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For Yara Shahidi, Being an Aerie Role Model Is About Authenticity

She plans on using her platform to help affect the bigger picture.
Yara Shahidi at the launch of her #AerieReal campaign. Photo: Aerie

Yara Shahidi at the launch of her #AerieReal campaign. Photo: Aerie

To say that Yara Shahidi is already having a great 2018 would be a gross understatement. There's her new "Black-Ish" spinoff, "Grown-Ish" that just got renewed for a second season; her latest fashion gig as a US Brand Ambassador for Chanel; plus a commitment to attend Harvard. The icing on the cake? Being named an #AerieReal Role Model, a position that will give Shahidi another platform to promote authenticity. 

"We're only a fraction of the population, and so I think with that we're hoping to expand diversity, expand who's represented," Shahidi says of the campaign. "I know not every campaign can capture every single person, but it's good to set precedent that we're trying to, whether that is in body diversity or that's in ethnic diversity."

Shahidi has been topping best dressed lists recently, but her real skill on the red carpet is making fashion choices that also carry meaning. The star says that she has always approached fashion as dressing for herself, whether in public or in her personal life.

"Of course it may sound counterintuitive when you're given a dress code for events and such, but it's still about, okay, this may be what I'm going to, but how can I best represent how I feel at that moment? You can tell when I am being worn by an outfit and I am wearing the outfit," she says. "It does make a personal difference in how I perceive myself, and not on the shallow level of, 'Oh, I like how I look,' but even just on the deeper level of feeling as though I have control over these parts of me."

We chatted with Shahidi about how she plans to carry that spirit into the #AerieReal campaign and about the trickiest of words, "authenticity." (You will not be surprised to learn that she absolutely nails it.)

Why did you want to get involved with Aerie?

I already love their undergarments, and really all of their clothes, and I think, first and foremost, being associated with a brand that you actually wear is always nice. It's the one thing that I always try and have, so that it's not like I'm being put into a place in where it's like, "Hi, I'm just here to sell these clothes." There's an actual connection. Also, quite honestly, I loved their previous campaigns. My friend Salem [Mitchell] was actually in one of the last ones, and I've seen Iskra's campaigns, of course.

I know the personal impact they've had on me, whether it's seeing stretch marks on a billboard or just familiar and smiling faces, and so to be able to associate with a brand that I've already felt the impact of personally, it just was one of those no-brainer moves, because there were so many natural connections for me.

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What does being an Aerie role model mean to you?

What everyone in the campaign represents is being authentic in their own right. Authenticity — I mean, it's a flawed word in that I know there aren't too many people that wake up and say, "Today I will be inauthentic." [laughs] But there's a lot of effort that goes into trying to commit to yourself, and so being with other girls that have committed to themselves and committed to making their voices known really creates space and sets precedent for other people to do the same. It's not so much about choosing whether or not to be yourself, but whether or not you're given the space and opportunity to be. That's what I feel being an Aerie role model is: using your platform, whatever it may be, to help. To do something that isn't self-serving but really for the greater good.

#AerieReal Role Models Rachel Platten, Yara Shahidi, Aly Reisman and Iskra Lawrence. Photo: Aerie

#AerieReal Role Models Rachel Platten, Yara Shahidi, Aly Reisman and Iskra Lawrence. Photo: Aerie

How are you hoping this campaign resonates with your followers?

I guess I can't say exactly how I want it to resonate; I hope it resonates whatever feels most personal to each person. But Aerie did such a great job at capturing our true essence and capturing us as a group, but also as individuals, and so I just hope it's another opportunity for them to get to know us, but also get to know the brand — and even more, the bigger picture. 

The bigger picture is that we start to normalize our bodies, and I think with that, we're always looking for the expansion of diversity. It's important to have a brand committed to celebrating each other.

Something you're really great at is using fashion as a political tool. How have you approached that?

Fashion is inherently political. I think that a lot of fashion is about owning your space and of course, in the very beginning, fashion was about access, and access is connected to I don't know how many other sociopolitical devices — who has access, who doesn't. So with fashion and with the privilege of the access that I've had, I've tried to use it to more fully own my space and to be proud of the space that I take up. Then on the quite literal level I own I don't know how many political t-shirts. [laughs] I think three of my drawers are just dedicated to political t-shirts.

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