On December 2nd, the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show aired on television, and I did not watch. America’s beauty standards have evolved with each passing generation, but the arbitrary nature of them remains constant. While many beauty companies have embraced the changing landscape of the industry and made inclusivity and diversity cornerstones of their business model, the Victoria’s Secret company has stuck to the look of its original brand. Notably, the company has made great strides to include a racially-diverse cast of angels. But its bodily diversity is nonexistent. The average American woman is 5’4” and has a 38” waist, while the average Victoria’s Secret angel is at least 5’9” and has a waist size of 24”. Based on numbers alone, the brand is catering to a minute portion of the U.S. population.
Granted, every single body is different; not every single woman is “thin,” and not every single woman is “fat.” Some of us lie naturally at either end of the spectrum or somewhere in between. But the distinction lies in our society’s expectation that skinny is supreme; if you do not fit the mold, you should do whatever means necessary to do so or expect ridicule. While some of the Victoria’s Secret angels may strut among the small population that is “naturally thin,” the vast majority of them take on intense workout and diet plans just to maintain their brand’s unrealistic beauty standards.
But the company’s brand consistency is not without controversy. A few weeks ago, Jan Singer, the chief executive of Victoria’s Secret lingerie division resigned; at the end of this year Denise Landman, the chief executive officer of PINK will also step down. Recently Ed Razek, chief marketing officer of L Brands (the retail corporation that started Victoria’s Secret and Bath and Body Works) expressed his disinterest in expanding the look of its runway models “because the show is a fantasy. It’s a 42-minute entertainment special. That’s what it is.” Instead, he directed the interviewer’s attention to the fashion show of their separate, plus-size brand, Lane Bryant.
One might think the goal of a lingerie company would be to sell lingerie. But it seems Victoria’s Secret is more focused on selling an ideal image of beauty to its consumer rather than quality bras. With a fashion show lineup that has remained virtually unchanged on the basis of bodily appearance over the past two decades, the lingerie giant has perpetuated a “fantasy” built upon a toxic diet culture that teaches young women they must conform to the industry’s absurd standard of “angelic” beauty.
Unfortunately, whether Razek prefers it or not, the straight, cisgender, leggy and thin white woman does not represent the majority of the United States population. The word “fantasy” indicates a dream, or something to reach for. Based on the statistics of the body type of the average American woman and the often unhealthy means that models must undertake in order to attain the ideal Victoria’s Secret model, whose fantasy does the show represent? Ed Razek’s commentary benefits the fantasy of the straight male gaze, rather than the dream of body positivity and representation for women everywhere.
And I can’t support that.
Sorry, Victoria’s Secret: I don’t want a fantasy; I want to feel confident in my reality.
The artwork accompanying this piece means to demonstrate the ever-changing beauty standards based on arbitrary “fantasies” that arise in each generation. Despite the work that still lies ahead, we do live in an era that has begun to make great progress towards representation of many intersectional identities within the fashion industry. While Victoria’s Secret might not change anytime soon, these fashion companies have created great body-positive and inclusive clothing lines: