Boyd: Victoria’s Secret does not belong in Sex Week
Victoria’s Secret is well-embedded in American culture — the brand’s advertisements are often seen in malls, on TV and social media. It even has an active presence at Northwestern through Victoria’s Secret Pink Brand Ambassadors. Because of its ubiquity, many members of the Northwestern community do not think twice about the implications of purchasing their lingerie and other products, especially for events like Burlesque or when celebrating their own sexual agency during Sex Week. However, Victoria’s Secret’s products and branding directly contradict the messages of self-love, empowerment and body positivity these Northwestern events strive to embody.
Victoria’s Secret was founded by a man who was unsatisfied with the selection of underwear options for his wife and wanted to create something for her to wear that met his fantasies. Today, the company is led by a male CEO and brands itself around creating a specific, heteronormative and rigid fantasy of female sexuality and expression.
The brand does not empower women; it tells them what they need to buy, consume and look like in order to achieve the praise of men. The name “Victoria’s Secret” implies this purpose as it perpetuates the fantasy of a “refined” female on the outside — the name was inspired by Queen Victoria — who has a “secret” sexuality that is not appropriate to be referenced outside of a union with a male.
This column is not meant to shame people who wear Victoria’s Secret. However, by engaging with the brand, consumers are subtly influenced in ways that limit freedom of expression and identity — not only for themselves but for other women.
Victoria’s Secret models are predominately white, extremely thin, tall, cis women. Their pictures are heavily photoshopped and depict an unrealistic, unattainable standard of beauty for women.
The models in the annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, also known as “Angels,” are pressured to bring this photoshopped fantasy of women to life through extremely rigorous pre-show eating habits, workouts and contouring in order to maintain their careers and stay eligible to walk in the show. Last November, Ed Razek, the chief marketing officer of the brand, said in a Vogue interview that trans women and plus-sized models will never be cast in the fashion show because they contradict the “fantasy.” He later released an inadequate apology statement.
In order to combat criticism, Victoria’s Secret has started a new campaign, “Grl Pwr,” through their PINK line that markets specifically to a younger audience. Instead of a substantive initiative, it demeans empowerment as a trend that sells. It strips feminism and body positivity of its diversity, complex stories and history by not changing anything about their models, language or photoshopping. Their “feminism” is merely performative.
Victoria’s Secret excludes female-identifying people from their own sexual empowerment by convincing consumers that being “sexy” coincides with a specific societal expectation of appearance (overly thin, tall, cis woman) and that if a consumer buys their product, they will be empowered to be “sexy.”
Conforming to a stereotypical beauty standard in order to please society is not empowering. It is restrictive, isolating and imprisoning. Victoria’s Secret, as an institution, perpetuates unrealistic standards for women, a rigid structure of femininity, the male gaze and a set model of what is beautiful. Through all of this, it fails to sexually liberate women.
Victoria’s Secret, as a brand, does not belong in Northwestern Sex Week because it undermines body-positive initiatives with a subtle yet powerful message of the patriarchy, sexism, homophobia, body-shaming, normalization of eating disorders, exclusivity and an unrealistic beauty standard for women.
Liberate yourself from the confines of Victoria’s Secret, its unrealistic expectations, and its limits on femininity and empower yourself to express your own sexuality in the way that feels best for you.