Most people would agree that it takes guts to be photographed dressed solely in underwear… especially without airbrushing. Well, that’s exactly how scantily-clad models are posed in a campaign for Aerie, the subsidiary undergarment line of American Eagle. “As a brand, Aerie has been a leader in empowering women and celebrating inclusivity and body positivity since our launch of #AerieREAL in 2014,” Jennifer Foyle, Aerie Global Brand President, shared in a statement to AmeriDisability Services. “Our newest bra models are part of our brand’s ongoing commitment to show real, authentic and unretouched women who are at the core of everything that we do.” This cast, which made their campaign debut in summer 2018, includes women with varying disabilities, chronic illnesses and physical attributes not typically featured in mainstream advertising.
To find these “real” representatives, the brand turned to social media and asked its community to share personal videos explaining why they wanted to be a part of #AerieREAL. Close to 2,000 women responded, according to marketing agent Matthew Owens. He explained that, “The women chosen for this campaign represent the inclusive beauty that makes up the DNA of the brand, which is committed to empowering all customers to embrace and love their real selves.”
“I sent them a video saying how, as someone who’s never seen disability or chronic illness represented in media, #AerieREAL should mean that beauty comes in all shapes, sizes, ethnicities and abilities,” 20-year-old Abby Sams said in a HuffPost article. No stranger to video confessions, Sams shared via her YouTube channel that she experienced unexplained pain for years before finally being diagnosed with a chronic neuro-inflammatory disorder and a connective tissue disorder. Landing the modeling gig was much easier to navigate! Posed in her wheelchair, Sams’ modeled a black lace bra. “I am PROUD to say I’ve done this. PROUD to be a part of it. PROUD to be a model representing a community of disabled and chronically ill people. PROUD to be comfortable in my own skin,” she wrote on her Instagram page. “Being a model in a wheelchair for a major company is kind of a big deal and I want to be transparent about it all. Confidence is hard to come by and even harder to master.”
Also for the campaign, Gaylyn Henderson donned a matching navy bra and boy-cut panty set along with her ostomy bag. She has Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disorder, and runs Gutless and Glamorous, an organization empowering people living with or contemplating ostomy surgery. Evelyn Ridell also wore a medical accessory: an insulin pump. The type 1 diabetic is photographed with her device clipped to a blue bra. Fellow #AerieREAL models include Jennifer Van Dusen, who describes herself as young and breastless after surviving breast cancer; Danielle Candray, who has alopecia, a hair loss condition; Lexus Morgan, who has vitiligo, a skin pigmentation condition; and Rajee Aerie (yes, Aerie is her last name and just coincidental to the brand), whose use of mobility crutches resulted from polio. And sports fans may recognize gymnast Chelsea Werner, who has Down syndrome, and is a four-time Special Olympics U.S. National Champion and two-time defending World Champion.
Founded in 2006, the Aerie brand is geared toward younger women (teenagers and twenty-somethings), a demographic that often struggles with body confidence –regardless of whether one has a disability. The #AerieREAL campaign hopes to represent and empower women of all types and the general public is responding. One customer (Danielle @ddmarriee) explained via Twitter: “They demonstrated a wonderful commit to diversity in their models and I hope that this is a theme throughout the entire company. Wow. This is beautiful.” And we at AmeriDisability Services agree!
Article photos courtesy of eAerie. Thumbnail photo: Rajee Aerie, Photo below left: Gaylyn Henderson, Photo below right: Danielle Candrey