Following the social media storm surrounding the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, Online Features Editor Fran Lowe explains why she loves it- and why that doesn’t make her any less of a feminist.
Anyone who knows me will know that I am the first to put my hand up when someone asks, ‘Who here is a feminist?’ So, you might be surprised to learn that I am actually a huge fan of the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.
Unless you’ve been hiding from social media in a cave for the last month or so, you will probably know what’s been happening. This show is huge, and this year it took place in London for the first time ever. Everywhere I look on Instagram and Twitter, all I see at the moment is pictures of the Angels backstage and on the catwalk. It is, for someone as social-media-obsessed as me, at least, inescapable.
I had perhaps better explain my rather blasé assumption that the average, stereotypical feminist might not be the biggest fan of the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. Surrounding the Victoria’s Secret Angels, the brand’s group of world-famous contract models, there are always claims that they are encouraging dangerous levels of dieting, especially in young girls; promoting an unrealistic body image that women feel inadequate for not having; all this leads to a serious lack of female self-confidence. I’m never going to deny this: there is always the potential for the Angels to be used as ‘Thinspiration,’ and for many men they give an unrealistic expectation of what women should apparently look like.
We’ve all seen the shots of the Victoria’s Secret ‘Body’ campaign compared to the Dove ‘Real Women’ campaign, asking us when it was that the skinny, ‘perfect’ girls supposedly became sexier than the curves and the smiles of Dove’s real women. That there has been this much media- and social media- backlash to the models and their bodies suggests that there is a lot of strong feeling against the entire notion of the Victoria’s Secret Angels; there is something of a cult surrounding VS and its models, and people don’t like it. There’s a lot of active online hatred of them: for example, just flicking through Facebook I’ve stumbled across ’10 SHOCKING photos of Victoria’s Secret models without make up.’ This clickbaity title led me to exactly what I was expecting: people being surprised by the fact that models look a bit rough without make up on and washed their hair. I too look rough when I haven’t got make up on or washed my hair. Apparently, I’m supposed to be surprised that there is actually a woman that does the regular things like popping to the shop for some milk, or going for a run, just like I do, and that being a model is in fact just her job. And yet, because they are Victoria’s Secret models, we are supposed to hate them for it.
I’d like to start by saying that I have never liked the term ‘real women.’ It suggests that the girls that walk the runway for Victoria’s Secret aren’t actually real people, while in reality, as I have just said, being a model is just their job; they are not a mannequin 24/7. Some of them have children, for example. They have lives outside their jobs, just as we all should. Talking of skinny women as though they are not as real, and not as worthy as other women is ‘skinny shaming,’ and Caitlin recently wrote a fabulous piece about that. Victoria’s Secret models may not be Miss Average, but that does not make them any less real.
But with regards to the famed catwalk show itself. It is huge. Huge. You really haven’t been able to miss it on social media recently. The phrase ‘talk of the town’ does not do it justice. And I can understand why people worry that its huge media presence can be dangerous for perpetuating unrealistic images of women.
For a moment, though, let’s take a step back. All catwalk models are skinny, not just Victoria’s Secret Angels. We can’t tackle the problem of unrealistic catwalk models by shaming just one company, or just one model. Models will, if you ask me, probably always be skinny, and there’s not a lot we can do to change that culture. So, let’s look at why I think the Victoria’s Secret show is, well, completely fabulous:
Firstly, the models are happy. This is one of the few catwalk shows where the girls are actually allowed to smile. And they really go for it. Usually models on the catwalk just look so bloody miserable. But with Victoria’s Secret, it’s as though the models are saying “Yeah, I look fantastic. I’m gonna smile about it!” It’s impossible for someone to look bad in whatever they are wearing when they are wearing a smile that broad. Meanwhile, in a lot of catwalk shows, the clothes don’t look as great as they probably could, just because the model wearing it looks like they are having the worst day of their lives. I think this is something that a lot of fashion houses should aspire to.
Moreover, the Victoria’s Secret show is a party- there are performances from huge stars, the models are happy, it’s exciting, and it’s the hottest ticket in town. For so many of the models this is the pinnacle of their career: it’s something to look forward to, and look back on for the rest of their lives as the peak of their success. This is international acclaim; their photos will be beamed into millions of people’s eyes. You might argue that this isn’t success in the terms of how, say, a human rights lawyer or a cancer research scientist judges success, but who are we to judge what achievements someone is or isn’t proud of?
The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is an institution unto itself. It’s extravagant; it’s all a little bit mad, and it’s meant to be that way. It celebrates the fabulousness of its models, and of this globally-dominating brand, and we all lap it up. The world can’t get enough of the Angels, and Victoria’s Secret just keeps on giving: in 2012, Angel Adriana Lima walked on the runway just 8 weeks after giving birth. While she evidently had got back into shape spectacularly well, she looked like no regular model: she had boobs and hips, as you would expect from a woman who had just had a baby. And she looked sensational. The point here is that Victoria’s Secret knew that Lima was enough of a star that their audience would feel deprived without seeing her; so, despite her not conforming to regular model measurements, she stole the show.
So, no. I don’t hate the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. If anything, I love it. I think it celebrates everything that there is to celebrate about being a woman: these women look sensational on the catwalk, they are smiling, happy, and know that everyone is looking at them. You may claim it is all about the commodification and over-sexualisation of the female body, and you may well be right. But, at the end of the day, a girl has to wear underwear, so she may as well look fabulous while she does it. And I don’t believe I should be kicked out the ‘feminist club’ for thinking this.
Fran Lowe, Online Features Editor
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