Just last week, the American lingerie giant Victoria’s Secret held its 20th annual fashion show, and, as per usual, social media blew up because of it. Just as inevitably as S Club 7 being played at Cheesy Tuesdays, so too was the outpouring of comments, both positive and negative, as the world and his Instagram-filtered wife weighed in to have their say on the debate surrounding the show. It all comes down to one question. Are these women beautiful? I want to take a deeper look behind the glossy, perfectly blowdried exterior of the show and think about where this extravaganza of bronzer, exposed skin and incessant kiss-blowing fit in to our modern ideal of what is beautiful.
If anyone has ever watched one of these shows they’ll see that these girls are all about the personality. Unlike high fashion shows in London, Milan or Paris, where a deadpan gaze reminiscent of a bored teenager is the norm, Victoria’s Secret models are free to smile, laugh, flip their hair and play up to the camera. Critics, however, rightly point out that these women are entertaining us simply by being in their underwear, and certainly there is a whole ugly debate over sexism lurking underneath the glamorous VS rock.
Yes, the chief bigwig at VS, Ed Razek is a 60 year old man who spends his life looking at twenty-something models in their underwear, and this has been the source of much criticism levelled against the brand. People assume that he is a man akin to Hugh Hefner, except with more lace bras and stockings and less bunny ear. Instead, however, Razek is a very different kettle of fish. For example, he makes it plain that he will not look at models who are under 18 and properly signed to an agency. That does not mean however, that girls are put off.
Victoria’s Secret is one of the most ethically diverse fashion shows on the planet
The ugly side to the VS giant is that there are frequently comments on his posts such as “I’m 14 i really want to be a model, can u answer me plz” (this is a real comment from a user). What Razek has created, even unintentionally, is a global mega-brand that is undoubtedly having an impact on what we consider beautiful today, and that idea can be highly toxic. Undoubtedly, however, it is not just Victoria’s Secret who are to blame for giving young girls, and in this case it does tend to affect girls most as the show revolves exclusively around the female models themselves, a poor self-image. All major fashion brands, television programmes and films have a duty to promote diversity in all forms, from age to skin tone to dress size to ability. But actually, Victoria’s Secret does lead the pack on promoting one kind of diversity, which other fashion brands have been struggling for years to keep up with.
Victoria’s Secret is one of the most ethnically diverse fashion shows on the plant, and has featured more ethnic models than just about any other major brand. Out of 47 models in this year’s show, around half were non-white. This is a way higher proportion than just about any other fashion show. Indeed, Angolan model Maria Borges became the first black model in history to walk the Victoria’s Secret runway with her natural curled hair. As a promotion of diversity, Victoria’s Secret scores massive points, and they have been doing so for twenty years with the likes of Brazilian-born Gisele, African-American Tyra Banks and African-Jamaican Naomi Campbell among some of their most famous alumni.
There are definite plus points to the brand then, but where Victoria’s Secret falls down is their use of perpetually skinny models. There was a large backlash after their “Body for Every Body” campaign, which had to be renamed after the original name (“The Perfect Body”) caused controversy among women who rightly pointed out the obvious damaging effects of showcasing size two models and calling them “perfect”. The brand makes no bones about the fact that to be in the show, the models have to be a certain size and have very specific proportions which most people do not have, and which even many models don’t have.
Where Victoria’s secret falls down, however, is their use of perpetually skinny models
What most people don’t know, however, is that these women do not have these bodies through just luck alone. It is said every year, yet conveniently many people choose to ignore it, these girls train like professional athletes. Adrianna Lima, one of the most famous VS angels is a formidable boxer, and trains with a professional boxing instructor. She says herself, “I like to sweat, I like to keep moving. I work out for the runway but most of all, I work out for life”.
All the models put in a lot of time and effort to look like they do, and they make no excuses for it. Yes, they are privileged to have the money to employ personal trainers, but at the end of the day the women make it happen for themselves. Speaking of eating, this year there was an amazing backstage exchange between seasoned Polish VS model Magdalena Frackowiak and an interviewer. An ignorant TMZ reporter asked her “What are you most excited to eat after the show?” and she shot him down brilliantly, saying “What? No guys, not with these kinds of questions, this is stupid! Ask more smart questions, not eating after the show. You make me look like an idiot. It seems like I’m starving myself, and I can’t wait for the show to end so I can eat.” Well there you have it. Don’t make the mistake of underestimating an Angel. Incidentally, Frackowiak is now my all-time favourite person ever.
These women are some of the most powerful people in their industry, and earn money male models could only ever dream of. They love the way they look and celebrate feeling confident and are all actually really genuine people behind the makeup and the wings. People may want to read deeper into the show, saying how it is anti-feminist that women are celebrated for posing in their underwear, but the power these women command and their indestructible work ethic makes them, in my view, some of the best role models in the world. Yes, beauty isn’t everything, but if you look past the exterior glitter and fireworks of the show, there are some really incredibly positive aspects to the Victoria’s Secret behemoth, and those should be celebrated. Plus, who else would really love strutting through the Forum in their underwear and a pair of wings? Is it just me?