Leather and Lace: The Problem With The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show

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December 8th is an iconic day in the pop culture world as it marks the annual premiere of the much anticipated Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. Despite the fact that the only country the show actually airs in is the USA, the reach of the Victoria’s Secret Movement is GLOBAL.

Now I don’t know who this Victoria is but it seems to me she doesn’t keep many secrets these days. For those who are unfamiliar, the show is the product of 15 glamorous, leggy and unreasonably toned supermodels donning bedazzled underwear and ‘wings’ and strutting down a catwalk to some of the biggest hits of the year, which has included big names like Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, The Weeknd, Taylor Swift , Ed Sheeran and Rihanna.

The great irony of the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, now in it’s 20th year, is that it’s not actually about fashion. It is more like an hour long exercise in widespread branding disguised as entertainment. You’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise, as I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been lured into the seemingly untouchable VS world by the glossy hair and glittery production.

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Really its the blessed ‘Angels’ that are the true force to be reckoned with. Being crowned an Angel is regularly acknowledged as being the highest honour for a model and with many careers being launched from the VS crop each year its hard to argue with the superpower force that the VS Angels have become synonymous with. And the appeal? It’s all there in the name. The unstated implication that it’s ok to sashay down the catwalk in lingerie if you’re a ‘good girl’.

Managing to make the world of lingerie accessible, inoffensive even, in a culture where lingerie is so often equated with sex. 

Cora Harrington

In that vein of accessibility, one click on the Victoria’s Secret website reveals #candid video testimonials from each of the statuesque ‘Angels’ about why they love the ‘iconic role’.

‘Hopefully my friends know me as just a good ol’ Southern Girl’ says model Martha Hunt as the clip cuts to her half naked silhouette.

 It’s laughable really.

In the era of Instagram and Twitter the models are now more than ever in charge of their own brands as they announce proudly to their 3 million followers that they had a blueberry for breakfast hash tagging #trainlikeanangel (ps. I would 10/10 not recommend searching up this hashtag, your self confidence won’t take it).

but I know what you might be thinking, ‘oh ok I see what’s happening here your feminist antenna is picking up isn’t it? Don’t you think it’s actually female empowerment? like yea they don’t need any men they can just strut down that catwalk and look damn amazing and not even care?! not only is it a celebration of strong women everywhere? It’s also all about sisterhood right?’ RIGHT?!

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You’re not wrong, The models often talk of being inducted into the VS family and how the other Angels are just like their sisters. (Never mind that commercials of wholesome girls in underwear having pillow fights sells beyond belief.) It’s the notion of ‘girl squad’ that VS has always incorporated into it’s brand, a notion which has been perpetuated by Taylor Swift and her merry pack of globetrotting Angels.  It’s not the idea of female friendship that I have the problem with, it’s trivialisation and elitism that comes with the particular brand of friendship that VS sells.

‘when I’m on a Victoria’s Secret set, I just feel freedom to be myself, with all my Angels beside me’

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I think I’d feel pretty free too I looked THIS and was wearing THIS

By putting the Angel archetype at the forefront of their brand the lingerie juggernaut has somehow managed to avoid too much criticism about the underlying ‘Girls Gone Wild’ edge that could very easily have changed the direction of their image. With the models proclaiming themselves athletes and emphasising the extreme work that goes on behind the scenes to achieve their seemingly perfect physiques, surely it’s not our place to berate these women when they’ve worked so hard to put on a nice show for you!!

‘It feels like we’re training for the Olympics’ confides one of the models. As I’m sure you can imagine the mental and physical stamina required to walk 30m in 6 inch heels is more than equal to the career of a high level Olympic athlete. This theme runs right through the lead up to the show. As the ‘athletes’ testify to their sporty lifestyle with stories of their Pilates and green juicing regimens. With the words ‘strong’ and ‘tough’ being thrown around again and again. As well as feminisms latest buzz word. Badass. These women are just like you, just one of the guys. Sweating it out in the gym and heading off to their day job AS AN INTERNATIONALLY FAMOUS SUPERMODEL. #sorelatable.

‘I was really a tomboy in high school’ – giggles one of the models.

I mean come on.

 Whilst I would argue that we have come some way at least since the days of willowy models staying largely silent about how they achieved their perfect physiques, I wouldn’t say I’m happy with where we’ve settled with either. However, yet again VS has found a way to do away with any haters with the addition of Maria Borges. The Angolan model has, in previous shows, worn extensions, this year she ‘rocked’ her natural hair, a decision that no doubt has added a new group of young fans to the Victoria’s Secret brand and only adding fuel to the fire that Victoria’s Secret Angels are girls just like you (only NOT)

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My biggest problem is the facade. It’s not that I think these girls don’t believe what they’re saying because they absolutely do but more the fact that it’s so easy to buy into the idealistic candy land created by VS.

The pageantry is so layered that it is often forgotten that the broadcasted CBS special is actually a heavily edited version of the original show. The VS brand is so tightly packaged that you have to sometimes remind yourself that it’s not real. I will admit that ‘researching’ this post took several days because I kept getting distracted by the drawn out back stories of Candace Swanepoel from her humble beginnings in Africa and how she’s so thrilled because she has wanted to be a Victoria Secret Angel (a.k.a lingerie model) since she was 10 years old!

The beauty of the show is that ‘ordinary’ people are allowed into the world of fashion in a way that they are not afforded during the various Fashion Weeks around the world. and better still the world created on the catwalk doesn’t have to be a dream to them. They know and love the personalities of all the models and then they have the chance to go out and buy the clothes right after. They can head right into the dimly lit, sweet (sickly) smelling store and buy the exact bra they saw Lily Aldridge rocking on the catwalk the night before. The point is driven home, relentlessly ‘you could be just like us if you really wanted, just buy everything we wear!’.

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The tension that the show increasingly must navigate in the culture of 2015, is how to present a bevy of scantily clad women in a way that doesn’t come across as tremendously exploitative or regressive. While there are things to be applauded,  at the end of the day the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is a celebration of women who are treated like demi goddesses in demi bras.

I originally shied away from writing this post, I don’t want to give off the vibe that I’m some lonely sad sack sitting at home with her Kit Kat bar hating on the supermodels just because I am and always will be 5.5 (the AVERAGE FEMALE HEIGHT BTW)

It was the recently released Pirelli calendar that spurred me to add my voice to the conversation. The beautiful photos (taken by Annie Leibovitz) manage to celebrate women WITHOUT making them take their clothes off. Somehow being naked and therefore being more vulnerable is perceived by some as the most acceptable measure of strength in a woman. ‘Good on you lady, now you’ve proven how strong you can be by baring all for thousands of people. We can now accurately judge your strength of character.’

The calendar sends the message that boobs are not the only thing worth photographing and that your achievements alone are enough to justify your place as a ‘woman of note’. (Although this was not always that case for this calendar which is what makes it all the more brilliant) If you’re not familiar with the work of the women in the calendar, then take some time to find out about them. They are poised and vibrant women each of whom stand for something

Unlike the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show the ladies of the calendar represent a cross section of women rather than perpetuating a completely unrealistic body image. The potential for brilliance that is set up by Victoria’s Secret’s endorsement of health and fitness and ties to sisterhood are dragged down by angel wings and feathered heels.

and it’s a damn shame

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