Aerie Features Disability Representation with Models with Disabilities and Illnesses


Last week, without much fanfare, Aerie released a new series of photos on their website featuring models with disabilities and illnesses. The photos feature a wide range of models depicting their true selves and bodies with Aerie’s classic no touch-ups. The models include women in wheelchairs, diabetic women, women with down syndrome, women with arm crutches and more. These photos are huge for representation and visibility. Rarely do you see people with disabilities modeling, let alone modeling underwear.

Women with disabilities and illnesses are celebrating these ads, and asking other clothing companies to follow suit.

For magazines or brands, models are typically touched up to create unrealistic body standards. The majority of models are thin, white and don’t represent what the average woman looks like. However, most models rarely ever have a disability. People with disabilities are often erased from public view. This erasure is an act of discrimination, or ableism. Aerie now not only shows a wide array of body types and women of different backgrounds. By showing women with disabilities, conditions and illnesses they are depicting real women in an inclusive way.

According to the U.S. census, nearly 1 in 5 people in the U.S. have a disability.

Putting realistic depictions of people with disabilities in ads isn’t the only representation missing by far. People with disabilities are the most underrepresented minority in hollywood. Conditions like vitiligo and needing an ostomy are rarely seen in film, TV or even books and magazines. Many people expressed on social media that this Aerie campaign was the first time they’ve seen someone that looks like them in an ad.

Aerie’s choice to hire and display these models sets a standard for inclusion that other companies will hopefully follow.

When was the last time you saw a character with diabetes in a movie or on TV? Do you know what an ostomy is? When was the last time you saw someone in a wheelchair positively depicted in an ad? By displaying models with disabilities, illnesses and conditions, Aerie is challenging consumers to see and learn about disability. This campaign is a step in normalizing disability and helping women with disabilities, illnesses and conditions to feel beautiful, not ostracized or invisible, as society often makes them feel.

Cover Photo courtesy of American Eagle

Also published on Medium.