Cassie Grace argues that Victoria’s Secret should not have been allowed on the university campus due to their controversial past surrounding body image.
Victoria’s secret has become a universally recognisable brand, mass producing women’s underwear and selling it at extortionate prices. Their stores can be found in almost every major city in the world, made easily recognisable by the nauseating scent of perfume which can be smelled from over a mile away, the throngs of teenage girls crowding its doors and perhaps, most infamously the colossal and retina burning pink windows. Given its apparent popularity some may not have been surprised to find a Victoria’s Secret coach in front of the Great Hall last Tuesday, after all there is nothing students love more than free things, especially when the product in question is ordinarily so expensive.
However, surprise was indeed the dominant response to the giveaway this week, with many students expressing their anger at the university for allowing such a brand to advertise on campus. Quite apart from the store being found on high streets, it can also be found making controversial news headlines, with transphobia and the promotion of unrealistic and often unhealthy models plaguing the company, causing stocks to fall by 40% and the viewership of their annual runway show also dropping by a hefty 51%. Perhaps not a brand the university should so lightly be seen promoting.
So, what exactly is the problem with Victoria’s Secret? Well, quite frankly the problem is its failure to adapt to the changing times. At all. On any issue. Let’s start with the question of LGBT+ representation. There isn’t any. In fact, the company has recently come under fire for comments made by their head of marketing Ed Razek. In a leaked interview with Vogue, Razek stated that Victoria’s Secret could never feature any transgender models, because “the show is a fantasy,” highlighting the brands emphasis and dependence on outdated female stereotypes. Understandably, the comment caused outrage online, forcing Razek to resign and ultimately leading to the radical and long overdue induction of transgender Valentino Sampio into the Angel team. Victoria’s Secret’s inability to evolve when faced with such contentious issues is rapidly leading to its downfall as the dominant lingerie seller, compelling people to shop elsewhere and even to protest against it.
surprise was indeed the dominant response to the giveaway this week, with many students expressing their anger at the university for allowing such a brand to advertise on campus
Victoria’s Secret has also recently seen opposition to its lack of plus size models, with many arguing that the size 6 supermodels who grace the covers of their magazines, campaigns and once a year the runway, perhaps do not provide a realistic portrayal of the average female figure. How strange. Indeed, advertising for their new ‘body’ bra involved a campaign emblazoned with the slogan ‘perfect body,’ leading to 27,000 signatures on change.org petitioning to have the campaign retracted, eventually resulting in success (the caption was quickly changed to ‘a body for everybody’). The petition stated that such brands ‘aimed at making them feel insecure about their bodies in the hope that they will spend money,’ clearly representing the generally growing belief that Victoria’s Secret stands in direct conflict with the prominent MeToo and TimesUp movements. Both of these have attempted to empower women and stand against gender crime, with Paul Ledjuez, a retail analyst at Citi suggesting that this growing sense of female confidence and independence has meant that increasingly “women don’t want to be viewed as stereotypical sexy supermodels buying lingerie just to impress men.”
Now, the brand has undoubtedly made several changes to their outlook and attitude, with the hiring of the aforementioned first transgender model, as well as that of Barbara Palvin, a supposedly plus size model. But is it enough to eradicate the decades of institutionalised sexism and promotion of the unrealistic beauty standard? Not really. The ‘plus size’ model in question is not exactly the promised departure from the usual breed of VS models, herself being still a minute size 10 and with the rest of the angels fitting in the traditional category of paper thin. Indeed, such changes seem more to reflect the company’s panic over falling sales rather than any genuine desire to improve.
The day of its arrival was mental health awareness week, an important time to recognise the need for respect and sensitivity, a campaign that this university is fully committed to. So yes, it does seem somewhat hypocritical that they should support Victoria’s Secret by allowing its coach, and therefore advertisement, on campus when the company clearly embodies the opposite to good mental health: a lack of representation, an emphasis on beauty above brains and an unhealthy view of the ‘ideal’ body. Not qualities you might expect the university to associate themselves with.
This is not the first time Exeter University has jumped into bed with controversy, with the infamously offensive Katie Hopkins, known for comments such as “To call yourself ‘plus size’ is just a euphemism for being fat,” as well as a slew of both sexist and racist remarks joining the debating society for an event last February. Although her participation was heavily campaigned against, once again demonstrating the admirably political nature of the student body. It is concerning that in this case, as with the Victoria’s Secret bus, the university failed to recognise the inappropriateness of who they associate with and support, arguably showing their willingness to sacrifice their ethics in exchange for money and/or publicity.
Statement from Patrick Hoyle, Guild President: “I believe the focus of the visit to have been wholesome in nature and born out of concern for an often-taboo area of health which affects those of any gender, and encouraged students of all genders and gender expressions to access the service. I am fully aware of and have condemned Victoria’s Secret past-record of transphobia and fat-shaming, however I respect that they are making efforts to improve this.”