Recently I spent an exorbitant amount of money on pretty underwear from aerie in an attempt to cure a broken heart through consumer capitalism. I have shopped for lingerie exclusively at
aerie, the sister brand to American Eagle, since their aerie Real campaign launched in 2014. aerie Real proclaimed to “challenge supermodel standards by featuring unretouched models”, and featured a variety of unmodel-like bodies shown wearing their products (1). From curves of fat and love handles to dark skin to wide waists and shoulders, the aerie Real campaign excited my feminist instincts and won me over. But was I trying to heal more than just a broken heart by buying the new lacy underwear sitting on my desk?
Neoliberalism is the concept that human activity can be shaped by individual choices within the free-market. Meeta Rani Jha discusses neoliberalism and how it relates to feminism in her book “The Global Beauty Industry: Colorism, Racism, and the National Body”. She describes the targeting of women by beauty companies, luring them to purchase goods through the guise of “changing and empowering themselves by consuming beauty products” and appropriating feminist themes, as “feminist consumerism”. Feminist consumerism involves corporate strategizing to employ feminism to market products and prey on the neoliberalist conception that individual consumption can incite social change. It can be argued that aerie, by marketing its products using body positivity, has employed feminist capitalism and should not be receiving the accolade it is receiving (or my hard-earned money.) (2)
Furthermore, as the campaign fervor has slowed, fewer and fewer models of color or models of varying body types, have been featured on the page. And the ones who have stuck around, such as the hugely famous Instagram star Iskara Lawrence, still fit society’s common conceptions of beauty. The overwhelming popularity of Iskara Lawrence, with her tiny waist and blond hair, over other more diverse models that were featured is evidence enough that aerie Real, and society, are still not ready to embrace diversity and true body positivity without the impetus to satisfy their neoliberalist guilt.
So why do I still choose to shop for underwear exclusively at aerie? Better something than nothing, I suppose. It may be neoliberalism’s voice in my head, but why not shop from a company that is at least trying to show more diverse body types, regardless of motivation. Aerie can of course do better, but it has less far to go than other competitors such as Victoria’s Secret and their infamous ‘Perfect Body Campaign’. I may have satisfied both a broken heart and my feminist neoliberalist instincts by purchasing aerie products, but when you are left with two evils, might as well go with the lesser.
(2) Jha, Meeta Rhani. The Global Beauty Industry: Colorism, Racism, and the National Body. Taylor & Francis. 2016.