Trouble has been stirring in Victoria’s Secret's fantasy world for quite some time now as it continually refuses to adjust its beauty standards to modern times. Through its strict sizing requirements for models, the company has curated an image of the kind of woman who shops at Victoria’s Secret: thin. This is reflected in the sizing options; Victoria’s Secret only offers sizes from XS to XL, but its clothing runs small.
Recently, VS announced that two more angels were joining the brand, one of them being the very famous Barbara Palvin. The gorgeous model, who has amassed 10.9 million Instagram followers, will allegedly “add diversity” to the runway with her physique, according to VS reps. She has been labeled the first plus-size model to be cast by Victoria's Secret. PLUS-SIZED?
Palvin is quite the opposite of plus-sized. She stands at 5 feet 9 inches and weighs, get this, a whopping 121 pounds. According to the past modeling agency she was signed to, Palvin’s waist measurement is 24 inches, her bust is 32 inches, and her hips are 36.5 inches. By these numbers, Palvin wears between a size two and four in women’s clothing. This says a lot about Victoria’s Secret and its absurdly unattainable expectations for women’s bodies. In the fashion industry, it is understood that any model who wears a size eight or above is considered plus-size, but in the real world, no one is labeled plus-size until they exceed a size 16.
Palvin is noticeably curvier than the other angels who all seem to be on the same diet and fitness plan in order to maintain their long and lean figures. This is refreshing, but can we really get excited about seeing a size four on the runway and in advertisements, as if that is actual plus-size representation? There is an immense need for more diversity in the fashion world, but the only major lingerie company that seems to be holding back is Victoria’s Secret.
Competing companies such as Aerie and Savage X Fenty, Rihanna’s lingerie line, are far more progressive than VS, using all different body types, races, and styles in their advertisements and websites. Both brands embrace and celebrate women of all shapes and sizes. They provide sizes for everyone. They are inclusive and invite all women to feel beautiful by buying and wearing their products.
Meanwhile, VS pushes one image. The most recent fashion show was a huge flop for the company. It has been using the same contracted models for years, and the creative director, Ed Razek, spoke out about how the company did not wish to be more inclusionary because it is selling a “fantasy.”
"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,” said Razek. “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.”
This fantasy is what the company thinks the audience wants to see, predominantly feeding the male gaze. It’s toxic and wrong for so many reasons.
After the airing of the latest broadcasted show, I surveyed the general population of my Facebook friends and BC students. I wanted to get to the bottom of how people felt about themselves after watching the special. In high school, groups of people would get together to watch it, like many friends do to watch the Bachelor. However, instead of a reality TV show purely for entertainment, the VS program has profound demoralizing effects on its audience.
When asked the question, “After seeing the VS models on TV or in the media I feel...” respondents could answer on a scale from one to five—one being, “Terrible about myself and my body image,” and five being, “Great about myself and my body image.” 40.8% of the surveyed put themselves in the neutral category, 36.7% leaned towards the negative body image scale, and 22.5% of respondents perceived themselves more positively after watching the show.
The most interesting responses came from the question, “How did the show make you feel?” The surveyed were able to type their own personal responses. Most of the answers were negative in this section. Those who felt positively about themselves after the viewing arrived at this impression mostly because they perceived the models as too thin and idealistic. This made them feel like their own beauty was respectable as an average person. Some people felt empowered and proud of a show that celebrated strong, beautiful women.
Aside from the positive answers, most respondents felt insecure, sad, fat, or even obese after watching the show. Some commented that while they had been fans of the show in the past because it is entertaining and features popular musical artists, they chose not to watch it because they knew that it would cause feelings of distress. Many respondents agreed that it made them want to go back to the gym and they felt the need, not the desire, to be in shape in order to feel good about themselves again. The VS Fashion Show glorifies skinny models and pushes the idea that we must conform to this image in order to be considered angelic and desirable.
Victoria’s Secret continues to disappoint on and off of the runway. It is shameful to the company at large that it openly refuses to be more inclusive. It believes that it is appealing to a certain target consumer, but those customers are diminishing, which can be seen in the company's stocks. VS is closing 50 locations of its brick and mortar stores across the nation in 2019. Slowly, the company is losing its prestige and popularity. Without remodeling its message and business practices, I cannot see Victoria's Secret recovering.
I stand with companies that embrace real beauty. I am not saying that VS models are not beautiful—because they are—but so is every other woman. Smushy, stretchy, or scarred bodies are beautiful. Transgender bodies are beautiful. Short, tall, thin, or curvy bodies are beautiful. You do not need to conform to any image in order to be beautiful. Being you is beautiful.
All in all, choose to wear whatever makes you feel good about yourself, but consider where your money is going and what message the company promotes. I refuse to pay for a product that puts down women who are seen as “anti-fantasy.” I encourage you to do the same.