American Eagle Announces #AerieREAL with $400 K in Grants

Film and fashion represent two industries where the misrepresentation of women and minorities still runs rampant. However, fashion industry leader American Eagle is taking active steps to change that.

American Eagle/Aerie welcomes Beanie Feldstein to the #AerieREAL Role Models and announces a new initiative for community change. (Photo Credit: Andrew Buda/Aerie)

This year, as part of their Aerie lingerie line, American Eagle rolled out the #AerieREAL Role Models program: a group of ideas-forward young women with a wide range of backgrounds, body types, and lifestyles who model Aerie’s products. The kicker? The models in #AerieREAL photos are not touched up, digitally edited, or misrepresented in advertising. In an industry where impossible standards of beauty are often airbrushed, the prominent featuring of real women with real bodies, real disabilities, and real “flaws” (if you want to call them that) speaks to an encouraging new wave of body-positive empowerment for girls.

Beanie Feldstein, known for her roles in Booksmart and Lady Bird, is Aerie’s newest #AerieREAL Role Model. She joins the group in the midst of a tumultuous awards season, where film industry leaders are coming under fire for sweeping female directors and feminist-focused media under the rug.

“Everything that I try to do when I choose projects is choosing stories that are centered around very complex, brilliant, smart, energetic, unapologetic women,” said Feldstein in an interview with Harper’s Bazaar. “And I think just celebrating voices and bringing more representation to the table of women that have not had the opportunity to share their voice or share their story is what I’m always focused on and always excited to be a part of.”

Feldstein will promote the lingerie line along with “philanthropy, leadership, and advocacy projects in the spirit of the brand.” She joins a star-studded group of female entrepreneurs, athletes, activists, and performers known for shattering expectations, and breaking molds.

For example, Tony Award Winner Ali Stroker is the first person using a wheelchair to appear on Broadway, her performance as Ado Annie in Oklahoma! earning her a Tony for Best Supporting Actress. Tiff McFierce, a DJ and wellness advocate who believes that happiness lies within, made history as the first female DJ for the New York Knicks.

Other #AerieREAL Role Models include:

  • Manuela Baron, Sustainability Activist (@thegirlgonegreen).
  • Keiana Cave, Scientist and CEO (Sublima)
  • Dre Thomas, Founder (Smile On Me)
  • Hari Nef, Actor and Writer (Transparent, Assassination Nation, You)
  • Lana Condor, Actor (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before)
  • Brenna Huckaby, Gold Medal Paralympic Athlete (Snowboarding)
  • Aly Raisman, Gold Medal Olympic Athlete and Activist (Gymnastics)
  • Molly Burke, YouTube star and Motivational Speaker (Molly Burke)
  • Jenna Kutcher, Entrepreneur and Podcaster (The Goal Digger Podcast)
  • Iskra Lawrence, Self-Care Activist (@iskra)

Along with welcoming Feldstein to the fold, American Eagle announced an upcoming campaign called the #AerieREAL Change Initiative. 20 grants of $20,000 each–totaling a $400k investment–will fund 20 individuals seeking to make a change in their communities.

“Are you a game changer in your community?” asks the Aerie challenge entry page. “Ready to shake things up? Have an amazing idea & need help getting started? We want to hear your story.”

This investment in community change is exciting for a few reasons. The open-ended nature of the competition makes it possible for inspiring individuals to make the sorts of changes that are traditionally difficult to fund. Plus, with the funds coming from an organization already recognized for its commitment to real empowerment of real women, the types of projects that will receive funding from Aerie are likely to focus on positive change for women and girls.

More fashion industry leaders should be taking steps like American Eagle. Not just in terms of funding feminist projects, but in investing in representation of real bodies and real people. Too often, young girls–and Millennial writers–feel pressured to conform to beauty standards that went out of style decades ago.

American Eagle’s campaign helps bring feminist funding back into the fashion spotlight. Through opportunities like the #AerieREAL Change Initiative, we can bring more diverse talent and storytelling into the modeling, entertainment, and retail sectors.

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Author: Maggie May

Maggie May is a small business owner, author, and story-centric content strategist headquartered in Annapolis, MD and Philadelphia, PA. She has a passion for finding stories and telling them the way they're meant to be told.

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