A few weeks ago, UNC’s campus rec hosted a body image campaign called Body Beautiful. It partnered with Embody Carolina and Carolina Dining Services during National Eating Disorder Awareness Week to raise awareness about unhealthy body image. To promote the campaign, the hashtag #uncbodybeautiful was used. Posters and signs conveying the following message “Love your body. Change the conversation. #uncbodybeautfiul,” were placed in gym facilities. These posters featured celebrities such as Drake, Ryan Gosling and Portia de Rossi encouraging students to love who they are.
Although these posters were meant to encourage healthy body image, something about them was unsettling. After much thought, I realized it was because these posters were using a premise that is often mediated to us: celebrities are our standard of beauty. Therefore these posters were relying on an inherently self-judging premise to support the claim that if Drake says “Hey girl, you look good,” then it must be true. This underlying, hidden message seemed counteractive to Body Beautiful’s purpose.
Later that week, I learned about Aerie’s Spring 2014 ad campaign, which features unretouched models, meaning they are not airbrushed or photoshopped. Considering the media has played an integral role in perpetuating unrealistic standards of beauty, I thought it was great that a lingerie line was acknowledging the negative impact the media has had on society’s perception of female beauty. In an industry that profits off of promoting an unattainable image generated by computer software, here was a company standing up and saying, “we want to show our models in all their real and unretouched glory!”
Excited to share this revolutionary movement with friends, I posted an article about the Aeire campaign on Facebook. However, the response I received from one friend was unexpected, yet appreciated. She posted the following article as a response: “The Revolution Will Not Be Screen Printed on a Thong.” Although campaigns like Aerie’s begin to interrupt the monotony of mediated “skinny girl” images, it also creates a new standard of beauty. In the article my friend posted, the author questions whether this new standard, although attainable, is still “catering to female insecurity.”
Both of my experiences with the Body Beautiful and Aerie’s campaign reminded me to always stay on my toes and to question why. In the Body Beautiful campaign, why were celebrities used to tell me I’m beautiful and to love my body? In the Aerie campaign, although the models had not been retouched and were supposed to represent “the real you”, they still did not have cellulite, stretch marks or blemishes, all of which I have. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad campaigns like these are working to address issues related to unhealthy body image. Acknowledging that beauty is constructed is the first step to deconstructing traditional ideas of beauty. However, it is also important to be aware of the new assumptions being made when old assumptions are being challenged. #StayWoke