by Janelle Sessoms
I can still remember the first time I stepped into a Victoria’s Secret (VS) store when I was in ninth grade. All the girls in my middle class would go on and on about VS, and I knew I wanted to experience its magic for myself. I finally was given an opportunity to go, and the minute I stepped into the store, I felt a bit conflicted.
On one hand, I immediately noticed that none of the advertisements featured women who looked like me, in both race and body shape. On the other hand, the brand was so highly spoken about by my friends that maybe I wasn’t giving Victoria’s Secret a fair chance. So I did what every other American teenage girl was doing and blindly followed the VS hype. Looking back, I should have listened to my gut and turned away from a brand that I knew had no interest in targeting girls that looked like me.
After years of buying overpriced lace bras and watching the annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show in envy, the Angels have officially fallen. What was once a brand centered around a wishful fantasy revealed itself as problematic and unrealistic. But was anyone really surprised by this? In this day and age, a company can only go so far distinctly promoting thin, tall, cisgender, white women as who we should all aspire to be.
With other established lingerie brands, such as Savage X Fenty and Parade, based on diversity and inclusion, VS should have immediately shifted its strategy to one that supports body positivity and inclusivity. Unfortunately, VS not only failed to change with the times, but the former chief marketing officer, Ed Razek, openly admitted they had no intention of including trans models.
“Shouldn’t you have transsexuals in the show? No. No, I don’t think we should,” he said. “Well, why not? Because the show is a fantasy. It’s a 42-minute entertainment special. That’s what it is.”
The commentary only got worse when he admitted that they thought about including plus-size models but ultimately decided against it. The average woman in America is around a size 12 and 14, yet Razek thought it would be “off-brand” to depict curve models in the VS image.
“If you’re asking if we’ve considered putting a transgender model in the show or looked at putting a plus-size model in the show, we have,” he said. “We invented the plus-size model show in what was our sister division, Lane Bryant. Lane Bryant still sells plus-size lingerie, but it sells a specific range, just like every specialty retailer in the world sells a range of clothing. As do we. We market to who we sell to, and we don’t market to the whole world.”
Of course, those offensive comments received tons of backlash, and this was the beginning of the end of VS as we knew it. Ultimately, their inability to progress to a brand image that embraces women of all kinds completely dragged them to the bottom. It was a reasonable assumption to think that VS would shut down for good, but they surprisingly got back up and reentered the market with a rebrand.
Now VS is “on a mission to champion, celebrate and advocate for women and the causes that matter most to them and through the transformative power of our products and experiences bring inspiration, confidence, comfort and joy to women around the world.” Sure VS, whatever you say. After years of perpetuating societal beauty ideals and ignoring the toxicity their company actively spread centered around body image, it is very hard to believe that VS is suddenly all about advocacy and celebrating women. College student and occasional VS shopper Catie Pusateri explains how skeptical she is on their rebranding venture.
“In my opinion, the rebrand is too little too late,” she said. “Victoria’s Secret has upheld unattainable beauty standards for women for so long, so they’ve contributed heavily to negative body images, eating disorders, and unfair expectations on women to maintain a stick thin body to be desirable. For them to now turn around and try to rebrand as being inclusive without—to my knowledge—acknowledging the harm they’ve caused, it doesn’t feel genuine.”
Is VS worth the buy anymore? Honestly, the damage is already done. All women wanted was for VS to show that sexy isn’t confined to a particular body shape and a specific race. They had the fantasy, the angels, and the sexy lingerie. All that was left was to include a wide array of women into the VS fantasy. Instead, they let their Angels fall, and the fantasy shift into something completely different. At this point, it’s hard to get back on board.
There are plans for Victoria’s Secret fashion show to return in 2022 but without the Angels this time. We’ll see how much they have actually changed and what initiatives they are willing to commit to for future progress. Until then, it may be more worthwhile to shop from brands that have been committed to inclusivity from the start.