Where Are All the Healthy Bodies?

Uh-oh, another marketing campaign featuring real women…and it’s already getting backlash. The spring 2014 aerie “Real” ad campaign features “untouched” images of real (read: not just waifs with curiously large boobs) women — thin women, curvy women, healthy women…gals who look like you and me.


The women, featured in the store and online, hit the full spectrum — from 32A to 40DD: variety besides just hair color, a deviation from the Victoria’s Secret 35-24-35.

And, as expected, critics are either silent (Jezebel? not a peep)…or screaming:

“Somewhere in the process of questioning our desire to commodify skinny hot chicks, the general public concluded that an appropriate solution would be to commodify non-skinny women, too. Instead of reducing the attention we pay to women’s bodies, we came up with new euphemisms (“show off her curves”) and doubled down.” —Maureen O’Connor, New York Mag

“I just think the conversation about “redefining beauty” is a misguided one at best. Because “redefining beauty” is still talking about beauty, and we need our girls to be thinking and talking about things other than the way they look.” —Charlotte Alter, Time Magazine

Yes, companies like Aerie and Dove (#RealBeauty) and Pantene (#WhipIt) and Vogue (Lena Dunham cover) are all making money off of their “real women” campaigns by showing healthy female bodies. And yes, they’re getting media attention. And we’re complaining?

The fact is, advertisers have to show some kind of bodies in their ads. So what’s wrong with healthy ones? You have to look pretty hard to find them in the first place– in media or on the streets (I’ve often thought to myself: Where are all the healthy bodies?).

For one, we girls are painfully aware of the world’s glamazons (especially in New York, where they roam free on the streets!): 5’9″ 115 pound models with DD chests who represent one kind of unattainable beauty in magazines and on screen. These ideals are driving us mad and getting hard-wired into our national brain: recent studies have found that by the time we’re five — yes, just five years old — girls are worrying about how we look. And it only gets worse with age: As many as one in three teens are unhappy with their bodies, with plastic surgery in adult women up 20% since 2008.


[An artist’s representation of a healthy weight barbie next to the real Barbie we all know…and once loved.]

But on the other end of the spectrum, many of us are also surrounded every day by friends and neighbors and colleagues who are devastatingly unhealthy, with one in three of us obese (and another third overweight):


A number of studies have found that if people around you are overweight, you’re more likely to be overweight too (like the famous Framingham Heart Study, which followed more than 12K people over 32 years and found that your chances of being obese increase by a whopping 57% if a friend becomes obese). If everyone around you eats like you & is the same size as you, the alternative means trying to look like that other female body type you see, the one in fashion magazines — so you either starve yourself (not good) or give up (not so great either). Moral? We desperately NEED more realistic representations of female health and beauty besides waif and obese.

The more we start having a conversation about what’s healthy and what’s not, the more progress we just might make. YES. It is our duty as parents and mentors to show young girls that they are so much more than their looks. But it certainly can’t hurt that there are more public representations of what it means to be beautiful.


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