I write about diversity and inclusion in the realm of disabilities.
Aerie Continues To Include Authentic Disability Representation — Ali Stroker Joins #AerieREAL Role Model Family
Six years ago, American Eagle’s loungewear and lingerie line, Aerie launched its #AerieREAL campaign, a bold commitment to stop photo-editing pictures of its models. The mission of #AerieREAL is to promote body positivity and diversity and to encourage their competitors to do the same. To represent the brand and its message, Aerie selects a group of Role Models who represent “real” women igniting change in the world through diverse careers and philanthropic efforts.
Jennifer Foyle, Aerie’s global brand president, spearheads the #AerieREAL campaign. She explains the process of selecting its brand ambassadors, known as “Role Models”: “As a team, we follow and connect with influential, real women across social media, at industry events, and by listening to our customers. Our Role Models represent social causes that are important to our Aerie community and the issues that impact their daily lives. We have open conversations with our customers around who and what inspires them. The Aerie community is diverse, so it’s important to be representative of the different backgrounds and beliefs of our customers to ensure they feel their voices heard in everything we do.”
The #AerieREAL Role Model initiative has a strong track record of authentically representing the disability community. Although many lingerie brands, like Savage X Fenty, ThirdLove and Adore Me, have made great strides in representing diversity in terms of race, gender expression and body type, they too often lack disability representation. Aerie is a leader, especially on this front. In the past, they’ve brought on gold medal paralympic snowboarder Brenna Huckaby and blind Youtuber and motivational speaker Molly Burke.
“Currently, when I see disability inclusion, it often feels like tokenism,” Burke explains, “which is not what we need. If I ever feel like a brand is trying to use my disability for “brownie points,” I walk away from the opportunity. [But] Aerie has NEVER made me feel that way – their use of women with disabilities is authentic, and I couldn’t be more appreciative of that.”
For the Spring 2020 Real Model cohort, Tony-winner actress Ali Stroker joins the #AerieREAL family. Stroker made history in mid-2019 when she became the first wheelchair-user ever to win a Tony award. Stroker was selected along with actresses Lana Condor and Beanie Feldstein, activists Hari Nef and Manuela Barón, Smile On Me founder Dre Thomas, wellness activist Tiff McFierce and scientist Keiana Cavé. (Current Role Models Brenna Huckaby and Molly Burke — along with Aly Raisman, Iskra Lawrence and Jenna Kutcher — are also a part of the 2020 campaign).
“When I was growing up,” Stoker recalls, “I didn’t see anyone like me modeling the clothes that I loved to wear. And I think that getting the opportunity to not just be a role model, but to be living by this motto of learning to love all of yourself. And [that’s] the best feeling every day: to remind yourself love the skin you’re in, this is what you’ve got and to own it. And it’s been so exciting to meet the other role models, powerful women all doing good in the world.”
Stroker’s personal motto for this campaign is “turning limitations into opportunities.” She believes that every person has some sort of limitations — some more visible than others —but the individual has the chance to transform the challenges into opportunities.
Aerie has taken one step further to be inclusive of its customers with disabilities. They’ve recently launched a collection with Abilitee Adaptive Wear and Slick Chicks that includes ostomy covers, insulin pump belts, accessories and underwear for customers with disabilities and medical needs. The collection was designed to empower women with disabilities and physical constraints and give them confidence.
Foyle foresees the #AerieReal campaign and its accompanying Role Models initiative going strong for many years to come. “Aerie is committed to providing our customers with Role Models who create the change they want to see in the world. We will continue to partner with women who embrace the Aerie lifestyle, and who have the confidence to use their influential voices to nurture an inclusive, empowering community for women everywhere.”
Burke shared a few words of advice to the newest members of the #AerieREAL Role Models family: “The first thing I’d say is don’t be afraid to lean on your fellow REAL Role Models for advice and support. We truly are a big family, and that’s definitely one of my favorite parts about the campaign - the friends I’ve made. I can truly say that some of my fellow REAL Role Models have become some of my closest friends and supporters, and there’s always room for more love! I would also say not to be afraid to tell Aerie your hopes, dreams, and passions because they really are a company and a brand that wants to support you and help you achieve your goals.”