Is the world ready for a body-positive, self-affirming underwear marketing campaign … about men?
I say why not, and not a moment too soon, either.
While major fashion brands around the world are embracing diversity on many fronts and rewriting the rules for contemporary beauty standards, their audience — and the object of their liberal gaze — is women. Who speaks for men, at least those of us who don’t look like an Abercrombie & Fitch store greeter?
Enter Aerie, the barrier-busting brand that triggered the rush toward more realistic depictions of women with its inclusive, unretouched #AerieREAL lingerie campaign two years ago.
Parent company American Eagle is hoping to create the same conversation — and windfall profits — with the introduction of #AerieMAN, a slightly tongue-in-cheek campaign that uses unretouched images of average guys with a range of body shapes, sizes and characteristics.
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The debut series, which arrived on the AE blog a few days ago, features four very different dudes: Kelvin, the stocky style blogger who loves bubble baths and “butt selfies”; Doug, whose hirsute Dad Bod makes full use of AE’s Flexy stretch fabrics; Matt, a bookish, bespectacled stud who apparently splits his time between the gym and library; and Jared Leto lookalike Devon, the free spirit in the weed-print underwear who is probably the kind of guy who you hope to wake up beside in the Coachella campground.
Each member of the Aerie bro squad is a bit of a comical stereotype, and there’s a temptation to see the #AerieMAN project as an in-house gag. But there’s a serious message just below the surface here — that Aerie‘s powerful motto, ‘The Real You is Sexy’, applies to everyone, not just the women who responded with almost visceral enthusiasm to the original #AerieREAL message.
Aerie is serious about promoting a different kind of role model for men, and in an accompanying video each of the models talks about what makes people attractive to others (Hint: it has nothing to do with body size).
“If you’re confident within yourself and you’re happy,” notes the exquisitely sculpted Matt, “then that’s what’s going to comes across as beautiful to other people, not what you look like.”
The big question about the #AerieMAN campaign is whether guys in general want this kind of attention or advocacy. There aren’t many activist groups demanding inclusivity and diversity in how men are treated by the fashion universe, and a lot of men aren’t going to feel comfortable having their insecurities exposed by Aerie‘s well-meaning do-gooders.
Privately, though — and I say this as a short, stocky guy who has never once seen my ‘type’ depicted in fashion marketing — any honest man will admit that today’s diversity movement is both one-sided and unintentionally discriminatory, excluding 49% of the population that is subject to just as many hurtful stereotypes as the other 51%.
Developing a healthy body image that — ironically but importantly — doesn’t put too much emphasis on body self-image is as vital for men as it is for women. We all need to feel comfortable in our own skin, and the less time we spend stressing over how we look the more time we have for the important stuff.
I’m hoping the #AerieMAN effort isn’t a one-shot deal and gains the same kind of zeitgeist traction that #AerieREAL did, and if AE sells some underwear because of it, good for them.
And Aerie: If you’re looking for a flabby-but-fabulous middle-aged model for your next campaign, give me a call. Together, maybe we can make the bald spot sexy again, and the spare tire this season’s must-have fashion accessory.