What Aerie Got Wrong (& Right) With Its April Fools Hoax

Photo: Courtesy of American Eagle Outfitters.
Update: Aerie has asked us to clarify that this is not an April Fools' joke but rather an awareness-raising hoax used to draw attention to their commitment to no longer retouch male models, as is described in further detail in the piece below.
Last month, Aerie made headlines for another great leap forward in the body-positive movement with the announcement of its #AerieMan campaign. The Internet collectively rose to its feet with applause because, of course, inclusive representation applies to guys as well. It applies to everyone, and kudos to Aerie for pointing out how far we still have to go. We'd expect nothing less from one of the most progressive mainstream brands. That's why it was kind of a bummer when the company announced this morning that it was all part of an April Fools' hoax.

At least, I was bummed. Yeah, the video (below) had seemed a little silly and winky but also sincere. Plus, it featured one of my favorite style icons, Kelvin Davis (a.k.a., Notoriously Dapper, which he is, indeed). It felt like Aerie was saying two things at once: "Body positivity matters, for everyone!" and "But isn't it kind of stupid, too?"

If it had been another brand, it might not have felt so, well, personal. But Aerie has worked harder than any of its peers to reach its customer on a personal level, with things like the #AerieReal campaign. (Full disclosure: Shortly after that campaign launched, I was featured on the brand's blog. I was, and remain, both touched and proud of that. It was one of the first to champion me and The Anti-Diet Project, and that speaks to its ethos, as well.) Aerie's sincerity was underscored by even more impactful efforts, not all of which were as visible. Its stores carry a wide range of sizes without the use of a separate "plus" section. Aerie sponsors the NEDA Walk (National Eating Disorders Association).

So, it was exciting to see this new advancement — and then, it was jarring to hear it was a joke. But read past the headline, and there's more to this than the clunky set-up:

"This announcement marks the brand's pledge to forego retouching its male models in its underwear and swim images beginning holiday 2016," read this morning's press release on the big April Fools' reveal. Furthermore, "American Eagle Outfitters has donated $25,000 to NEDA, a non-profit that supports those affected by eating disorders and an ongoing partner with Aerie."

In this light, it's hard to be mad about an April Fools' gag. I guess. These actions have the potential to have a much bigger impact in the long term. This really just feels like a poorly executed PR move, and if we spurned every brand that did that, we'd all be dressing in burlap sacks eventually. And, I don't know, maybe it shouldn't be that big a deal? Maybe we should be able to laugh about this stuff. It's just that everyone else in this industry treats our bodies like a joke (or worse, a taboo), and we're used to that. Even when it's coming from a good place, it just hurts more when your friend makes fun of you.

Hopefully, this is just a minor misstep. Ultimately, the donation and the commitment to not retouching male models are bigger, better deals. I just hope that when that holiday 2016 campaign launches, we won't all look at it, waiting for the punch line.
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