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Late last month, American Eagle Outfitter’s announced its #AerieMen underwear campaign, featuring men of varying body types. But on Friday, April Fools’ Day, the brand revealed that the whole thing was a joke. Kind of? It’s unclear.
The clothing brand shared a video promoting the campaign on March 23, which shows four men wearing just their skivvies and talking about confidence, body positivity, and what it means to be an “Aerie Man.” The video and its accompanying photos were certainly tongue-in-cheek, but there was nothing to suggest that it wasn’t meant to send a serious message. But AEO’s Friday press release caused a bit of confusion about what this campaign was really supposed to mean.
“We aren’t afraid of being bold in how we engage our customers, whether through a video that makes you think twice, or challenging the norm in how a brand markets to men,” Chad Kessler, AEO’s global brand president, wrote in the release. “We are an all-inclusive brand and we know our male customers respond to humor.”
Kelvin Davis, the brains and beauty behind Notoriously Dapper, is one of the models in the campaign. On Friday, he took to his various social media accounts to respond to the claims that the body-positive campaign wasn’t promoting the message that it was supposed to.
I know a lot of you have questions. My stance and advocation for body positivity has and will always be a major part of my life. I know the struggle of trying to accept yourself for you and battling to know if you are good enough! I had to put myself out there to get the message across that this is no joke. As a result I’m happy and excited to announce that AE will no longer be retouching male models in underwear or swim by Holiday 2016! This is a huge step forward. I’m happy to be apart of this and keep the drive going to a more body diverse fashion industry! I love YOU all and remember the REAL YOU is SEXY! No JOKE. 👍🏾 💯😀 #AerieMan
A photo posted by Kelvin Of Notoriously Dapper (@notoriouslydapper) on
“I know a lot of you have questions,” he wrote. “My stance and advocation for body positivity has and will always be a major part of my life. I know the struggle of trying to accept yourself for you and battling to know if you are good enough! I had to put myself out there to get the message across that this is no joke.”
He said he’s happy that AEO will no longer be retouching its male models in upcoming campaigns.”This is a huge step forward,” he said. “I’m happy to be apart of this and keep the drive going to a more body diverse fashion industry! I love YOU all and remember the REAL YOU is SEXY! No JOKE.”
“Aerie has asked us to clarify that this is not an April Fools’ joke but rather an awareness-raising hoax used to draw attention to their commitment to no longer retouch male models,” wrote Refinery 29.
Bruce Sturgell—founder of Chubstr, a site that discusses plus-size men’s fashion and profiled Davis just yesterday—wasn’t happy to hear that a campaign meant to celebrate men of different sizes might not be for real.
“I’m disappointed that they feel the need to call this a parody, when, until today, the campaign felt like a step forward,” Sturgell said in an email to the Daily Dot. “My hope is that they further clarify their meaning here, and continue to lead the way by using models who represent a variety of body types as models for their clothing. “
He later clarified, after looking at the campaign site, that he feels more positive about it.
AEO also announced that in addition to promising to not retouch its models, it’d also be donating $25,000 to the National Eating Disorders Campaign.
But despite the uncertain meaning, some were not surprised. AEO has done April Fools’ pranks the past few years, like its 2013 “Skinny Skinny Jean” ad. This track record lead some to predict #AerieMan was somewhat of a joke.
Seeing everyone take the new “Aerie Man” ads as serious instead of realizing AE always does an April Fools’ joke is hilarious
— krosten flower (@kfowl531) March 24, 2016
If “Aerie Men” is American Eagle’s yearly extended April Fool’s Day prank, I am going to set myself on fire
— Kate Hurley (@Katertots6) March 27, 2016
Perhaps the lesson here is that if no one else is in on the joke, it’s probably best not to make it at all.
Marisa Kabas is a lifestyle reporter and activist. Her work has been published by Fusion, Fast Company, and Today. She’s also served as an editorial campaigns director for Purpose PBC, a social movement incubator.