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.
On Tuesday, March 22, the University of Virginia Student Council (StudCo) rejected a proposal from DREAMers requesting Contracted Independent Organization (CIO) status. DREAMers is a newly-founded organization at UVA that exists in various forms around the country. The organization’s aim at UVA is to create a “more inclusive environment and an overall safe space for the undocumented community and its Allies at UVa through education and advocacy,” the group describes.
The StudCo vote came down to six council representatives voting to approve DREAMers for CIO status, while the other six council representatives voted to abstain. In effect, DREAMers was rejected for CIO status. Becoming a CIO would mean that the group would qualify for university funding and could rent university equipment or book university space. StudCo claims that it is not unheard of for a CIO to be initially rejected based on the council wanting to ask more questions to the organization, the group can then go through re-application; StudCo says this what happened in this instance with DREAMers.
However, DREAMers argue that the six abstentions were more so an innocuous “xenophobic” act, as they said in their petition against StudCo. The Black Student Alliance commented on the vote as well saying in a public email last Sunday, “This abstention was not only a failure of these elected representatives to do their duty and cast a vote, but it was also a cowardly way to reject the DREAMers on Grounds request without being on record as having voting in opposition to DREAMers on Grounds,” the BSA said in a public email statement March 27th, “This abstention was not only a failure of these elected representatives to do their duty and cast a vote, but it was also a cowardly way to reject the DREAMers on Grounds request without being on record as having voting in opposition to DREAMers on Grounds,” the BSA said in a public email statement Sunday.
DREAMers sited the comments of one of the StudCo representatives, second-year law student Erich Reimer, as example that suggests there may have been partisan sentiments involved in the decision rejecting the group. Reimer touted on Facebook that StudCo “defeated” DREAMers saying in a post, “U.Va. Student Council news: bill approving a student group to support illegal immigrants at U.Va. has been defeated! #conservative.”
This project began because I believe in the power of people’s stories. When I first photographed women and their experiences with their bodies, I received an overwhelming response to do the same with men. I expected to find lots of differences between the projects. But in reality – at the heart of each person I meet and photograph – the same sentiments are there. Each person has insecurities and triumphs when it comes to their own bodies. Each story is a journey on its own. I am so immensely grateful to these men for sharing their stories with me, and I hope they touch you in the same way they touched me.
Growing up, you’re told men and women need to appear a certain way. Women are supposed to be as thin as a rail with perky breasts and voluptuous curves. Men are supposed to be tall, muscular and big. As a child, I was always thin and very active, but never very muscular. By the age of 12 I started growing. I gained height, and then weight. My peers were behind me, so for a time they were jealous. I always found it to be peculiar to be jealous about another’s insecurities. My pants never fit, hair sprouted on my chest and stomach, and acne developed on my face as well as my chest shoulders and back. The acne was cystic and would not go away. I have been on antibiotics to treat it as well as various creams for 8 years now. It’s gotten better in college. However, I’ve gained weight within the past 3 years, 30 pounds to be precise. Coming to UVA and seeing how fit everyone is, there is this expectation of how you’re supposed to look. I feel very insecure due to the acne, weight and hair on my body. I go to the gym to try to be healthy and I have gained some progress. Last semester I lost 10 pounds and felt great. However, I gained it back over winter break and put on another 5 pounds this semester. I know some of it is muscle, but I still feel like I need to lose more weight. I don’t want to be one of those people that spends all of their time in the gym, nor worry over every calorie I put in my body. How do I feel good about how I look in a culture where beauty is all based on muscle and thinness without compromising who I am as a person? I am sure I am not the only person at UVA that feels this way and hope through this project that dialogue can be created between people of all body types to see how they feel as well.
Showing my body is something that’s fairly new to me. When I was younger, I believed that I was chubby; maybe I was a little chubby, but that’s alright. My reaction to this belief was far from alright: I counted calories as if my life depended on it. My body became fragile and my immune system suffered; I was sleepy all the time and I was isolated both by my choice and by that of my peers. I started self-harming towards the end of middle school. During freshman year, I told one of the sophomore guys that he was cute. Next thing I knew, the whole school knew I was gay—except, I’m not gay. I tried to explain the lack of importance gender had on whom I liked, but nobody really heard me. The next three years were a whirlwind of excitement, lessons, and the angst that every high school student knows. I was lucky that so many of my peers were supportive; I never had any troubles because of my sexuality. Towards the end of high school, I started to notice old habits popping up and I began my second dealing with self- harm. I had no idea what was wrong with me, I just didn’t feel right. The only time I felt good was when I was with my best friend or my mom, bopping queer and female rappers. When I figured out I was genderqueer, they were the first people I told. My mom cried, and smiled, and told me she loved me before thanking me for trusting her enough to share this part of my life with her. I think that’s why I’m the most likely not to give a fuck what people think: my mom taught me that I don’t have to.
