There’s no denying the pageantry of Victoria’s Secret. The company handpicks the most beautiful women in the world to sashay down the runway wearing literally next to nothing. (Bonus points for that sassy turn, missy!) They go on to star in campaigns, catalogs, ads, and an elite eight even earn their Angel wings. Sure, they represent an enviable female silhouette: large chest, perky butt, flat stomach, long hair, clear skin. But the brand tends to act like the girls are regular Joannes and not freakish female specimens from another dimension. Coming from one of the most ubiquitous brands, this archetype can really permeate the brain and give certain women an unrealistic sense of self.
The overall package of being sample size with zero body fat while having perfectly coiffed hair and sun-kissed skin has been happening since 1997. Helena Christensen, Heidi Klum, Alessandra Ambrosio, Gisele Bündchen, and Adriana Lima are just some of the women embodying this idea.
But as pleasing to the eye as these women can be, the brand has faced a backlash from consumers and critics recently. The largely inaccessible representation of the absolute female is out and real people with curves is in. Plus size models and fashion are now—thankfully—part of the everyday lexicon, with mass-market retailers, high-end designers, magazines, and media in general expanding their wares to be more all inclusive.
Conflicting opinions about the brand seemed to emerge once a few brave students spoke up, and the rest followed. The campaign that really caught everyone’s eye was the one featuring Victoria’s Secret’s current all-star lineup. Lily Aldridge, Behati Prinsloo, Jasmine Tookes, and others were photographed in just their underwear sporting six packs (and some of them protruding ribs), with the “Perfect Body” slogan slapped over the image. A few female students voiced their concerns on Change.org and collected 33,0001 signatures, started the hashtag #iamperfect, and caught the attention of the company, which eventually capitulated and changed the tagline to“a body for every body.”
Shortly thereafter, in response to the ad, New York City-based retailer Dear Kate created a body-positive parody of the contentious image. Artists, entrepreneurs, successful business leaders, and more “real women” posed in a photo that poked fun at the “Perfect Body” ad. More recently, the lingerie brand Curvy Kate (unrelated to Dear Kate) also recreated the poster. The company, which specifically serves women with larger chests, cast its models based on crowdsourcing with its customers voting for whom should appear. The end result was a group of ten women who are everyday beauties, which speaks volumes considering the women were voted on and the model types didn’t win out.
Perhaps the most overt prosecution of Victoria’s Secret’s core beliefs is Lane Bryant’s latest ad campaign for its plus-size lingerie line Cacique. Featuring popular models Ashley Graham, Marquita Pring,Candice Huffine, Victoria Lee, Justine Legaultand, and Elly Mayday, it’s called #ImNoAngel. “We admire Victoria’s Secret and what they’ve done, it’s an amazing brand, but we also feel that they are very narrow potentially in their appeal and in defining what beauty is,” Linda Heasley, the company’s CEO tells Yahoo Style.
Victoria’s Secret has yet to comment on the shifting attitude among women today. Sales are still strong, the Victoria’s Secret fashion show is still one of the most highly-watched televised events, and their bathing suit business is burgeoning (with a TV special of its own). But financial success isn’t everything. Why not include plus-sizes? Currently Victoria’s Secret bras go up to 40 DDD, panties to XL, and swim in commensurate offerings. Meanwhile, Lane Bryant starts at those sizes! If VS could expand their customer base it would (most likely) not only increase sales but improve company perception, something the brand could use now more than ever. The “you can’t sit with us” act has got to be dropped and that tiara broken into a bunch of pieces and distributed to everyone. It’s time.