In my personal life, I don’t know a single woman that has ever watched the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. Taking place this month in New York, it’s an annual parade of female bodies that are toned, dieted and dehydrated to angelic “perfection” then scarcely covered by garish costumes.
Frankly, it’s difficult to see exactly what about the show is supposed to appeal to a modern, female demographic. The products so heavy-handedly marketed throughout the spectacle are clearly designed to fit female anatomy, but the question of who the show is designed to please is a little harder to answer.
4 million Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is too naïve to have capitalised on this over the 23 years since its inception is just as ridiculous as imagining any of the garments showcased on their runway being worn in everyday life.
Despite selling products for women, a tremendous emphasis has always been put on the fact that the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is the “sexiest night in television” (it airs on CBS in the US), a line that I’m sure encourages more men to tune in than it does women.
Victoria’s Secret angels are the pinnacle of the meticulously manufactured “natural” look that men so often say they prefer, sporting loose waves in their hair, sun-kissed skin and subtle make-up tricks to give the impression that actually, yes, these models are sent from heaven. After all, for a period of time, this very magazine published annual Victoria’s Secret photographic portfolios, giving us a good idea of who exactly these angels might have been sent for.
“It’s really like being an Olympian,” is how Sophia Neophitou-Apostolou, the Victoria’s Secret creative director, justifies the physical standards that models must meet in order to earn their wings and a coveted spot as one of the brand’s angels. This isn’t to single Neophitou-Apostolou out specifically – she is also an editor who has long campaigned for greater diversity and transparency within the fashion industry and, indeed, this magazine has run photographic features about past shows.
But still, we’re expected to marvel and wonder at the models’ dedication to looking conventionally hot, while they talk at length about how empowering it is to work out twice a day and eat a clean diet. Plus, we too can #TrainLikeAnAngel by purchasing a £45 Victoria’s Secret sports bra and the services of a personal trainer, because shouldn’t we all aspire to be just like them, rather than, you know, actual Olympic athletes?
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While misguided men might funnel into stores to panic-buy their partners a gift on Christmas Eve, the brand’s main demographic is women aged under 24. Although it has faced criticism in the past – such as when the US National Organization For Women branded it “softcore porn” in 2002 – its sickly sweet, girly aesthetic, alongside a narrative of how feeling sexy in lingerie can be a tool for empowerment, appear to have eclipsed any unsavoury aspects of the show.
An 81-year-old billionaire praised for his retail prowess, Leslie Wexner is the man responsible for selling lacy underwear to women almost a quarter his age. “When the customer zigs, you zig,” he told the Financial Times in March this year, but is it really possible for Victoria’s Secret to U-turn on its archaic notions of sexiness to keep up with society’s sharp zag into the era of Me Too? Perhaps the answer lies in his response to the idea that “male bad behaviour” could be, in part, a consequence of the fashion industry’s objectification of women: “I think that’s just complete nonsense,” he retorted in the same interview.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with both wanting to feel sexy and respectfully appreciating another person’s appearance, but the Victoria’s Secret model of airbrushed perfection is clearly out of touch.
Rihanna’s line of lingerie, Savage X Fenty, sold out within 24 hours and was promoted on Instagram using models of all shapes, sizes, ages and ethnicities. The line is raunchier than Victoria’s Secret’s offering, with open-cup bras and a line of “Xcessories” that includes a whip, but it’s struck a chord with women because the brand gives us the opportunity to be sexy on our own terms: the phrase “Women should be wearing lingerie for their damn selves!” greets shoppers on the homepage.
And if women are wearing lingerie for themselves, then do we really still need to see it sauntering down a runway as an empty affirmation of empowerment? Women are humans, not angels. It’s time to start treating us that way.
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