There’s a scene in the film Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius where a little kid eats too much cotton candy. “We were going to see who could eat the most cotton candy,” he moans. Just before breaking down completely, he chokes out a lamentful, “and I won!” The camera zooms out to reveal his almost spherical, computer-generated body, full to bursting with cotton candy.
Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius was released in theaters in 2001. I saw it with my parents and sister soon after it opened. So here is the scene: I’m a five-year-old, sitting in a blood-red movie theater sharing a package of Skittles with my sister. I’m having a grand time, enjoying my G-rated entertainment to its full potential when the camera cuts to the cotton candy kid. The screen dissolves into loose shapes and gooey colors as my vision gets wet and salty and I can’t hear anything but the polite laughter of the movie patrons as they harmlessly fat-shame this little boy. Suddenly, I feel the syrupy residue of the Skittles on my fingertips and realize that I’m a pig and a fatso and disgusting and that I’m the cotton candy kid and that I’m the one they’re all laughing at. That was 15 years ago and it was still the first thing that jumped to mind when I sat down to write this.
In kindergarten, I started wearing a wetsuit whenever I went to the pool or the beach. By the third grade I was doing sit ups every day in the basement. In the fourth grade I became a vegetarian for “environmental reasons.” In eighth grade I renounced vegetarianism for “health reasons.” Now, I’m in my first year of college and I still feel panicky when my girlfriend hugs me around the waist. All this despite the fact that my whole life people have done nothing but tell me how cut I am, how healthily I eat and how diligently I exercise. And yet, at the end of the day I still lie in bed, staring at my stomach, wishing I weren’t the cotton candy kid.
The trouble is, folks, I see myself through a twisted lens. I have tried to correct the problem by changing the view I look at. But that doesn’t work; everything is warped through a warped lens.
It’s time to accept that my perspective is trash and embrace the fact that I’m somewhat insane. I’m nuts and I’m damn proud of it. After all, how can I not be crazy? I’ve never even fucking tried cotton candy.
Recently, I’ve begun to embrace the fluidity of gender expression. In the past year, I’ve been misgendered consistently due to my hair and feminine characteristics. I used to hate that I had a small frame and more stereotypically ‘girly’ mannerisms; but now I think, there’s a certain strength I have from being outside normalized expressions of gender. My hair greatly influences my personal expressions— whether I am feeling more feminine or masculine. I think these photos help represent the eye of society through which we are viewed as well as a sense of the privileged creativity I’ve found within this space of policed gender expectations.
Last month I attended the six-hour student Green Dot training session with about 12 other participants. Green Dot is a nationally operating training program designed to improve bystander awareness to prevent violence, particularly sexual violence, domestic and dating violence, and stalking. The training promotes “green dots” which represent a behavior or choice that creates a safer environment. For example, a green dot could simply mean watching over your friends when drinking. Alternatively, “red dots” represent behaviors or situations that could facilitate violence. Understanding green dot vs. red dot behaviors is the core of the training program. Visually, the idea is that we will work to cover our communities in green dots, while eradicating the red dots. UVA has an interactive map, as pictured above, to depict this. For its goals, Green Dot stands as a remarkable program designed to create real cultural change, a change for which general higher education is in dire need. However, my training session revealed structural issues that make me question the potential impact of the program.
I don’t know much about the field of STEM. I have never been interested math and science, so I never once tried to learn more about STEM or look into a major in that discipline. However, while talking to one of my best friends in the engineering school about her lack of female friends in her major, I realized that I was part of the problem. Women are the minority in STEM, but other women, including myself, don’t help the situation. With this in mind, I asked different women in the Engineering School about what helps them create a cohesive support system within this male dominated field. The Society for Women Engineers was the overwhelming response, so I talked to the president, a fourth year student, Rachel Kumar.
1. What is your position in the organization and what do your responsibilities entail? As the president of SWE at UVA, I identify strategic goals and lead their execution. I also serve as the liaison between national and regional levels of SWE, and I am the main point of contact for other organizations, including the Center for Diversity in Engineering and the Engineering School.
2. What are the goals of the Society for Women Engineers? What does your organization do to achieve these goals? We aim to inspire women to achieve their full potential in STEM fields, in which women are traditionally underrepresented. Our goal is to support the success of women in engineering through professional development, social activities, and community outreach. Over the past few years we’ve promoted professional skills development through workshops in design thinking, interviewing, entrepreneurship, and more. Our social activities include Charlottesville must-dos like apple picking at the scenic Carter Mountain and hiking Humpback, and also unique opportunities like having dinner at the Dean of Engineering’s house in the spring. We also have especially strong outreach programs.
3. How does your club differ from other engineering clubs? SWE differs from other engineering organizations because we don’t necessarily focus on the technical aspects of engineering, but more on invaluable soft skills such as networking and effective communication that are often overlooked in an academic setting. SWE is also unique in that it provides the opportunity for women to network and collaborate across disciplines; our members come from all engineering majors. Finally, what’s wonderful about SWE is that members’ involvement in SWE can continue beyond college– no matter what stage of life you’re in you’ll have a support system and people advocating for your success.