Aerie, a millennial apparel brand known for its cozy-yet-stylish clothing and lingerie, is a pioneer within the body positivity and inclusivity movements. It was one of the first fashion brands to stop retouching models and highlight real women through its #AerieReal campaigns to challenge the stereotypical standards of beauty. In addition, to help spread the campaign’s message to love your real self—inside and out—the brand actively continues to expand its roster of #AerieREAL Role Models each year. These celebrity Role Models empower and inspire others to be the change they want to see in the world through leadership, advocacy, workshops and philanthropic partnerships. With their help, the brand has launched its #AerieREAL Change contest to grant $20,000 to 20 everyday change makers who are impacting their own communities. Winners will be announced in fall 2020 and will be featured alongside the 2020 #AerieREAL Role Models to share their personal stories and inspire the Aerie community.

“Six years ago, Aerie took the game-changing leap to stop airbrushing its models, which ignited a body positivity movement that has empowered women around the globe to let their real selves shine,” said Aerie Global Brand President Jennifer Foyle. “We believe everyone has the power to be a change maker. Together with our incredible Role Models, we cannot wait to award $400,000 to 20 fierce and inspiring members of the #AerieREAL community.”

EBONY recently caught up with the brand’s two latest #AerieReal Role Models, Tiff McFierce, a DJ and wellness advocate who conducts workshops on how practice mindfulness through music, movement and meditation; and Dre Thomas, a social entrepreneur and founder of the Smile on Me organization. The two join actors and activists Lana Condor, Beanie Feldstein and Hari Nef, as fellow 2020 #AerieRole Models. Below, McFierce and Thomas discuss how they are empowering others to affect change in the world and in themselves.

Smile on Me Founder Dre Thomas/image courtesy of Aerie/Andrew Buda

EBONY: Dre, your  Smile on Me organization educates young girls on the changes their bodies are going through in puberty. Why is that important for their self-esteem? How does that knowledge empower them?

DRE THOMAS: I always say that knowledge is power, but knowledge of self is empowering. When I was growing up, I thought this would happen overnight—that I would just be really confident in myselfbut I think explaining to girls that this is a journey is really empowering. To have a space where girls can share what they are going through and remind them that they are not alone, and to inspire them to disrupt the status quo and impact the world is really what Smile on Me’s mission is about. We are hoping to do that one girl at a time, one city at a time and, ultimately, throughout the world.

DJ and wellness advocate Tiff McFierce/image courtesy of Aerie/Andrew Buda

EBONY: And Tiff, as a full-figured women who is a former professional dancer-turned-DJ, how do you help empower others to stay body positive in such an image-conscious world?

TIFF McFIERCE: I find that just by being myself, I’m helping others stay body positive in such an image- conscious world. I talk a lot about my health and what that journey has been like for me. I share what it has been like from dancing every day but not being very healthy, then getting more into eating healthy and being healthy, and the down of that and the up of that. A lot of this is coming from when you are a dancer how people perceive you and just understanding that my life, my health and my wellness aren’t about how people perceive it, it is about my health on the inside. I also feel like body positivity is really something that you have to feel good about yourself. It is not necessarily how someone else feels about you. It’s not even about what anyone else pushes on you. It’s what works for you and how you feel, and how you are honoring your body. So I hope that when people see me, see my journey  and hear my stories about reversing type 2 diabetes and dealing with and recovering from an eating disorder, they can really tap into who they are and see themselves and get whatever support systems they need.  And, hopefully, they’ll learn to enjoy and honor their own bodies. I also want for them to just start to really love and accept themselves. People talk about loving themselves but are never taught how to accept themselves. That is something that I talk a lot about and am currently living through, just like everyone else. And I hope that that’s how I can empower others. 

EBONY: How did you feel when Aerie approached you to be one of its Role Models?

THOMAS: I was beyond elated to be selected, not only because it is so incredible to be a part of the campaign but also it was such an honor to be in the room with real role models who are making an impact and changing the world.
McFIERCE: I was pretty much in disbelief, but I also was very grounded and was just like, “It’s time.” This makes sense at this point at my life; this makes sense for the message; this makes sense for what I am living and I want to share. I just really felt humbled. It also reminded me to never give up being authentic. As an #AerieReal Role Model, that is what we do: We keep it real, we keep it honest, we keep it authentic and we keep true to ourselves. And all of that made me feel excited about what’s to come.

EBONY:  Why do you think it’s important to have role models in all different shapes, sizes and colors?

McFIERCE: I think it’s important because that’s how humans are. This standard of beauty that was pushed on us from other people’s agreements just isn’t true. That isn’t what the world looks like. The world is colorful; it’s different shapes. It’s all things, so it makes sense to have Role Models be as diverse as the world.
THOMAS: Representation matters, but I think it is also great that we get to celebrate women who are leaders in their communities who are making a real impact. I think  it is such a great thing that we get to celebrate real women who are inspiring other women to make real change.

EBONY: Why is it important to see real women as models in fashion advertising?

McFIERCE: It’s important because you want to feel like you can wear what the model has on. There were too many times that I would see something and just couldn’t picture myself in it or see myself being a part of that thing. When I see someone that looks like me—a real person—I can figure out what that looks like in my everyday life wearing it. I think it’s important because even if you don’t want to be a model, it’s important to see representation of real life so  people are not just continuing to try to be something they’re not just to feel like they’re a part of whatever they think they should be doing. For me, as an Aerie Role Model,  we inspire people to come together and create  positive changes in the world as well as open their eyes to what they can do and see themselves as.
THOMAS: Again, I think it is really important, but I also think we can go a step beyond that by having these conversations about what it means to be real and your authentic self, to celebrate who you are. I am really happy that Aerie is leading the charge with their Aerie Real Change initiative summit. I am so excited to be a part of these open conversations.