Since 2014, clothing brand Aerie has featured real women in unretouched photos as part of its body positivity-focused #AerieREAL campaign. Beginning in 2016, several celebrities and influencers — including Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast and Needham native Aly Raisman — have signed on as #AerieREAL Role Models to “spread the brand’s mission to love your real self — inside and out,” according to the brand.
On Thursday, eight more Role Models joined the fold, among them Newton’s Hari Nef, who’s an actress, activist, and, per The New York Times, the first transgender model to be represented worldwide by IMG.
All of the 2020 Role Models — which also include actresses Lana Condor (“To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before”) and Beanie Feldstein (“Booksmart”) — chose a quick statement to explain what they hope to convey through their work on the campaign; Nef “encourages others to question and oppose the status quo — with empathy!”
The “Transparent” actress — who said she swaps stories with Raisman about growing up in Boston suburbs — told the Globe she wishes something like the #AerieREAL campaign had existed when she was a Boston-area teenager.
“When I was in high school at Newton South High School, I used to walk around with printouts of those skinny runway models in my folder because I wanted to look like them,” said Nef, 27. “And somehow I kind of evolved into a version of one of them, but it was by sheer force of will. And I was never that tall, and I was never that thin. But I was welcomed in this industry that, at just the moment that I was ready, coincidentally and thank God, they were willing and ready to welcome something different. And I feel lucky to have been that thing, but I still feel like there’s a long way to go in this industry of looking, I think, just beyond the surface, beyond the kind of boxes one ticks, whether that box aligns with the historic norm or opposing the status quo — that’s become a box unto itself.”
Nef said she feels “great” about Aerie’s lack of retouching, but that wasn’t always the case. Previously as a model, she was grateful for fashion industry retouchers.
“They would give me new faces, new bodies, and I would thank them for it, because I felt like they were doing me a favor,” she said. “And at the time, that was how I was thinking about myself. I don’t feel that way anymore. And I’m excited to be a part of this imagery that’s going to be widely circulated that — I’ve got my hair in, and I’ve got my makeup on, and I know I look good, but not a single thing on my body has been touched by a blur tool, or, nothing’s been nipped, nothing’s been tucked. It’s just me."
Nef has a bunch of work on her 2020 docket, including a “fun, little, weird, delicious television project dropping at some point this year as part of an anthology,” as well as some screenwriting projects she’s “been working [on] rather sneakily and under the radar for the past couple of years.” She said she’ll also be rolling out more events and collaborations with Aerie in the coming months.
Rounding out the 2020 class of Role Models are sustainability activist Manuela Barón, scientist and entrepreneur Keiana Cavé, DJ and wellness advocate Tiff McFierce, Tony Award-winning performer Ali Stroker, Smile On Me founder Dre Thomas, and previous Role Models Raisman, YouTuber and motivational speaker Molly Burke, Paralympic gold medal-winning snowboarder Brenna Huckaby, podcast host Jenna Kutcher, and body-positive model and activist Iskra Lawrence.
Alison Goldman can be reached at @alisongoldman and alisonmgoldman.com.