The annual televised Victoria’s Secret fashion show brings more than just pretty models and colourful underwear – it also ignites a yearly debate about body image, objectification, and feminists being our typical killjoy selves. While a lot of the dialogue is simply people ranting, there are a lot of constructive arguments within it that are worth looking at all year round.
For those unfamiliar with it, Victoria’s Secret is an American lingerie store that specializes in cute, affordable underwear. Every year they televise a fashion show that’s incredibly popular amongst people of all genders, with last year’s show watched by 10.3 million people. The models, though still very thin and usually tall, tend to be bustier and curvier than regular runway models, thus creating a more sexualized image. The brand is focused around these “Angels,” many of whom are top fashion models.
So, to be frank, the fashion show is more about the fun, gorgeous women than the clothes – and that’s fine. They also feature musical talent (this year was Rihanna, Justin Bieber, and Bruno Mars), making this more of a party than a serious display of fashion. However, the show consistently comes under fire for its objectifying nature, and even for being borderline pornographic – every year the FCC receives complaints about the content of the show, although Victoria’s Secret has never been fined. Regardless of the complaints, the show has become a cultural event in American society.
One of the most divisive elements of the show is the models themselves – regularly held up as the archetype of physical perfection, the models’ bodies become a battleground on which feminist and misogynistic ideas about female beauty play out. The cycle typically goes like this: someone acknowledges that the models represent a look unattainable for the average woman, fans of the show respond by saying that anyone could look like that with hard work and that we shouldn’t shame them for their bodies. It cycles around and around. The third element is more insidious and although it deserves more discussion than this, is worth mentioning: many people argue that their bodies are unsexy, and that bigger bodies are sexier and preferable. This is a rhetoric often used when discussing models and celebrities, and while it appears to be promoting body diversity, it just creates more ways in which women can fail at being attractive.
All of this cumulates into a big, body-shaming mess. Let’s be perfectly clear: there is nothing wrong with being thin. Society tells us this every day, but it’s worth repeating in this situation - whatever body you have is great. These models should not be lambasted for their bodies. With that said, their body types are not commonly represented in society because they are incredibly difficult to attain, and yet they are seen as an ideal. This contributes to a society in which women are set up to fail at reaching that ideal, which is problematic for us as a whole.
This isn’t the fault or a negative on the models, but rather on Victoria’s Secret for pushing unattainable beauty standards on women. The vast majority of women in the world simply don’t have the ability to look like that, and beyond that – many don’t want to. There are a million ways to be beautiful, and not everyone subscribes to the same ideals. Further, critiquing the show is not necessarily related to one’s personal feelings but rather their perception of the issue at large. Dismissing any criticisms of the show as “you’re just jealous” or “it’s fun, don’t overthink it” is pointless and essentially useless. If you want to watch the show and not think about those things, cool, but don’t make assumptions and accusations of others.
This is just one of the issues surrounding the fashion show – there are also issues of racism, although the company has attempted to address those, and the blatant commercialism of broadcasting what is essentially an evening of advertisement. There are valid reasons to criticize the Victoria’s Secret fashion show, and valid reasons to like it – I get it, it’s fun and sexy and colourful, which are three of my favourite adjectives. However, you can like problematic things, and even disagree that they’re problematic, without being an asshole.
Dialogue surrounding body issues, beauty ideals, and pop culture are important, so let’s do it without the shaming and misogyny.
Did you watch the fashion show? Do you find it harmful to women, or just harmless fun? Let us know!
Written by Emma Tarver