched. The real you is sexy,” in all of the photos next to the models to make it clear that Photoshop was not applied. Aerie’s target customers range from women 15 to 25 years old. According to an article on, company representative Jenny Altman said that the line was designed to show customers “what girls their age really look like.” The photos feature girls with freckles, moles, small tattoos, and birth marks because Aerie wanted the models’ “imperfections” to be seen- something that cannot be done using Photoshop. In addition, at least one of the models does not flaunt the flat, almost non-existent stomach that most of the other models have. Yet even with the ban on Photoshop and these “imperfections” that Aerie attempts to show off as real beauty, the models largely do not represent “what girls their age really look like.”

First of all, there is not a lot of variation in race and skin color among the models. Most of the models are white, and the models that are black still are not very dark. Darker African Americans are not represented in the Aerie ads just as they are not represented in most women’s ads that are in the media today.  Another problem is that a majority of the models in the campaign are very thin and seem to follow the same size 0 patterns of models even without the use of Photoshop. Most women between the ages of 15 and 25 are not going to fit this stick-thin standard of beauty. The models that do have more of a stomach could still be considered thin despite not being as skinny as other models. Also, all of the models that are larger have large breasts, which are almost always portrayed in lingerie ads. None of the larger models seem to have small, or even medium-sized breasts, as if because they wear a large dress size, they must also wear a large bra size as consolation.

The faces of the models also represent our society’s restricted standards of beauty. All of the models can be considered “pretty” by standard definitions of beauty despite the lack of Photoshop. Their faces don’t look any glaringly different from the women’s faces represented on other advertisements. Though the models are not retouched in any way, they have almost flawless skin (no zits or obvious blemishes), straight, white teeth, and long, pretty, styled hair. This message is featured on one of the photos: “Time to get real. Time to think real. No supermodels. No retouching. Because…the real you is sexy.” Yet, the models still have many features of supermodels and don’t really have the need to be retouched because they already fit society’s standards of beauty. Although “Aerie Real” is more realistic because it does not use Photoshop and includes more diversity than most other ad campaigns, it did not go far enough to represent different types of women. In addition, because it focuses so much on the small “imperfections” of the beautiful models, the implications may make women who are far from the standard definition of beauty feel like their entire appearance is an imperfection. Women who wear XL, women who are short, women who have short hair, women with face piercings, women who are very dark-skinned, women who have large scars, and women with disabilities (just to name a few) were not portrayed in the “Aerie Real” campaign despite the fact that there are very real women who can relate with these features or categories.

If more variation in women had been represented, the ad could have had more potential to break boundaries in the way females are represented in the media. In addition to getting rid of Photoshop, more “real” women and more “imperfections” needed to be portrayed as normal and beautiful.

Photo from Dove’s “Real Beauty” Sketches
Courtesy of

One of Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaigns has the same problems that “Aerie Real” has. In the video ad featuring an artist sketching women, the artist first sketches the women while only listening to them describe their own appearance. Another sketch is done with the artist only listening to other people’s descriptions of the same women. With each set of sketches, the picture drawn when the woman described her own appearance was much less attractive than the sketch drawn when others described the woman. Just as with “Real Aerie”, variation in race and skin color are lacking in Dove’s campaign. This ad also does not appear to use Photoshop, but the women still for the most part fit standard beauty definitions. What was most striking however, was that when women described themselves, words like “fat” and “big” were used in negative ways and these adjectives resulted in a more unflattering sketch. Yet when the woman was described by another person, words like “thin” are used in a positive way and these adjectives resulted in a more flattering sketch. This pattern only strengthens the tight limitations of beauty that our society has for women.

And of course, both of the ads, while their main messages were about real beauty, show real beauty as related to nothing except for physical appearance. Ads in the media that strive for social change and portray more types of women could do wonders for how our society sees those who do not fit the social norm and for the judgments passed on women who do not reach the impossible standards of beauty. But in order for this to be accomplished, advertisements need to actually have these women represented instead of simply claiming to do so. Celebrating imperfections is a first step. Taking away Photoshop is a brave step. Using photos of women who do not look like the models plastered on every magazine and commercial we have ever seen is the necessary step.

I am a junior Broadcast Journalism major and a member of Maryland's Unbound Dance Team and the 2014 UMD Orientation Staff. I hope to one day travel and give a voice to people around the world that need the media's attention and the community's help. I love dancing, participating in service projects, talking about books, watching movies, and eating large amounts of ice cream.

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