Today I went shopping by myself.
And by shopping I mean walking around the mall with a Starbucks iced drink and looking at clothes but never buying any. This has become one of my favourite hobbies, as there’s something peaceful about shopping on your own without anyone to bother you that you’re taking too long or you’re going to stores that they don’t want to go to.
It was also today that I realized how much inclusivity matters. At least, to me.
It’s no secret to people who know me that one of my favourite stores to shop at is Aerie by American Eagle. I love them because 1) they sell the most comfy bras and underwear but 2) they don’t photoshop their diverse set of models.
The latter of those two things is most important to me because as a child, I often felt awfully uncomfortable and embarrassed when I went clothes shopping. When I was a kid, I was rather plump and chubby. I was wearing “size 16 kids” (whatever size “16” even means) by the time I was around 11 or 12 years old, and was constantly embarrassed every time I went clothes shopping and things didn’t fit me right or were too small. Everyone my age was wearing Aeropostale, Hollister, or Abercrombie graphic tees and skinny jeans. It was horribly mortifying that I didn’t fit into those clothes (their sizing tended to run small, so I was squeezing into large and extra-large t-shirts, sucking in my stomach and trying to smooth out my muffin top by pulling up the waist of my jeans). Why couldn’t I look like everyone else? I wondered to myself, looking at the popular girls with their little tiny waists and straight blonde hair. They looked just like the models in all the ads. Maybe these were clothes meant for them, but not for me.
So I stuck to what I was comfortable in or what was more “me”. Random off-brand clothes, sometimes from Wal-Mart, sometimes the thrift store, sometimes hand-me-downs from my cousin. I still wished I could be wearing all the so called “fashionable” and “in-style” clothing as everyone else. I often complained to my mom that the fashion in style wasn’t meant for my body. Low rise jeans and tight little t-shirts did no service to my chubby, curvy body. My mom agreed, saying that stores should have different kinds of clothes that suit different body types and allow for everyone to feel comfy and happy.
Flash forward to my first year of undergrad. I had moved away from my small town (it’s by no means small in population, but basically a bedroom community with nothing fun to do there), to a bigger city about an hour and a half away. For the first time, I lived nearby to a mall that had more than a handful of stores (that mostly catered to middle aged white women). That was when I found Aerie.
I’d been to an Aerie before back when I was on a high school trip to Chicago, but in the flurry of the trip I’d forgotten about it. When I walked into the store, it seemed like everything was inline with my aesthetic and sense of style: pastel colours, soft and comfy fabrics, and stylish but functional. But what really blew me away was the pictures of models all over the stores.
All over the store, the models were plastered with the tag #AerieReal, meaning none of the girls were photoshopped to look thinner, fair-skinned, or perfect. And I could tell. Some girls had thick thighs, some girls had smile lines, some girls had cellulite, some had fat rolls, but they still looked absolutely beautiful and radiant.
For the first time I was looking at shining women who I felt I could relate to. If these women were imperfect, but I still thought they were beautiful, perhaps I could also be beautiful just the way I was.
I was hooked after that. It was so comforting to browse their website and have an idea of what clothes would look like on someone who looked similar to me. I used to face the problem of seeing clothes look gorgeous on tall skinny models, but when I put it on my short, curvy body, it did me no service. But I felt overjoyed to spend money on clothes that were made with my body in mind. In fact, the whole brand was designed to have something that suited everyone, and created an environment that allowed you to feel beautiful no matter what you were wearing or how you looked in it.
It was so liberating, most of the clothes I own (or rather the clothes I love the most) are from Aerie.
Today I went into the mall and peeped into other stores that sold similar things to Aerie, like Victoria’s Secret, Pink, and La Senza. I could immediately tell the difference. All the clothes and pictures in those stores clearly catered to the skinny white girl my young self had desired to be like. It didn’t feel like I was really meant to shop at these stores.
Inclusivity is by far one of the most important things to me, especially as an Asian-Canadian who often struggles with my sense of cultural identity, and even more so how I looked compared to other people. There’s something very powerful about feeling included, whether because of your race, body type, gender, etc. and it’s important that brands follow suit to try and meet those needs. Is the #AerieReal campaign perfect? Far from it. But they’re definitely taking a step in the right direction, a direction that I am more than happy to support by buying their merchandise.
It’s taught me that I deserve to feel happy, comfortable, and beautiful in the things that I wear. Even if I don’t look like the “ideal woman”.