From American Eagle to Pirelli, advertisers turn to 'real' models

It seems the days of waif-like models such as Kate Moss may be on the decline. And one expert on body image says the move is "potentially" positive — but she remains cautious.

But labels like 'real women' or 'plus-size' may still be problematic, says body image expert

Model Barbie Ferreira appears as part of American Eagle's 'Aerie Real' campaign. (American Eagle/YouTube)

It seems the days of waif-like models such as Kate Moss may be on the decline. And one expert on body image says the move is "potentially" positive — but she remains cautious.

There are several signs the modelling world is changing. A recently passed French law, for example, mandates that all models must provide their employers with doctors' notes confirming a healthy body weight before they can legally work in France.

Sports Illustrated last year featured its first "plus-size" model in its annual swimsuit issue.

Models walk in Saint Laurent's 2016 spring/summer ready-to-wear collection fashion show on Oct. 5, 2015, in Paris. A French law requires models to provide a doctor's note saying they are healthy. (MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images)
And advertisers are increasingly using campaigns featuring what they call "plus-size" or "real" women.

It's a move Tara-Leigh McHugh is glad companies are making. 

She's an associate professor in the faculty of physical education and recreation at the University of Alberta, who studies the body image experiences of young women.

But she's only cautiously optimistic.

'Potentially positive shift'

"I think that it's potentially a positive shift, when we see the media starting to depict images that represent women of various sizes," she said.

"I think there's still going to be people who are going to internalize these images, so if we're starting to see a variety of different sizes, for example, being depicted, I think that could potentially be a good thing."

There is an increasing number of campaigns like the ones McHugh mentions.

Social media star and model Barbie Ferreira, who is a size 12, was recently featured in ads for American Eagle's Aerie loungewear line.

The ads are part of an ongoing campaign by the company called "Aerie Real," which features women who have what the company calls "real bodies" and uses no Photoshopped images.

The plus-size fashion company Lane Bryant recently took aim at Victoria's Secret with their "I'm No Angel" campaign, featuring models of all shapes and sizes. 

And Dove's "Campaign for Real Beauty" has featured a variety of women for several years now. 

Comedian Amy Schumer was photographed by Annie Leibovitz for a recent Pirelli calendar. (Pirelli/Twitter)
Last month, comedian Amy Schumer — who often makes fun of her own body when she's on stage — posed for Italian tire company Pirelli's annual calendar, which has in the past featured thin, scantily clad women.

The photos were taken by acclaimed photographer Annie Leibovitz, who specifically asked Schumer not to suck in her stomach while posing.​

'Plus-size' label still problematic

McHugh said all of this is "potentially" positive — but that labels of any kind on women's bodies are still problematic, especially when it comes to calling any woman "plus-size."

"I look at that and I'll say, 'I think I may be average size,'" she said.

"But then I see a woman in the media being depicted as plus-size, and I look like her. Now you're just 'What? I'm a plus-sized person?' I'm not saying that that's bad, but they may internalize that negatively."

McHugh said the other issue she has with so-called "real women" campaigns and the models they use is that they still don't feature as much diversity as they should.

Gender, ethnic diversity still lacking

"I still don't think they have the gender diversity. It's usually just women or men, there's no transgender people or cultural diversity or ethnic diversity," she said.

"All we've done is more or less gone from — generally speaking — a thinner body to a more curvy body."

However, there are signs the diversity McHugh is looking for is starting to appear. 

Australian "plus-size" model Mahalia Handley — who is half Maori — recently signed a major European modelling contract. She's already modelled for the Kardashians' clothing line.

McHugh, who works frequently with Canadian indigenous women, said it's an encouraging sign.

"I know that the young women that I have worked with have said that they'd like to see more indigenous women in modelling or in the media, so that's exciting," she said.


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