We Need Men’s Body Positivity
By Allyson Cartwright
Men’s body positivity is not a joke, but American Eagle turned it into one. In March, Aerie, the underwear brand at American Eagle Outfitters, launched a promotion for a male underwear line modeled by men with diverse body types called #AerieMAN. The new Aerie promotion paralleled the popular female body positivity campaign that the company launched in 2014. While many people praised Aerie for making strides at male body inclusiveness, it turned out that it was an elaborate April Fool’s joke by the company. The #AerieMAN commercial shows the face of Aerie, plus-sized model Iskra Lawrence, hanging out with a diverse group of “average” looking male models while they all wear underwear and discuss what body positivity means to them as men. The ad itself is light-hearted and quirky, but certainly comes off as serious. With the tagline, “The real you is sexy,” making #AerieMAN into a joke makes a mockery of the message as well. The fact that this commercial was called by Aerie a “parody” of the female campaign makes it seem like body positivity is funny when it relates to men. This “joke” invalidates all of the positivity that the male models talked about in the commercial. What the company thought would make this commercial funny was seeing normal-looking guys in their underwear, which then suggests that normal-looking guys can’t be sexy and are a mere joke. “The real you is sexy” should apply to men the same way we expect it to apply to women. Why #AerieMAN was supposed to be funny was lost on pretty much everyone. Even the male models involved in the commercial believed it was a genuine campaign. However, at least now the backlash at Aerie is getting the much-needed conversation started on the need for male body positivity in media.
Men deserve to be in on the conversation of body positivity just as much as women. Women’s body positivity has been talked about forever, but in the past few years we can really see strides for change, such as Ashley Graham being the first plus-sized Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, the Target Loves EVERY Body women’s swimwear campaign, and even Aerie’s campaign to not retouch their female models. And there’s also a lot of reproach against companies who do promote an unhealthy body image for women, like the negatively-received “The Perfect Body” campaign by Victoria’s Secret. But, we rarely here any positive or negative discussion about men’s body positivity campaigns, and that’s because they barely exist—and when they do exist they turn out to be an April Fool’s joke. We need to start loving all men’s bodies the way we are just starting to for women. Some steps are starting to be taken in the right direction. This same month that the #AerieMAN campaign was revealed as a mocking parody, IMG Models signed Zach Miko to their agency—the first plus-sized male model they have signed. Miko will be a part of IMG’s “BRAWN” division. BRAWN will be a division of the agency that represents plus-sized male models. Hopefully, this means that there will be more male models that men can relate to and can develop a healthier body image. After being a part of Iris’s Every Body photo project for men, I really understood that men are not given a platform to express love or insecurity with their body. Some of the men in the project had difficulty verbalizing what they think about their bodies because no one ever asks them as men. Too many people assume that men don’t have any feelings about their bodies when in actuality they have just as many varied and complex feelings about their bodies as women. Media and society need to do more than promote women’s body positivity. Men need body positivity too.