Body-positive Media

While the mass media all too often present us with oppressive images of ideal beauty and ideal bodies, some media forms are designed to challenge such unrealistic representations. One recent example of this is the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, that uses the images of women of a variety of ages, ethnicities and body shapes to advertise its products.

Body positivity has been quite a movement that surfaced in the United States around 2012 and promoted the message that “all bodies are beautiful”, combating the idea that has bombarded consumers for decades on end that one’s body must be stick thin, flawless, and essentially inhuman. With the plethora of media, including social media platforms, many companies, well-known individuals, and everyday people started to post more about the reality of the body ideal and how it is unattainable for anyone.

One company that has taken this movement quite seriously is Aerie. As a clothing, activewear, and intimate brand under American Eagle, Aerie decided to display their products via an extremely diverse group of models. Since 2014, Aerie’s media does not include any airbrushing to mask any “imperfections” once deemed unacceptable by the body ideal.

However, the most pressing question is does this actually work? Do women who view ads like Aerie's feel more comfortable with themselves and their bodies? In a 2019 study, the effectiveness of this campaign was assessed by 35 women. The consensus was clear in that the women felt more positively both about Aerie and their bodies compared to other companies' campaigns that haven’t adopted the body positive mentality (Rodgers et al., 2019). 

Documentaries like Jean Kilbourne's Killing Us Softly are helping to challenge media representations of ideal beauty.  However, there's still a long way to go.  Kilbourne's career shows this:  her first documentary was produced in 1979. Since then, she's made three more updates that show the persistence of this problem -- her most recent, Killing Us Softly 4,  was released in 2010.  See the full list of films for other titles here.

Last update:  9 April 2021