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Nià Pettitt used to be extremely self conscious about the acne on her back. She wouldn’t wear any shirts or dresses that exposed her back. And bikinis? Not a chance.
But now, the model and body-positivity blogger, 20, is showing off her beautiful skin in an ad campaign for Aerie, the American Eagle brand aimed at teens and young women.
In keeping with Aerie’s no-Photoshop policy, the photos are completely natural and un-retouched.
“I used to cry in front of the mirror about my bacne,” Pettitt wrote in an inspiring Instagram post about the new photos. “I never used to wear anything that showed my back and I always covered my bum because of my stretch marks. Now I’m on Aerie flaunting them.”
In the post, which has earned nearly 18,000 likes and counting, Pettitt also opened up about her years of insecurity about her so-called "imperfections."
“I remember when I was 7, acne started to show on my face and I used to get bullied in school all the time about it. It didn't go till I was 17 but by that time it had spread onto my back,” she wrote. “I would always cover up and feel ashamed of my skin. In changing rooms, I'd always deter from looking too intensely at myself or I'd end up pointing out every single flaw on my skin.”
Some of criticism even came from those closest to her, making it all too easy to feel negative about her body.
“I've had family members emphasize it to me at occasions, and it took me so long to finally embrace and accept it,” Pettitt wrote. “Yet, despite all of that I am now about to be all over America with Aerie flaunting my lines of love.”
These days, more and more brands are (finally) embracing airbrush-free photos. CVS recently banned the use of Photoshop in its beauty ads and labels, and Target and ASOS have won praise for their swimsuit campaigns celebrating unedited models of all shapes and sizes.
But Aerie was one of the earliest brands to take a no-Photoshop pledge. For the past few years, it has featured un-airbrushed models in its ad campaigns for swimwear, intimates, activewear and loungewear.
"We have not retouched the women in our images since 2014," Aerie's global brand president, Jennifer Foyle, told TODAY Style in an email. "By showing un-retouched models we will all come to realize we are perfectly imperfect, and that there is nothing better than our REAL selves."
Shoppers have been hugely supportive of Aerie’s airbrush-free philosophy, and praise poured in for Pettitt’s recent photos.
“For many years I have been ashamed of the natural stretch marks on my legs and bottom and the acne that appeared on my back,” one fan wrote on Instagram. “I have never really had someone to look up to or even embrace having these type of flaws, and seeing that you flaunt them and love them with all your heart makes me want to do the same [with] myself.”
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“I can’t even begin to express how appreciated it is that your company doesn’t edit photos,” another woman wrote. “A small thing that makes a world of a difference.”
While comments like this tend to come from women, it’s also inspiring to see some men praising the brand’s body positive ethos.
“I really love what Aerie is doing with real untouched beautiful woman like yourself,” one male supporter wrote on Pettitt’s post. “We need more like yourself. As a young father worried about the influence my daughter will see growing up (she's 2) this definitely give me hope. Keep up the awesome work and keep loving yourself.”
Pettitt’s gorgeous photos are clearly part of a larger movement, and she has some words of advice for any girls or women struggling with body confidence issues.
“If you have them, ROCK them,” she wrote. “Look in the mirror the next time you get dressed and tell every stretch mark and every acne scar that it is a part of the magic that makes you, you.”