Views expressed in opinion columns are the author's own.
We live in a society that struggles with body image, especially among women. Ninety-one percent of women are unhappy and uncomfortable in their own bodies. This issue creeps onto college campuses as well; 58 percent of college-aged girls say they feel anxiety about their weight and strive to maintain a certain ideal weight. There is a serious problem.
Those who feel pressured to maintain a certain weight will often make unhealthy choices to achieve their goal. The prevalence of eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, has been increasing since 1950. One in 200 women in America deals with anorexia. This is particularly frightening because eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.
In our world of technology and growing interconnectedness, people are subjected to the pressures of social media and advertising. Social media negatively affects one's self-esteem. Online portrayal of the ideal, impossible body image makes consumers want to achieve it, even if they have to sacrifice their health and well-being. It's a slippery slope.
Social media was intended as a new, fun way to communicate with friends and loved ones. And advertisements are supposed to appeal to the public, sell goods and create a brand identity. But both are now becoming an impediment to self-esteem and health.
Professionals have thoroughly researched this issue, yielding findings shocking enough to make corporations wake up. One of these corporations is Aerie, a popular retailer for young women. To combat body image issues, it launched the #AerieREAL campaign and has since invested in colleges by hiring #AerieREAL Ambassadors, who host campus events to spread Aerie's message.
#AerieREAL is new to the University of Maryland this year. Its goal is to spread messages of body positivity across campus. It debuted on the campus at the First Look Fair, with an event called Stick to Kindness. Those who passed by were invited to take colored sticky notes and write a compliment or encouraging message. The sticky notes were all placed together on large boards spelling out #AerieREAL in a collage of solidarity and support.
"Aerie's mission is all about loving the real you," said sophomore Lidija Jurovich, one of three #AerieREAL Ambassadors on campus. "Aerie's promise is to never Photoshop their photos, so all of the models in their ads have untouched imperfections like stretch marks, acne, cellulite, etc."
Upon hearing about this campaign coming to campus, I was skeptical of Aerie's motives. Certain corporations, such as Pepsi with its Black Lives Matter commercial, have used social issues to improve their sales. I was fearful of a similar insensitive, sales-driven campaign infiltrating my community, trivializing an issue close to the hearts of many college-aged women. I wasn't sure if Aerie was genuine.
However, we should commend its effort to use a campus presence solely to raise awareness. The ambassadors are not salespeople. They are students who feel strongly about the importance of body positivity. They appear determined to promote self-love and confident in the righteousness of their goal.
This movement could inspire us to stop prioritizing unrealistic body standards, size exclusion and the notion of an ideal body. Aerie just might be starting the movement that makes advertising inclusive and girls more comfortable in their own skin.
Sydney Wess is a junior broadcast journalism and art history major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.