The Problem with the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show

Last week, the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show aired, taking a lot of heat for a slew of issues: Visa issues, cultural appropriation, racial slurs being spoken by models, the lack of body representation. This list is arguably just as lengthy as the runway models walked on for the show itself. 

Unsurprisingly, these issues have always been a constant for the show, but a report published by Variety has reported that the ratings for the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show have dropped since last year. This year, the show received only a 2.1 rating, which is close to last year’s disappointing 2.3 rating. In the grand scheme of things, what do these numbers mean? Why have ratings dropped in the first place?

From a feminist perspective, it is instinctual to first connect the drop in ratings to the lack of body diversity amongst the women whom model for Victoria’s Secret. The movement to celebrate bodies of all shapes and sizes has definitely taken the internet by storm over the past couple of years. Despite these positive changes, Victoria’s Secret still shows clear favoritism towards hiring thin, white models. 

A popular comment to make about the show is that its models set unrealistic body standards for women. This comment is certainly not untrue in some cases because the modeling industry has definitely been guilty of influencing people to fixate on achieving an unachievable beauty ideal. I would not say that this statement is inherently true, however. While some models may appear to look “unhealthy” or “too thin,” not all models in the industry are guilty of having eating disorders, nor is it fair to assume that the models themselves are keen on pushing unrealistic ideals on audiences. Many of these models are naturally thin, but this is nonetheless not an excuse to exclude models of other proportions. From a feminist lens, it goes without saying that people of all shapes and sizes are beautiful. In other words, skinny-shaming is just as unacceptable as fat-shaming, but it is crucial to note that thinner women have definitely not received the same level of intense and unfair criticism as women of larger sizes. 

With that being said, I would like to reiterate that the drop in ratings can be attributed to the brand’s slowness in adopting the body positivity ideals that have empowered women of all sizes. Why is it that other brands have adopted an open mind to body diversity, but Victoria’s Secret is unwilling to do the same? If the show were to feature a wider range of body types, perhaps audiences would be more satisfied with it. I personally would like to see plus-size models take the Victoria’s Secret stage by storm. 

On another, more positive note, there was an increase in racial and ethnic diversity in this year’s show. Based on my experience watching the show, there were definitely more black women and Asian women walking the runways. So, why is it that the ratings still dropped, despite this positive change in Victoria’s Secret lineup of models? I think that it all comes back to the idea that Victoria’s Secret sets unachievable beauty standards. Beauty standards, by my definition, encompasses not just body type, but everything that a person can physically see when looking at someone: Hair, skin, makeup, smile, etc. As cliche as it sounds, every person is beautiful in their own way. By casting models that have similar physical features to walk the runway, Victoria’s Secret fails to celebrate that beauty does not have a fixed definition; Beauty is subjective. A solution to this issue would be to cast models with the very “imperfections” the industry tends to avoid, including acne and cellulite. 

Challenging the conventional standards of beauty will hopefully encourage big names like Victoria’s Secret to adopt more inclusive standards for models. By being open to diversity in its many forms, the show could prosper as a way for empowered women to set a good example for impressionable audiences. Celebrating differences paves the way to a deeper understanding of other people, which is far more appealing than simply accepting or idolizing impossible standards of beauty. For now, however, I would not categorize Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show as being completely feminist.