Last week, American Eagle’s underwear brand, Aerie, launched a men’s underwear campaign called #AerieMan to celebrate men of various body types. Following in the footsteps of anti-retouching and body-positive advertising campaigns aimed at women earlier this year, the #AerieMan campaign reminds us that “the real you is sexy.” The videos feature “real” guys — hairy chests, beer bellies, beards and all.
It’s about time that body positivity and inclusiveness extends to men, too. The video is a little wacky and over the top, but still good-natured and sincere. However, it was released the day before April Fool’s Day, and was consequently touted as an “awareness-raising hoax.”
According to Aerie, the campaign was all in good fun, and for a good cause as well. The company has been a leader in body positivity and inclusiveness, and this, apparently, was just a fun way to announce their newest pledge: no more retouching of male models.
“We aren’t afraid of being bold in how we engage our customers, whether through a video that makes you think twice, or challenging the norm in how a brand markets to men,” Chad Kessler, American Eagle Outfitters Global Brand President said. “We are an all-inclusive brand and we know our male customers respond to humor.” In addition to the pledge against retouching, the company donated $25,000 to the National Eating Disorders Foundation.
American Eagle is no stranger to April Fool’s Day jokes: in the past, they have launched fake ad campaigns for “Skinny Skinny Jeans” that must be sprayed onto one’s legs and clothes for dog. This year’s alleged prank, however, warrants one question: what is so funny about diverse male bodies?
Fortunately, American Eagle is not the only brand out there leaning towards inclusiveness for all men. This March, IMG Models introduced the first plus-size division for men at a major modeling agency, calling it “Brawn.” Zach Miko, their first brawny model, wears size 40 jeans and modeled in an ad campaign for Target. Earlier this year, Axe ditched the macho, chick-magnet shtick for a new take on masculinity in an ad campaign called “Find Your Magic,” which highlights different ways of displaying the male body, be it kittens in their beard, a wheelchair or heels, without poking fun at any of them.
What does it say about our society that Aerie’s PR team can’t bring up male body positivity without the justification of a “hoax,” however well-intentioned? Why must we use jokes in order to start an important discourse? While the actions that Aerie has taken are important, the guise of an April Fool’s gag undermines the entire message. There are smarter ways to launch a conversation about body image. It is hard to imagine a company making a similar joke aimed at women — why is it okay to make men’s bodies, and body positivity in general, the butt of the joke? I’m glad to see body positivity in advertising, no matter who it is aimed at, but shame on Aerie for choosing an April Fool’s Day prank as the platform to do so.
A version of this article appeared in the April 4 print edition. Email Camille Larkins at [email protected]