Victoria’s Secret is making a choice on how they want their brand to be perceived and it is as one which equates being thin with being beautiful.
Victoria’s Secret is synonymous with sexy for many people and while the company is actively featuring more Black and Brown models for their upcoming annual fashion show, the fact remains that they’re still anti-fat. With all their diversity they’re still upholding oppressive diet culture ideals. Days leading up to the show’s taping, their newly cast models will most likely be seen across social media sharing brutal fitness regiments, turning their lithe bodies into even smaller ones.
Although there are other brands which support diversity and inclusivity through more skin tone options, size options and representation in ads, it is also true that VS remains one of the most well-known lingerie brands. They are the predominant face of what sexy “should” look like, which means that what they show and don’t show helps shape the perception of that concept. Not featuring larger models sends the message that bigger or fat bodies are not only undesirable to society, but to Victoria’s Secret as well.
On the other end of the spectrum, and days after Victoria’s Secret announced the complete line-up for their upcoming show, Rihanna’s lingerie brand, Savage x Fenty presented at NYFW. The extravagant runway show featured people with different body types and two pregnant models, including Rihanna’s muse, Slick Woods who reportedly went into labor shortly after the show. If there is something Rihanna has shown through her work with Fenty Beauty and Savage x Fenty, it’s that racial diversity isn’t difficult, neither is size diversity, but most brands go above and beyond to exclude anyone beyond a size zero or people with darker skin tones.
It’s not as if VS is alone in this, the fashion industry has always maintained strict size restrictions for the models who work within it. VS, however, is a brand that outwardly is attempting to add more racial diversity to their line-up but is still falling short of correcting the harmful images that have long since plagued the industry.
The average size of an American woman is size 14 which means that most women fall into the category of “plus size,” but you have to be a size 0-2 in order to model for VS. That’s ridiculous considering that the vast majority of their customer base falls way outside of that. The shop itself doesn’t even supply bras over a DDD cup which means that many larger bodies can’t shop there, which may explain why their yearly runway show has been slowly falling out favor. Even so, the store itself is STILL a staple in many malls. So yes, there are many lingerie brands that are doing better work but as far as familiarity with the brand and being accessible to the general public goes, VS maintains a tight grip on the market. Not everyone can go online or even afford to purchase from more inclusive online retailers, lingerie is expensive to make and quality underwear is expensive to purchase. Not everyone has the same options and it is important to call for change from large brands like VS because of this.
But their storefronts and ads continue to feature thin ideals of beauty, completely rejecting the idea that most people have bodies that are not only different, but beautiful too. This mainstream idea of beauty is all that most people are exposed to. Victoria’s Secret continues to ignore the realities of their client base and promotes unrealistic beauty standards by visually telling women that they should aspire to be smaller, tighter, more controlled, and that they should punish the bodies they live in for not looking like the ideal Victoria’s Secret customer.
I don’t like to conflate the racism and fatphobia, they are two different struggles (which overlap too), but they are both incredibly harmful. You cannot call yourself diverse if you continue to exclude body types and sizes. Not only does VS participate in the support of fatphobia, but it also supports ableism by not featuring disabled models on their runways, online or in their catalogs.
Like we’re not out here, wearing panties and bras, just like everybody else.
These very basic lapses in representation show that the push for color diversity is less about progression and more about tokenism. It has to be said that this isn’t a statement against any of the models walking in this show—I don’t begrudge any marginalized person from getting paid because it’s hard out here—but it is a statement against the initiative as being more for PR than for real change.
You cannot be diverse, if you are not diverse.
Diversity isn’t just race, especially not for a clothing brand. It’s body types, shapes, sizes, and gender representation. It’s great that they’re showcasing women of color, but there are fat women of varying ethnicities who want to see themselves represented by one of the biggest lingerie brands in the world. There are women with physical disabilities—who are not just an aesthetic or tokens—who want to see themselves. There are people who don’t identify as women who want to see themselves and there’s no good or valid reason for why in 2018 they can’t.
There’s no good reason why VS can only carry up to DDD cup size other than the fact that they are intentionally saying that they do not want customers above a certain size and build. Victoria’s Secret is making a choice on how they want their brand to be perceived and it is as one which equates being thin with being beautiful. Newsflash for VS though, fatphobia and ableism aren’t a good look on anyone. It doesn’t matter how many Black and Brown models you get to walk a runway, as long as your brand supports such harmful ideals, you’ll only ever be playing diversity catch-up while other brands like Savage x Fenty storm through explicitly inviting in and featuring a long-ignored customer base.
Victoria’s Secret certainly isn’t the first or last word on what is sexy or beautiful by any stretch of the imagination, but for now they are the general idea of what those things mean in a mainstream sense and bodies, all bodies, should be given a chance to shine in that spotlight.
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