by ROSEMARIE BINGHAM '18
How many times have you sat back, watched your favorite show, and wished you were a specific character? Maybe you thought she was beautiful. Maybe you thought she was kind. Or maybe you liked how skinny she looked, and wished you looked the same. This is a pervasive problem in society, what is the media doing to fix it? More well-known companies are finding ways to prove that everyone is beautiful, no matter what shape or size. And thus reinforcing what we, at Saint Ursula Academy, have been learning in advisory over the past couple weeks.
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 42% of 1st-3rd grade girls admit that they want to be thinner, and over ½ of teenage girls use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives. About 69% of these girls say that pictures they’ve seen in magazines, and actresses they’ve seen on TV, have influenced their concept of a “beautiful” body.
One teen clothing line in particular, American Eagle, is taking a stand against retouched and edited photos. In 2006, AE’s sister store, Aerie was opened. It is a lingerie brand aimed for ages 15-21. The company was inspired by many studies and surveys proving that teenage girls are widely affected by females in the media. In the spring of 2014, Aerie launched its Aerie Real campaign. In this campaign, Aerie stopped using supermodels, and editing and retouching their photos. Perhaps one of the most empowering images is of their newest “full-figure” model, Barbie Ferreira. In an interview with Time magazine, Ferreira explained that she’s “trying to get rid of the labels and boxes and just be models of all shapes and sizes.” This campaign enforces that every girl should feel comfortable with their body, and that no one should feel excluded because they see themselves as “fat” or “gross.” Ferreira’s message is clearly coming across, because American Eagle/Aerie stores have accumulated a 21% sales increase after the Aerie Real campaign was launched.
Many teenage girls, as well as A-list celebrities, have praised the campaign. This includes Emma Roberts who was recently tapped for the summer lingerie line. “I just love the message behind it. I thought the whole idea was so inspiring,” she announced. And the success hasn’t stopped! AE continues to be successful. In fact, more people seem to be supporting the brand due their tagline “the real you is sexy.” People like the fact that American Eagle is going out of the box to help fix such an important problem. One brand might not make a difference all by itself, but AE has certainly influenced many others.
Likewise, in the beginning of 2015, Barbie did away with their freakishly thin original Barbies, and started producing more realistic dolls. The decision was made after Barbie’s sales dropped 16% in 2014, the third year in a row that earnings fell. The company concluded that these declines were due to the impossible body proportions the doll displays (Time Magazine). Mattel, Barbie’s manufacturer, designed a new and improved Barbie, which portrayed a healthy figure. The doll gained viral success shortly, and Barbie made the transition to produce normal looking dolls.
In addition to this, there are also diverse Barbies. The new dolls come in a variety of different shapes, heights, and skin tones. In “The Evolution of Barbie” video created by Barbie itself, it shows girls connecting with their Barbie are more, simply because they look alike. The girls acknowledge the fact that the Barbie’s look different, and express their excitement for the change. If the old Barbie were a real woman, she wouldn’t be able to lift her head, and would have to walk on all fours. The new Barbies are completely realistic, and foster confidence for the young girls being influenced by the toy.
Similar to the message Aerie is putting out, the most recent body-positive occurrence is with Sports Illustrated, and their latest swimsuit model, Ashley Graham. Graham is SI’s first plus-size swimsuit model. However, maybe plus-size isn’t the best way to describe her. The average woman in America right now is 166 pounds, at a size 14 (The Daily Beast and Livestrong.com). Coincidentally, Graham is…a size 14 as well, meaning she isn’t “plus-size,” but rather the size of the average American woman. Even so, with the swimsuit edition being SI’s most popular issue of the year, it is refreshing to a normal sized model featured. Like Barbie Ferreira mentioned, Graham agrees that she hopes “people will stop saying ‘plus-size,’ and they’ll just say, ‘she’s a model.’” Right now Ashley Graham is 28, and she admits that although modeling has always been a dream, she never thought someone her size would land the cover of SI. Once again, this is proof that companies are starting to recognize the problems they have created.
In our SUA Advisory program, we’ve been learning about body confidence, and how to love ourselves. We learned from Grace Ehemann (’16) that being able to overcome our insecurities is one of the biggest challenges in a woman’s life. In addition to this, we learned about the effects the media has on us. How, because of the media, we suddenly believe that only one type of beauty exists: the skinny type. The courageous women and brands mentioned above show us that beauty is not defined by one person. It is not defined by how skinny you are, how tall you are, how long your hair is, etc. Everyone is beautiful because everyone is unique. These companies are doing away with flat-stomached supermodels, and emphasizing imperfections.
Like Ashley Graham and Barbie Ferreira, we can be prophets by spreading love around SUA. Let’s remind each other why we are all so special. Is this the beginning of an era of confidence? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
Watch our advisory videos below: