I wasn't going to watch the annual Victoria's Secret Fashion Show. But a conversation on Twitter with The Lingerie Addict inspired me to tune in, if for no other reason than to observe the yearly spectacle of lights, action, and camera angles.
It's not a true lingerie fashion show, highlighting one designer's creations. The Victoria's Secret Fashion Show has more in common with a classic beauty pageant. But what struck me this year is that the show appears stuck in some bygone era. The message it mirrors is out of touch with modern-day values and goals. The Victoria's Secret Fashion Show instead reflects a narrow, traditional old-school view of the world.
How so? Let's start with Victoria's Secret regimented, conformist, and passive model woman. The Angels are identical in almost all respects, from age, height, and body type, to the way they are styled. There's very little ethnic diversity shown on the runway or in the VS catalog. The Victoria's Secret executives tell us what they are looking for in an Angel: one with a "good attitude." Translation: someone willing to tow the party line. Models are, by definition of their work, only alive and recognized when they are on public display.
Female sexuality is narrowly defined and reflects traditional gender roles. Victoria's Secret models are polite, and, literally, angelic. What's a VS Angel's definition of sexuality? According to one, her "sexy look" is when she tosses back her long hair and stares straight into the camera. Their most overt, and old-fashioned affectionate gesture is to blow "kisses" to the audience. The ideal women is heterosexual and married (lest we forget, the camera pans to an adoring husband in the audience).
The Victoria's Secret Fashion Show stresses economic inequality and excessive spending by an individual or brand. Can't afford a bejewelled $10 million bra? How about a $295 replica? The gap between the "haves and the have-nots" grows wider. Victoria's Secret wants you to know that they kept the Eiffel Tower lit up all night for their latest over-the-top photo shoot. This elite one percent attitude seems at odds with a more inclusive, globally conscious "occupy Wall Street" generation.
A Victoria's Secret personal trainer assures us that if we just work hard enough, we too can become a VS Angel. Between clips of models training in a gym, he says, "these women get the bodies they work for." But only if one is born with a genetic predisposition to be tall, thin, and photogenic. The Victoria's Secret body is a predictable, uninspired, and unattainable physical ideal of what (only) straight men supposedly find attractive in women.
And what of Mother Nature? It must be controlled, dominated and manipulated. Women's breasts are pushed up and "cleaved" in heavily padded bras. You can even shop for bras by level of padding (176 vs. 32 unlined on their website). And what's in those bras, anyway? Is all the gel bad or good for the environment? Forget about saving the planet. Your focus should be the VS Angel's goal of attracting a gazillion Twitter followers.
Yes, the Victoria's Secret brand sexually objectifies women's bodies. No surprise that VS employs a tried and true marketing tactic that has worked throughout history. Lingerie shots and cleavage sells. But they are not alone. Even breast cancer charities use sexy images in the name of a worthy cause. It's not unique to Victoria's Secret. But it is obvious, tired, and old.
The Victoria's Secret Fashion Show asks viewers to escape into an ultimate fantasy world. But this world, one claiming to celebrate beauty, empowerment, and creativity, is stuck in the past. Consumers can choose where they want to shop and what type of entertainment they buy, or buy into. They may find they've outgrown the narrow and rigid values of the Victoria's Secret lingerie brand.
What about you? Did you watch the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show? What do you think of the brand's messaging?
This article first appeared on The Breast Life.