Angels for A Capitalist Agenda: The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show


Victoria’s Secret has been gearing up for their 2016 fashion show all year. On Wednesday evening, the models strutted down the runway at the Grand Palais in Paris, one the fashion capitals of the world. The event gains a massive amount of media coverage every year, resulting large viewing audiences. This year, the show is expected to reach over 800 million people in more than 190 countries. With such a wide audience, Victoria’s Secret attempts to market their fashion show as an empowering experience for women all over the world. However, formulating female empowerment by portraying women as active, desiring sexual subjects not only encourages an objectification of women through the male gaze but also creates an expectation for women to enjoy their own objectification. The commonality of using hypersexualized “empowered” women in media and advertising is an extremely problematic post-feminist mantra that is used and abused over and over again in our modern capitalist society.

The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is marketed as an opportunity to view women that represent the pinnacle of western idealized beauty, setting a standard that is impossible for most women to meet, therefore encouraging women to “self-police” their appearance according to absurd standards. According to Olivier Rousteing, a renowned fashion designer who turned out for the event, the show includes “a wonderful mix of pop culture and fashion” (Isaac-Goize). He went on to note, “Here you have the most beautiful women in the world daring to show how powerful, sexy and confident women can be, in all their diversity” (Isaac-Goize). According to the thought process that fashion designers and promoters of the show want customers to buy into, feeling sexy should be something every woman is able to participate in. Victoria’s Secret offers women this opportunity through the consumers’ choice to purchase part of the fashion line. However, this discourse creates issues for women. As Rosalind Gill writes in “Supersexualize Me!,” “A notion of women as completely free agents who just ‘please themselves’ – does not serve feminist of cultural understandings well” (282). Gill goes on to note that, “the emphasis upon choice sidesteps and avoids all the important and difficult questions about how socially constructed ideals of beauty are internalized and made our own” (282). “Choice” therefore, is an illusion created by media and advertising to convince female consumers to participate in a society that actively sells and exploits a hyper-sexualized and exclusive female body.

Victoria’s Secret’s portrayal of the fashion show as an “empowering” experience ultimately works to convince potential customers that sexual objectification of oneself can give one power. However, this power is only able to reach the desires of heterosexual men. Edward Razek is the executive producer of the show and chief marketing officer of creative services at Limited Brands, the parent company of Victoria’s Secret. According to him, “It’s a celebration of powerful women by powerful women who work very hard at what they do, live a healthy life and inspire legions of admirers. It speaks to diversity in a number of ways, as well as free-spiritedness” (Isaac-Goize). The idea of women’s power stemming from their sexual desire is a concept that has been determining female worth long before the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show began. In Laurie Ouellette’s “Inventing the Cosmo Girl” Cosmopolitan’s editor-in-chief Helen Brown was quoted in 1962 saying, “Sex is a powerful weapon of a single woman in getting what she wants from life” (266). This attitude of treating sex as a commodity exchange limits female potential for upward mobility to relying on men by fulfilling their sexual desires and expectations. Therefore, Victoria’s Secret’s promotion of “female power” is not about the women at all, but instead stems from the idea that women hold sexual power over men, that can be taken advantage of through self-sexualization and objectification. In accordance with this attitude towards female power, Ouellette mentions, “Expenditures on clothing, cosmetics, and accessories were presented as necessary investments in the construction of a desirable self” (262). By buying into the Victoria’s Secret franchise, women have the opportunity to dress up their full feminine potential with lace, ribbon, and sparkle.

The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show reinforces unrealistic expectations of women’s bodies and reduces them to sex objects while veiling this agenda under the disguise of “female empowerment.” Unfortunately, this is a common marketing strategy adopted by modern media and advertising to further capitalistic agendas. Although mega-corporations like Victoria’s Secret are not going to give up this strategy despite the negative effects it has on its target customers, it is important that consumers are able to recognize the manipulative way media tries to brand hyper-sexualization as harmless. By acknowledging this dangerous discourse, women can alleviate their own self-critical gaze while continuing to fight back against the omnipresent male-gaze that media also relies on.

The Appropriation of Art Hoe

art-hoeBy Nora Teter (’19)

As hegemonic ideologies dominate imagery produced by mainstream media, marginalized groups are often invisible or misrepresented. Consequently, growing up with futile media representation often motivates young people to carve out spaces for representation and expression. Unfortunately, often with the arrival of niches specifically designed for marginalized groups, people in positions of privilege try to appropriate those spaces in order to gain cultural capital.

The representation of the Art Hoe Movement, founded by co-curator Mars in order to “give POC a platform to express their internalized struggles,” is one example of the appropriation of spaces (Sisley). The art component of the movement entails collaging selfies or other works of art by Queer/POC over famous works of art in order to produce creative reconstructions with new meanings. In doing so, they are able to carve out a niche for self-expression, as well as make a statement about media representation. Often, we see what Meenakshi Gigi Durham refers to as “cultural hybridization,” the result of a need for alternative representations in mainstream media, or for alternative niches in social media. Durham considers the effects of hegemonic media representation in “Constructing the ‘New Ethnicities,’” when she expresses how Indian American girls “recognized a need to assert a new identity position that, in a sense, rejected the options of Indian as well as American media texts” (461). The Art Hoe Movement uses the reappropriation of famous works of art as their vessel for cultural hybridization. The rhetoric employed by appropriating the very same works of art that paved the way for exclusion makes a statement about a lack of marginalized representation as a whole. Simultaneously, the movement provides a complex space where individuals can resist their lack of representation in a critical way.

With the emergence of spaces designed specifically for marginalized groups comes the appropriation of those very spaces by people in positions of power and privilege. In an interview with The Guardian, Mars discussed how coining the movement as a “movement” was initiated when it “was getting co-opted by this little group of skinny, frail, white girls. To belong in their group, you had to have a $100 backpack, a $20 Japanese sketchbook — shit like that. When that came to my attention, we started to fight back and identify as a movement” (Frizzell). Appropriation in order to gain cultural capital is not a new phenomenon. In “Inventing the Cosmo Girl, Laurie Ouellette writes about a similar tactic employed by Cosmopolitan, which encouraged readers to “appropriate the surface markers of cultural capital” in order to present an illusion of class. Yet, appropriation of marginalization in order to gain cultural capital is arising more frequently as commodification of feminist discourse becomes popular.

Marginalized groups who resist dominant hegemonic ideologies that permeate all aspects of their lives often do so by creating safe spaces for people in those marginalized groups. The very fact that these spaces arise is proof of how they are necessary in the context of resisting hegemonic representations in mass media. Yet with the rise in popularity of feminist discourse, comes an appropriation and commodification of that very discourse. The appropriation of marginalization in order to gain “cultural capital,” is just another reason why it is so important to establish and preserve these spaces.


The Block 1 2016 Monthly Rag