It’s been a banner year for body positivity, so we weren’t the least bit surprised when Aerie, American Eagle’s lingerie brand, announced #AerieMAN, a campaign with ordinary guys (OK, one has a six-pack, but real men can have abs too!) modeling underwear. The unretouched photos have the tagline “the real you is sexy” emblazoned on them. Aerie is already known for not retouching photos of women in their skivvies, so this seemed like a natural next step.
Then we started to notice little hints that #AerieMAN might not be a genuine campaign but rather an elaborate spoof. The company’s spokesperson won’t confirm that it’s a parody, but we found a mountain of evidence:
- Aerie is technically a women’s lingerie brand and does not sell any men’s items. Instead all men’s underwear is sold under the American Eagle Outfitters label.
- The #AerieMan campaign includes four men, but the product pages on American Eagle’s website include only photos of Matt, the career model with the six-pack.
- When The Huffington Post requested hi-res images, the photos they received were labeled “ae_spoof.”
And then there are the videos. Let’s dive into each one individually.
We first meet Kelvin, the style blogger behind Notoriously Dapper, taking a bubble bath while wearing a wide-brim fedora. That’s something even Pharrell wouldn’t do. And then he starts snapping butt selfies while saying, “It’s about sharing yourself, all of yourself.” We get it, Kelvin: We take too many selfies.
Doug is a health nut. We know this because he rolls around in his underwear while reading TheMeat Free Monday Cookbook (as you do). Oh, yeah, and he does yoga wearing underwear with “flexy” written on his derriere. (Get it, flex + sexy = flexy. Portmanteaus, they’re all the rage today.) The nail in the coffin on this one: The description on his YouTube video says, “Doug is a free spirit who lives by the motto ‘pants off, zen on.'”
Devon is your stereotypical stoner surfer bro. We know this because he sports shoulder-length hair, a full beard, and wears boxer briefs with marijuana leaves on them. And he spews platitudes like: “It’s how you choose to wear the underwear. It goes beyond the pattern that’s on the trunks. It’s about how you choose to put that pattern out there.” How does Devon put that pattern out there? By suggestively thrusting his manhood while eating grapes.
Matt is a model, but he says that doesn’t make him comfortable in his underwear (as the camera follows him taking out the trash in his briefs). Then he’s back back in a chair wearing glasses and reading a book because models are smart. And the cherry on top: He hangs up a photo of himself in a flannel top and boxer briefs and gives it the finger guns. He’s just too cool for school.
With all this evidence, we kind of can’t believe we first watched the videos so naively. Plus the company has a long history of pulling April Fools’ Day pranks: One year it was spray-on denim, and another year it was a dog clothing line called American Beagle Outfitters. (We’ll admit we laughed at that last one.)
Still, it all feels a little too soon—and we’re not just saying that because the company released the campaign a full week before April 1. Body positivity and body diversity are cropping up all over the place, but the movement is still in its infancy, which is why we get so genuinely thrilled every time a new company jumps on board. We’re not sure whom American Eagle was trying to spoof (the media? the consumer?), but here’s the thing: Satire can be nuanced, but it should obviously poke fun. And as the headlines show (“Aerie Gives Plus-Size Men the Underwear Campaign We’ve All Been Waiting For,” “Aerie’s New Campaign That Dad Bods Can Really Get Behind“), most missed the memo that this was supposed to be a joke.