Does Victoria's Secret Need To Rethink Its Idea Of Beauty?

Spoiler alert: A big, fat, resounding YES.

Barbara Palvin, Yasmin Wijnaldum, Winnie Harlow, Gigi Hadid, Kendall Jenner, and Alexina Graham walk the runway during the 2018 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show in New York City.  
Barbara Palvin, Yasmin Wijnaldum, Winnie Harlow, Gigi Hadid, Kendall Jenner, and Alexina Graham walk the runway during the 2018 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show in New York City.  

2018 has given us much to contend with when it comes to breaking with the old paradigms. Unfortunately, though, when it comes to unfair societal beauty standards, the same inescapable pattern of “one step forward, two steps back” remains firmly set in place. Case in point: The annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, which came under fire this year when the company’s chief marketing officer, Ed Razek, made some pointedly revealing comments about the show’s lack of inclusivity and representation.

Specifically, when it comes to plus-size and transgender models, which can be read as: Any form of beauty that does not fit within the confines — or should I say, unfailingly svelte figure — of a size 2 and 5’10” or taller physique. And although the brand has made strides to include more ethnically diverse models in recent years, it’s crystal-clear that a singular body type reigns supreme on that dazzling and diamond-encrusted catwalk.

As many forward-thinking millennial consumers are now actively seeking out body-positive and inclusive brands — to vote with their dollars, so-to-speak — more and more brands are aligning their image and vision behind these interests. And yet, Victoria’s Secret remains surprisingly rigid in its notion of beauty in today’s world.

Guess what? We don’t find it cute, VS. 

Does Victoria's Secret Need To Rethink Its Idea Of Beauty?
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“If you’re asking if we’ve considered putting a transgender model in the show or looked at putting a plus-size model in the show, we have,” Razek told Vogue in the original interview. “We invented the plus-size model show in what was our sister division, Lane Bryant. Lane Bryant still sells plus-size lingerie, but it sells a specific range, just like every specialty retailer in the world sells a range of clothing. As do we. We market to who we sell to, and we don’t market to the whole world. We attempted to do a television special for plus-sizes [in 2000]. No one had any interest in it, still don’t.” 

On diversity, he shared: “Do I think about diversity? Yes. Does the brand think about diversity? Yes. Do we offer larger sizes? Yes.”

At this point, executive vice president of publication relations, Monica Mitro, chimed in: “30A to 40DDD is our range.”

Razek continued, “So it’s like, why don’t you do 50? Why don’t you do 60? Why don’t you do 24? It’s like, why doesn’t your show do this? Shouldn’t you have transsexuals in the show? No. No, I don’t think we should. Well, why not? Because the show is a fantasy.”

Okay, okay, hold on a second here. Say what? 

It can’t be argued that sales for Victoria’s Secret have plummeted in recent years. Some say it’s because of the lingerie brand’s inability to keep up with the times. In a #MeToo and #TimesUp world, it’s more evident than ever that we are at a critical time in our country’s history. So, while so many women bravely speak up about the damaging and demoralizing double standards we face in regards to beauty, among many other things, why continue to perpetuate the backwards rhetoric?

To add fuel to the fire, the brand then issued an apology for Razek’s insensitive remarks on November 9th — if you can even call his Twitter statement an apology. 

Excuse me while my eyes roll all the way back into my head. 

Last year, world-renowned body-posi supermodel, Ashley Graham, clapped back at Victoria's Secret's divisive lack of representation for plus-size women in an Instagram post. She shared a bitingly ironic image of herself strutting her stuff down the runway, sporting a pair of fabulous Photoshopped wings, and cleverly captioned the shot: “Got my wings!”   

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Got my wings!

This year, commenters on three-time VS Angel Bella Hadid’s Instagram had a similar message to share, after many body-shamed her for being too thin. Let’s just be clear, here, that body-shaming goes both ways — slamming someone for their thin appearance lies within the same vein as negative commentary about the size of their thighs, cellulite, and other perceived flaws society feeds us. None of these behaviors are acceptable, and yet they continue. 

Bella edited her caption to include, “(all body types are different and react differently to a great workout routine and a healthy diet)”:

The Angels, both newly minted and otherwise, undergo extremely disciplined workout and diet regimens in the months preceding the show. Understandably so, considering millions of people will be watching them strut down the catwalk in their underwear. What some people would deem a nightmare scenario, these scantily clad women do in front of a national TV audience every December, so it makes sense that they’d strive to be super disciplined throughout the process. Wouldn’t you?

At the same time, what kind of message does this send to young viewers? The same exact one that’s been passed along for years.

Surprisingly enough, some VS Angels, too, threw shade at Razek’s unadulterated, unpopular, and unasked-for opinions — including one relative newcomer, Kendall Jenner, whose father Caitlyn Jenner famously made the transition from male to female in 2015. Other fashion insiders, too, like Out Magazine’s editor-in-chief, Philip Picardi, have spoken out against the brand and this ongoing controversy. 

And of course, our girl RiRi had a little passive-aggressive shade to throw. According to People, she liked “an Instagram post that slammed the executive and praised the Fenty x Savage designer for her inclusive runway.”

Whatever you think of the Victoria’s Secret as a brand, and the show itself, it’s hard to argue its pandering to past ideals and perpetuating outdated societal constructs of beauty and body image. What is sexy to Victoria’s Secret may still be sexy to many viewers — but its vision exists within a strictly regimented, extremely narrow bubble that is just begging to be popped. 

I am a beauty, fashion and lifestyle editor at Livingly. Lover of wine, glitter, festival fashion, and everything op-ed. You can reach me at kimia.madani@livingly.com.
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