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Sexy Is For All: Why The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is Problematic

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Augustana chapter.

I used to work at Dillard’s in the mall. One day, before my shift, I decided to pop into Victoria’s Secret, to get sized. All I knew about VS was that it was pricey and nearly every single girl I went to middle school with had their perfume, their leggings, or both.

I asked to get sized, and the sales associated took my measurements. She put me in a 32DD. I tried it on and wore a nearly see-through top to see how it fit. It was tight. And uncomfortable. While I find most bras to be a prison for my breasts, this bra was especially tight. I tell the sales associated it’s a little tight, and she bumps me up to the a 32DDD. A triple D? I had never thought my breasts were in the triple D zone, but I tried the bra on anyway. It was still too tight.

I gave up trying to a buy a bra that day. It wasn’t later on when I was talking to my friends that I figured out why those bras felt so tight on me. The sales associate had only been increasing my cup size, not the band size, which was what I really needed increased. A lot of my friends shopped there, but it seemed even they were restricted in terms of size, whether it was for bras or underwear.

This is just one story. But it all comes together with VS’s recent controversy, in which L Brand’s (VS’s parent company) chief marketing officer Ed Razek stated that there shouldn’t be transgender women or plus-sized models in the show. Apparently, excluding these women retains the “fantasy” of Victoria’s Secret. But this “fantasy” is completely useless if it isn’t inclusive.

In a TIME article by Amy Odell, there is significant evidence as to VS’s drop in sales, and the controversy with Razek’s comments surely didn’t help. While Victoria’s Secret’s sales don’t really worry me, how the company has decided to view women and their bodies does.

Odell begins her story by stating the definition of the VS Angels: “an elite group of contracted supermodels who have helped define the American ideal of sexiness.” This “American ideal of sexiness,” unfortunately, is incredibly close-minded. While the VS show does have diverse models including Duckie Thot and Winnie Harlow, there is no doubt about it that all of the women walking in the show and marketing the brand are tall, skinny, and elegant.

While all body types should be respected and celebrated, it is clear that Victoria’s Secret and the fashion show do not represent all body types or all women. Odell even states, “the look of the Angels remained. . .consistent.”

I appreciate that VS includes women of color in their fashion show, but I do not appreciate that these women all have the same body type. We live in an era of intersectional feminism in which all women and all body types are important, but VS clearly doesn’t see this because they are intent upon maintaining their traditional “sexy,” which is an incredibly ridiculous concept to be maintaining. 

There are different women with different body types all over the world, and by showcasing different body types is important because it shares the message that all are equal, and all are sexy. L Brands CEO Lex Wexner and Razek are in charge of the kind of marketing message that Victoria’s Secret sends, and it is clear that the messages are from the eyes of men.

Men do not get to define what is “sexy” in women. A woman gets to decide her “sexy.” Sexy should not be defined objectively, and that is exactly what VS is trying to do with these fashion shows. By excluding trans women and plus-sized women, VS is telling the world that sexy doesn’t belong to every woman, only the women that are X feet tall and X pounds heavy. Creating these restrictions on “sexy” is ludicrous, and it promotes body insecurity.

Unlike VS, Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty and Ashley Graham’s collaboration with Swimsuits for All truly represents all women and all body types. While VS is not thriving as much as it used to, it is still pedaling its idea that in order to be sexy you need to be skinny. But the truth of the matter is that you define your own sexy. Your body type, your gender, your sexuality, and your person is the only person that can define sexy, because sexy is for all.

Ila Mostafa is currently a Neuroscience major and Biology minor at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. She enjoys reading, writing, and spending time with her family. She is usually either starting a new story without finishing an older one or studying. Ila hopes to go to graduate school and eventually do research on Parkinson's Disease.
Augustana Contributor