The term “digital manipulation” is an umbrella term that can represent many possible changes that can be made to both photo and video content. From face filters on social media platforms to completely altering the appearance of people to sell a product, digital manipulation is all around us. It’s impossible to go a day without encountering content that hasn’t been altered in some way. Since almost every piece of media we consume has been altered, it is difficult to discern what is real from what has been changed to convey perfection. This can lead to perfectionism issues with those who consume large amounts of media, especially with young women, who are already often prone to insecurity. Since 2014, Aerie (a child company of American Eagle) has decided to fight against the impossible standards that digital manipulation has set for young girls and they have made great strides when fighting the altering of women’s bodies in advertising.
Aerie made waves in 2014 when they decided that they would no longer retouch their models in any way in their advertising campaigns. They determined that it was more important for girls to see real women’s bodies as they are than to have their ads show a “perfect” example of women that isn’t attainable in real life. From that point on, they celebrated every roll, stretch mark, tattoo, and blemish present rather than perpetuating the shame that was always present when it pertains to “imperfect” (read as “real”) bodies. This campaign, called “Aerie Real” has helped Aerie’s sales to skyrocket which proves that Aerie is selling what people are wanting: authenticity. The brand is now a household name for young women and is becoming more popular as time progresses, with celebrities who oppose digital manipulation of bodies participating in their campaigns as well, choosing to have their photos not retouched.
The impact of the Aerie Real campaign has an even further reach beyond their advertisements. Girls and women of all ages, shapes, abilities, and sizes are learning to feel comfortable sharing unretouched photos of themselves on social media and using the hashtag #AerieREAL to catalog their posts. Aerie validates these posts with comments, likes, and even by sharing some on their pages and stories. They are creating a community of people who are choosing to have pride in their bodies as they are, no digital manipulation necessary. Emily Hogue, a Greenville University student, sees the importance of what Aerie is doing. She states, “I think it’s great that they aren’t photoshop/editing their models. In my opinion, editing and photoshopping can fabricate what really needs to be portrayed, and with this instance, that is the beauty of being different and being unique.”
It’s important to note that not all forms of digital manipulation have as much of a negative impact as retouching people’s bodies does. Color correction of photos, with programs such as Adobe Lightroom, can be used to take ordinary photos and bring out the beauty that is lost when images are translated from real life to photo. However, it is definitely important for us to realize that almost all photos have been retouched in some way, even if bodies or appearances are not altered, and Aerie may be using different, non-body modifying forms of digital manipulation to other aspects of their images.
Aerie Real was the first majorly promoted anti-digital manipulation campaign that paved the way for many companies, like Target, to follow suit. Because of Aerie, companies are now encouraged to celebrate real bodies and are often ostracized when they decide that a person’s likeness needs to be altered to sell a product. In the coming years, we are going to see that businesses who decide against altering the appearances of their models will begin to thrive, as we move toward a more body-positive culture. In turn, we will see fewer body image issues with young women and girls because they will see themselves represented within the media they consume.
Media by Ashley Chaney.