Every year in November, an American lingerie brand hosts a parade.
Glossy-haired women with inexplicably low body fat percentages walk down a runway – all smiles, no cellulite – looking like they got lost on their way to a glamorous nudist beach.
This is the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, where top models like Adriana Lima and Bella Hadid dance and blow kisses in their underwear to celebrate... well, nobody is exactly sure what.
Pretty bras? Pretty women? Pretty damn misogynistic. Not for nothing is this annual soirée regularly showered with opprobrium.
The business types say it’s extravagant, the plus-size models say it’s old-fashioned and the activists say it’s patriarchal poison. In 2018, Victoria’s secret seems more salacious than ever.
According to the show’s executive producer, Ed Razek, this year promises the “most ambitious yet”, but what does that mean exactly? If it’s sending 60 scantily clad women down a runway in the hope that their perfect bodies might help flog some undies, then he deserves a knighthood.
Perhaps the 70-year-old businessman was referring to this year’s model lineup, which is more racially diverse than ever before. But it doesn’t really matter whether these women are from China, France or Mars because, in Victoria’s Secret land, there’s only room for one type of beauty. Regardless of countless calls for the show to be a bit more inclusive in terms of body shape, its casting directors continue to dismiss the supposedly radical idea that the brand should represent the women it actually sells to. Instead, they continue to follow a one-size-fits-no-one strategy.
So, if it’s failing to give us body positivity, the question remains: what does the Victoria’s Secret Show actually give us?
Underwear? Not really, because most of the things on display – including the famous million dollar “Fantasy Bra”, which this year will be worn by Elsa Hosk – won’t be sold in stores. Though even if they were, who has the time to negotiate that many straps and tassels in the morning? You could say it’s entertaining. There’s always a live audience, who cheer a lot, which would suggest they find the idea of women removing their clothing in public quite enjoyable. Good for them.
At least the Victoria’s Secret Show gives us one thing for sure: sex. But this is the show’s Achilles heel. The costumes and the context present two conflicting versions of female sexuality. One is virginal, replete with smiley faces, romantic headdresses and actual angel wings. The other, as characterised by g-strings, thigh-high boots and labyrinthine corsets, suggests something very different. The contrast is unnerving and, in truth, makes the whole thing feel a bit pornographic. It implies that the Victoria’s Secret woman is pure yet promiscuous, demure yet debauched. In other words, she is both the Madonna and the whore.
These caricatures are rooted in tired male fantasies that strip – no pun intended – female identity of nuance and autonomy. By promoting both at the same time, it really does make you wonder whether Razek lives in the 21st century, or if he’s ever actually spoken to a woman. He probably thinks feminism is a type of cuisine.
But despite the unrelenting criticism, the show still manages to reel in nearly five million viewers worldwide each year – and that’s just people watching it on TV. Even if you don’t catch it on the telly, it’s hard to swerve. Photographs will be shared on social media the moment a lithe limb steps onto the runway. Soon after, they’ll be splashed all over the tabloids with headlines like: “CANDICE SWANEPOEL REVEALS SVELTE FIGURE JUST A FEW MONTHS AFTER GIVING BIRTH”. In fact, the media coverage is often as toxic as the show itself.
And yet, the Victoria’s Secret Show maintains a stratospheric platform with unrivalled reach. It’s about time they used it for good, because right now, this weird Lolita sex show has no place in our society.
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