The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show: Its Impact on Young Girls

The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, first held in 1995 at the Plaza Hotel in New York, has become a spectacle that lingerie-lovers around the world look forward to each year. The show features some of the world’s best-known models - including Naomi Campbell and Helena Christensen in 1996, and Adriana Lima, Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid in 2016 – and exquisite, albeit excessive, lingerie ensembles.  This year’s show even featured a $3 million ‘fantasy bra’, modelled by Jasmine Tookes, (right) which consisted of 9000 precious stones, took 700 hours to create, and weighed in at more than 450 carats. Extravagant, sparkling and including some of the world’s – arguably – most beautiful women, it’s no wonder this show is one of the publicity stunts that helped Victoria’s Secret make a remarkable $1.2 billion profit in the fiscal year, ending January 31st 2015.

However, these women represent an ideal for the female body that is simply unrealistic. With the average height of a Victoria’s Secret ‘angel’ being 5' 10.5”, you can see that these models enjoy a build that most of us mere mortals can only dream of. Yet, according to some of the models themselves, it would seem that the enviable bodies they parade on the catwalk are not just the result of getting lucky in the gene pool. In 2011, Victoria’s Secret angel Adriana Lima revealed the worrying diet she follows in order to prepare her body in the weeks before the fashion show.  Lima revealed that for the nine days before the show she cuts out all solid foods and consumes only liquids, whilst also increasing her workouts to twice a day. 12 hours before the show this takes an even more extreme turn, with Lima not consuming anything, even water.  

The message this sends to the millions of young girls who tune in to watch the show each year is concerning. To be marketing bodies that have only been achieved through extreme discipline and excessive exercise as the ‘perfect body’ is insane. Moreover, the lack of diversity in the women participating in the show is even more distressing. Yes, thin-shaming is just as bad as fat-shaming. Many girls are naturally tall and slender, and this is perfectly okay. However, many girls are naturally short and curvy, and this is perfectly okay too. Meanwhile, tall and slender – and more often than not, Caucasian - tends to be the only body type exhibited on the runway. What kind of message does this send to the 90% of girls who are not 5’10”, and have more than one ounce of fat on their bodies? A disquieting one, indeed.

Add to this the fact that most of the bras modelled on the Victoria’s Secret runway market at between roughly £50 and £70, the show becomes even more otherworldly – and not in a good way.  See this ‘Very sexy long line plunge bra’, modelled by Kendall Jenner, which retails for £54.09 on the Victoria’s Secret website. The lifestyle this show depicts is not one that is within reach of many people, especially the young target audience. It encourages restrictive diets, verging on eating disorders, whilst marketing lingerie that is simply not affordable for most young girls.

As gloriously happy as these models may look, I believe the Victoria’s Secret fashion show has become a phenomenom that encourages only negative thought processes in young girls. This show boosts the idolisation of women who take part in unhealthy practices in order to achieve the ‘perfect’ – and ultimately unrealistic – body. It’s time we started holding up the women who have overcome our westernised standard of beauty to achieve incredible things. Take, for example, Yusra Mardini – a Syrian refugee who won her 100m butterfly heat at the Rio olympics, having previously swum for three hours to save 20 refugees as they made the journey across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. Or take Reshma Qureshil, the Indian woman who survived an acid attack and has gone on to walk at New York fashion week. Perhaps the media should spend a little more time commenting on the impressive feats of women like these, rather than Victoria’s Secret models.