Aerie, a sub-brand of American Eagle Outfitters that promotes body positivity and women’s empowerment, sponsored a contest for its associates and leadership teams: in 250 words, tell them how working at Aerie has impacted them and inspired them to create real change in their community.
The winner of the contest would be flown to New York City to attend the AerieReal Summit, held on International Women’s Day, Sunday March 8, 2020. The summit would be a day of panels, workshops, and activations that would help women find their voices for change through reflection, intention, and action. Aerie’s celebrity and influencer ambassadors, known as Aerie Role Models, would be there to interact with the summit-goers too.
Grace, a Bosque senior who has been working at Aerie for just under a year, had the perfect answer to Aerie’s prompt.
In her submission, she spoke about her passion for making people feel valued and beautiful. She wrote, “Growing up I have struggled with self-esteem because I didn’t see myself reflected on the walls of the stores I was shopping at, or by the people that worked there.” She expressed that her own story and passion for the subject inspired her Senior Thesis project at Bosque School. Her thesis topic covers retail media advertising and its social, emotional, and physical effects on women, with a focus on how companies like American Eagle are working to change the industry and celebrate individuality. She shared how she had been conducting her research over the past months by gathering peer-edited articles, reading books that focus specifically on the psychology and statistics of advertisement that is geared towards Western societal norms, and studying the 2014 #AerieReal campaign. She wrote about her experience speaking to therapists at the Eating Disorder Treatment Center in Albuquerque and discussed the interviews and surveys she conducted of women who work at American Eagle, including her district and regional managers. Lastly, she shared her own personal testimony about her experience as a woman and as an Aerie employee.
A few days after submitting her response, Aerie called Grace and informed her to pack her bags—she was going to NYC! She said she “couldn't believe it.” She was one of two contest winners selected!!
When she arrived at the hotel in NYC, she happened to run into the Aerie Role Models eating dinner at the hotel and introduced herself to them. She met her favorite actress and personal role model, Beanie Feldstein, known as being Jonah Hill’s little sister and for playing the lead role in the movie Booksmart. “That alone was such a dream come true for me because when I saw her movie, it was the first time that I ever felt truly represented as a girl in high school and as someone who looked like her,” she shared.
At the summit, Grace had another opportunity to sit down with the Aerie Role Models and have one-on-one conversations with them. She spoke with Beanie Feldstein again; Molly Burke, a YouTube personality who has a rare retinal disease that causes loss of vision; and Manuela Baron, an environmental activist who makes artwork and costumes out of trash. She then attended panels that were structured as open discussions with the role models about what is wrong with the world and the industry and ways to spark a movement towards change. Each panel segment featured 4-8 of the role models and was mediated by influential women. Grace had the opportunity to meet many of these influential women and ask them questions herself.
At the end of the conference, Grace met the Senior Vice President of Media at Aerie who asked her to be a college ambassador next year at the college Grace will be attending, Colorado State University.
“It was such an emotional day and the fact that it was International Women's Day, as well as the first-ever AerieSummit, was so exciting to be a part of.” Grace continued, “To be in a room with all of these women who had gone through hardships and made it out as strong role models and changemakers inspired me so much.”