Eric Wilson is InStyle's fashion news director. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter.

By Eric Wilson
Updated Mar 25, 2016 @ 3:00 pm
Credit: Ali Mitton

The Moment: "It feels incredibly empowering to know that my flaws are going to be embraced," says Doug, who appears in a new advertising campaign for American Eagle's Aerie underwear that extends its popular and positive body-acceptance message to men. Doug says this, mind you, while bending over, exposing his backside rather gratuitously to the camera.

His briefs say "FLEXY."

I’m sorry to tell you this, Doug, but I had to turn away. At least I did on first viewing of the #AerieMan campaign, which presents four "real men" in their underwear, preening, doing yoga, using a selfie stick to capture a rearie (or "belfie"). It is fair to say that one of them, Matt, conforms to modeling industry standards of the male ideal, but two of the others are less likely to characterize their physiques as six-packs as they are to use the word kegs, and the fourth appears to be stoned. It's hard not to laugh, and at some moments, look away, which underscores the point that men are susceptible to issues of body-shaming, too. And the more I watched, I had to admire Doug's confidence.

So let me take this moment to formally apologize to Doug, and while I'm at it, to Mitchell Slaggert, who appears in the new Calvin Klein underwear ads and whom I shamelessly ogled on the West Side Highway yesterday as I passed him while biking to work. Sorry!

Credit: Courtesy

While the tone of Aerie's new campaign in some ways parodies its more serious message of promoting body acceptance throughout the American Eagle company (in stark contrast to the historically sexualized nature of many of its competitors), it does make its case fairly effectively: "The real you is sexy." I’m not so sure the same can be said for the underwear designs, which include cannabis prints and tropical colors, in addition to the aforementioned “FLEXY” style, but depending on the situation, perhaps they, too, will provoke a smile or two.

Why It's a Wow: Let’s be real. Presenting images of un-retouched men in their natural glory is not nearly so revolutionary as advertisers and fashion magazines that have taken a stand against the excesses of digital manipulation in photography, which have been far more disingenuous to the representation of women. Still, American Eagle has been a leader on this subject for the last two years, since it announced it would no longer retouch models in any of its campaigns.

And while there are plenty of other campaigns that have admirably broadened the standards of beauty for women in recent years, men, too, can take comfort in the fact that last week, IMG, the powerhouse of modeling agencies, announced its first division for larger guys called Brawn. And they're even applying that dreaded term—plus size—to dudes.

Learn More: Meet Devon, Doug, Kelvin, and Matt, as they get down to basics in these video teasers for the #AerieMan campaign (below). And for a refresher on the debate over plus-size nomenclature, take a look at this article.