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Model Amber Tolliver On Exposing Real Beauty vs. Retouching

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Aerie
Photo Credit: John Urbano

American Eagle’s super fem lingerie and apparel brand, Aerie, recently debuted their Spring 2014 campaign featuring pictures of women that did not go through the usual retouching process we're used to seeing in magazines and ads these days. Their message? “The Real You Is Sexy”—stretch marks, tattoos, curves, creases and all. Among the models featured in the “#AerieReal” campaign is Amber Tolliver, one of our past Curvy Models of The Month. We caught up with this beauty while shooting the summer campaign for the brand in Mexico, to share her experience under the retouching “knife,” and what it means be a part of a much larger message.

ESSENCE.com: How did Aerie approach you about doing this project and did you have any insight into their selection process and the type of women they wanted to feature?
AMBER TOLLIVER: I was booked for Aerie through my agent at JAG models. From what I know, during their selection process they were looking for a mix of different body types to represent their brand and after going to a casting in New York, they booked me for the campaign.

ESSENCE.com:  Were you nervous to expose your flaws and all?
TOLLIVER: I think this campaign is incredible! And of course I was a little nervous. Any thing that I could possibly be insecure about is out there for the world to see.

ESSENCE.com:  What parts of your body specifically did you feel most vulnerable about showing? 
TOLLIVER: As a woman I feel like our insecurities are always changing. Some days I don’t love my stomach, others I don’t feel so great about my arms but exposing it all is the best part about this campaign. It forces me to come face to face with what I don’t yet love about myself.

Amber Tolliver Dishes About The Details of Retouching

ESSENCE.com: Aside from your possible concerns about being criticized physically, were you concerned about what the industry backlash or response might be booking future jobs?
TOLLIVER: I had zero concerns about this campaign.  From the first time I heard the concept, I thought that it would have a great response.  I didn’t and still don’t believe that it will have any type of industry backlash.  I think that only good things will come from being a part of it.

ESSENCE.com: How far has a brand ever gone in manipulating your appearance?
TOLLIVER: A few clients have retouched me so much I no longer recognized myself. I’d look at a photo and say to myself, ‘I know that’s my face but that is definitely not my body.’

ESSENCE.com: Was there ever a time when you saw an image of yourself that upset you?
TOLLIVER: Of course, but it’s the nature of the beast and I just remind myself not to stress over things I can’t change.

ESSENCE.com: Did you ever speak up or voice your opinion about a project to a client or your agent?
TOLLIVER: I’m really close with my agents so there’s always an open discussion with my agents about projects. They are a support system for me, so they’re there when I need to express concerns but they’re also the first ones there to celebrate all of the great things that are happening.

ESSENCE.com: How do you feel when you see a retouched image of yourself?
TOLLIVER: It’s a part of the industry and I’m fine with it when it’s not taken to an extreme. 
Amber Tolliver Dishes About The Details of Retouching

ESSENCE.com: In a world of social media filtering, how do think retouching has impacted our generation?
TOLLIVER: Our generation feels like everything needs to perfect. People are so rarely exposed to unaltered, real images they forget that people don’t look like what they see in the magazines or on billboards. The people in the photos don’t even look like that. So when it comes to social media they feel like they need to edit and filter until the picture is “perfect.”

ESSENCE.com: Last season you were the only plus-size model at the LaQuan Smith show, how does that make you feel?
TOLLIVER: It’s feels good to be a part of, but I would love to see more curvy girls represented during fashion week.

ESSENCE.com: Are you booked for any shows this upcoming New York Fashion Week?
TOLLIVER: It’s too far in advance to really know but hopefully.

ESSENCE.com: A campaign like this is definitely a step in the right direction, but this is an industry that considers anything above a size 8 plus-size. Also, these are still models featured in the ad and not a representation of what most women look like. How do you feel about this sort of irony?
TOLLIVER: Like you said, this campaign is definitely a step in the right direction and after seeing the incredible response I think it’s the first of many more to come. But, this campaign isn’t about plus-size or straight size individually. It’s about representing a real version of who we (the models) are.

PHOTO GALLERY: Curvy Model of The Month: Amber Tolliver

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