While advertising and media outlets are notorious for featuring unrealistic, retouched images that contribute to poor self-esteem, the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) has created the NEDA Inspires Seal of Approval campaign to recognize those companies and individuals who are striving to make a difference, with the inaugural award going to the intimate apparel line Aerie, an American Eagle brand.
Much like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval has come to represent quality in lifestyle goods, NEDA hopes the NEDA Inspires emblem will represent social responsibility in advertising, image and editorial content – specifically, content that challenges the thin ideal and promotes diverse representations of beauty. The seal was the brainchild of Iskra Lawrence, 24, international JAG model who was dropped by her agency at age 15 when her hips were deemed "too big," but was found "too small" by plus-sized reps at the time.
"I hope to inspire brands to be part of this movement for positive change," said Lawrence, now serving as a NEDA ambassador. "It is my goal for the NEDA Inspires Seal of Approval to become an internationally recognized symbol for images and messages that are safely promoting body diversity, confidence and self-love at any shape or size. We don't belong in a one-size-fits-all box."
Taking a leadership role for change in the fashion industry, Aerie – which recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of its #aerieREAL campaign – has made a corporate commitment to body-positivity in its advertising and marketing materials by pledging to no longer retouch models in any way.
On Feb. 19, Aerie also announced a partnership with NEDA as the lead sponsor of the non-profit's ongoing national walks awareness program, NEDA Walk. Save a Life., which raises funds for advocacy and educational programs, spreads awareness about the seriousness of eating disorders and provides support for the local community. NEDA holds more than 65 walks each year in cities across the nation.
"Aerie's leadership role and commitment to change and diversity should be applauded," commented Lynn Grefe, president and CEO of NEDA, who will present the award at NEDA's 13th annual benefit fundraiser March 26 in New York City. "Unrealistic images in advertising and the media play a role in the rising epidemic of eating disorders and poor self-esteem. But Aerie's campaigns highlight a range of body types. Their approach is not only socially responsible, but also resonates with the public and is profitable. We hope others will learn by Aerie's outstanding example."
"We are honored to be the first company to receive the NEDA Inspires Seal of Approval," said Jennifer Foyle, Aerie global brand president. "Aerie is committed to challenging super model standards to spark a conversation with the fashion industry and champion consumers with the true meaning of real and unretouched beauty. We are proud of our partnership with NEDA and hope others will join us in creating authentic advertising and marketing."
The effect of fashion and advertising images on children, teens and young adults is well documented …
Sixty-nine percent of American elementary school girls who read magazines say that the pictures influence their concept of the ideal body shape and 47 percent say the pictures make them want to lose weight (Martin, 2010). Forty-two percent of first-to-third-grade girls want to be thinner (Collins, 1991) and 81 percent of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat (Mellin et al., 1991).
The genesis of developing an eating disorder typically begins with a diet. Today, weight-loss is a $61 billion industry (U.S. Weight Loss & Diet Control Market, 12th edition), with an estimated 19 percent of adults and three percent of children in the U.S. on a diet on any given day (2014 Eating Patterns in America Report, NPD Group). Over half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting and taking laxatives (Boutelle, Neumark-Sztainer, Story, &Resnick, 2002). Even among clearly non-overweight girls, over one-third report dieting (Wertheim et al., 2009).
Thirty-five percent of "normal dieters" progress to pathological dieting and, of those, 20-25 percent progress to partial or full-syndrome eating disorders (Shisslak, Crago, & Estes, 1995). And, although treatable, eating disorders still have the highest death rate of any psychiatric illness (Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2011;68(7):724-731).