I'm so glad that Victoria's Secret have set me straight on what constitutes the "perfect body". There I was, blithely believing that all bodies are equally valuable and their differences make them equally perfect, but the US lingerie company has come to the rescue and corrected my ignorance.
The Victoria’s Secret campaign for its new range of ‘body’ lingerie shows ten VS models (or ‘Angels’ as they are known) with the words THE PERFECT ‘BODY’ emblazoned over their bra-and-knicker-clad forms. Clearly, the joke is meant to be that the bra (‘body’) is the ‘perfect’ fit, but rather than this very clever play on words, the first thing that struck me about this ad was that the ‘perfect bodies’ on display were a row of identical scantily-clad woman that are all the same. Identical. They are the same height and the same brand of super-skinny. Their legs and stomachs are interchangeable. Save for variations in hair and skin colour, they could be clones. Every single model (apart from the woman who has turned to show the racer-back of her bra) has visible ribs, and a couple show clearly visible hip-bones. Very clever, VS.
I consider myself recovered from an eight-year eating disorder, but I blanched at the ad. It wouldn’t look out of place on a pro-anorexic site, and if the creators of the ad had done even a cursory search, they would’ve found that VS Angels have been used as ‘thinspiration’ and ‘fitspiration’ by users of online forums that discuss eating disorders as lifestyle choices. This connection serves to make their ‘perfect “body’” message even more distasteful.
There is already a Change.org petition, started by a Leeds student, calling for Victoria’s Secret to “apologise and take responsibility for the unhealthy and damaging message that their ‘Perfect Body’ campaign is sending out about women’s bodies and how they should be judged”. At the time of writing, it has reached over 2,200 signatures.
But why should we care about yet another cynically controversial ad campaign? We see enough of them already, and the UK’s Advertising Standards Agency has banned promotional material from many brands and designers.
Ten of the most controversial adverts of all time
Ten of the most controversial adverts of all time
1/10 Agent Provocateur
Lingerie company Agent Provocateur is famed for its raunchy adverts, but this 2001 offering - voted best cinema ad of all time - gained particular notoriety due to its star - Kylie Minogue...Sexually gyrating on a mechanical bull in her lacy undies
2/10 Calvin Klein
This sultry Calvin Klein ad featuring Hollywood star Eva Mendes was quickly banned - the main issue being that there's a flash of Ms Mendes' nipple in the clip
This racy Renault advert featuring Dita Von Teese and Thierry Henry was deemed to risqué for UK daytime TV after being first aired on ITV in 2011
An advert for VIP e-cigarette's triggered a number of complaints recently after the innuendo laced advert featured a young women suggestively asserting: 'I want you to get it out... put it in my mouth'
Ikea's Tidy Up campaign, launched first in France in 2001 raised a few questions of taste - not least for a 30 second clip showing a child playing with a vibrator as if it were a toy rocket
Ford's ad for its SportKA made it to British TV in 2003 but was soon banned after numerous complaints from animal rights activists - it shows a pigeon being bashed by the car's bonnet
7/10 Skin Skin
This hilarious Argentinian condom ad shows a young man disguise the fact he has just whipped out a condom when his partner's father walks in by putting it in his mouth and blowing a bubble
8/10 Ann Summers
Ann Summers' online only ad titled 'Flick Your Bean' showed a naked girl crawling along the floor...flicking a bean
Another condom advert, this time from Belgium, has been widely lauded as one of the most controversial of all time - it shows a young boy screaming in a supermarket because he wants some sweets, before bringing up the face of his disappointed father along with the words 'use condoms'
Volkswagen attracted a storm of criticism in 2005 after an apparent ad for its Polo car appeared online. The clip shows a suicide bomber detonating outside a coffee shop, but the car stays in tact. It was soon revealed that the ad in fact had nothing to do with Volkswagen and was instead a spoof made by advertising creatives Lee Ford and Dan Brooks
It’s important because the Victoria’s Secret campaign follows the release of new research from the 2014 British Social Attitudes Survey. It found that almost 10 million women in the UK ‘feel depressed’ because of the way they look. The issue of body image in Britain is clearly one of epidemic proportions, and adverts like this do little to help.
According to a 2014 global study compiled by the Children’s Society, one in seven 10-13 year olds in Britain are worried about they look, and their concerns only increase with age. There is a marked gender divide, with girls twice as likely to be dissatisfied with their bodies as their male counterparts. The government-backed Be Real initiative, designed to tackle bad body image, has found that a third of children say that they often worry about the way they look and appearance is the largest cause of bullying in schools.
In an increasingly crowded and competitive marketplace, brands seem to work on the assumption that any publicity is good publicity. Just as American Apparel must surely be fully aware of the value of the press generated by their highly sexualized advertisements, one wonders if it’s possible that Victoria’s Secret’s ad team designed the campaign to attract attention by sparking controversy.
If so, they’ve succeeded in their aim, but at what cost? Their campaign doesn’t take account of the experiences of of women and young girls who are already struggling with harmful, rigid and often conflicting messages about what their bodies should look like and the value than society places on appearance.
For their next campaign, I’d like to see Victoria’s Secret drawing inspiration from the existing variety of female bodies and throw the weight of their popular and successful brand behind sending out positive and healthy messages to their target market.
Victoria’s Secret can keep their idea of what the ‘perfect body’ looks like, resplendent in its exclusive, poisonous homogeny. I’ll be buying my lingerie elsewhere.Reuse content