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.

A Body for Every Body

By Lauren Robinson (’18)

VSRecently, Victoria’s Secret changed one of their advertisement taglines from “The Perfect Body” to “A Body for Every Body.” It took over 16,000 signatures on a petition in the U.K. and string of impassioned responses by citizens across the globe to drive this popular lingerie company to oust their intensely body-shaming ad campaign. However, the campaign is not over. The “perfect body” posters still hang in the Victoria Secret stores. Even more, they did not actually change much about the ad. The simply changed the white text on top of the pictures of the stick-thin, glossy models—who remained in the background.

Additionally, Victoria’s Secret entirely disregarded the influence of the citizen’s vigorous campaign on their decision to change the text. They proudly claimed that they were the ones to realize the advertisement was overtly body-shaming many women and that they made the executive decision to change it to something more inclusive. While “A Body for Every body” seems inclusive, it does not match what is behind it: the same perfectly airbrushed women presenting society’s homogenous definition of beauty.

What is Victoria’s Secret trying to convey to its costumers with an advertisement about “The Perfect Body” with ten flawless, playful women in the background? They are presenting a narrow-minded definition of beauty and constituting exactly who is allowed to wear their lingerie. All of these models have similar body types, hair styles, excessively made-up faces, sexy smirks and shiny skin tones. This advertisement  lacks diversity, even though the costumers who shop at Victoria’s Secret have an extensive array of body types and appearances. According to Chris Jordan in “Marketing ‘Reality’ to the World: Survivor, Post-Fordism and Reality Television,” media “must be able to attract large numbers of people” (519), and it must “attract the ‘right’ kinds of people” (519). Hence, the average customer would be expected to main this image of “perfection” to be able to shop there.

Victoria’s Secret is limiting their range of costumers by plastering perfect, unattainable bodies onto their ads and claiming that with the “perfect body,” there would be a “perfect fit” with “perfect comfort” that is “perfectly soft.” Having the “perfect body,” of course, is the prerequisite for these luxuries.  Instead of attracting costumers—as their intention must be as a large-scale business—Victoria’s Secret is driving the women who do not flaunt this certain type “perfect” body away and perpetuating the idea that women need a “perfect body” to shop for nice lingerie and feel sexy.

Not only will Victoria Secret’s new and old ad campaign drive costumers away, it may influence individuals, such as young women and girls, to conform to their perception of what is beautiful and “perfect.” Projecting this image of unattainable, sexy beauty onto a society of natural-looking women is lethal. It implies that beauty is something that is reserved for a select few individuals, who must work absurdly hard to maintain their physique and appearance. Furthermore, customers should not be working to fit into a “perfect” mold to be able to shop at one store. In “Television and the Domestication of Cosmetic Surgery,” Sue Tait notes that “the implication is that the physical appearance of candidates does not reflect who they “truly” are” (557). Victoria Secret’s ad focuses solely on the aspects of an individual that do not emphasize character, personality, intelligence or any other valuable internal qualities. Although Tait is referring to altering ones body surgically, the same motivation and negative emotions towards oneself can be found in trying to attain a perfect “Victoria’s Secret-esque body.”

In “The Whites of Their Eyes: Racist Ideologies and the Media,” Stuart Hall claims that “In modern societies, the different media are especially important sites for the production, reproduction and transformation of ideologies” (105). It is within the realm of advertisements—both the outrageous first body-shaming one and the “more inclusive” second one—in which Victoria’s Secret allows negative ideologies regarding our appearances as females to concretely form.