Kinzah Khan reflects on the beliefs of Victoria’s Secret and the dangerous trends they reinforce.
It seems to be that whenever a woman who does not look like a Victoria’s Secret model starts to say anything remotely negative about Victoria’s Secret, she must be speaking from a place of jealousy and insecurity. So, before I divulge the travels of my train of thought for this week, let me make two things absolutely clear:
First, my personal security is not at all affected by Victoria’s Secret models. They are paid to train and eat to look the way they do. I am not. I am a second-year university student and I have essays to write, so going to the gym three times a day is not an option for me and kale is a horrible study snack. I could not care less what they look like, it has no effect on my self-esteem, and the remainder of this piece is not fuelled by jealousy of any sort.
Secondly, this is not a piece to attack Victoria’s Secret models themselves or their choice to fill the position of an ‘Angel.’ A lot of the time, it is a career move because being part of the Victoria’s Secret show is about the biggest springboard in the industry. Finally, this is not a piece telling you ‘to always love yourself’ and ‘you’re perfect the way you are’ because odds are, you’re not perfect, and that’s fine, but that has nothing to do with Victoria’s Secret. This piece is simply an organised, organic trail of thought, stimulated by a recent comment made by Victoria’s Secret’s Chief Marketing Officer, Ed Resnick.
In the lead up to the 2018 Victoria’s Secret fashion show, Resnick gave an interview with Vogue Runway. He was asked whether he thinks about diversity when it comes to the show and the brand. He answered yes and bragged about the 30A to 40DDD size range offered by the company (side note: that is a decent range but the ‘less common’ sizes are only offered in a small collection of stores. Interpret that however you wish).
Resnick then went on to say the following: “Shouldn’t [we] have transsexuals in the show? No. No, I don’t think we should. Well, why not? Because the show is a fantasy.”
Now, whatever your views are on LGBTQ+ issues, I think we can all agree that a comment like that given by one of the chief figures at one of the most well-known brands in the world, in an interview to the biggest fashion magazine in the world, in this political climate, makes you, for want of a better phrase, thick as a plank. You may commend Resnick on his honesty, but I do not think this was honesty and, frankly, I do not even think it was ignorance. I think it was pure stupidity.
Resnick’s comments were met with an avalanche of criticism, ranging from direct criticism about the transgender comment to bringing up the classic debate about body inclusivity in the brand. Resnick’s comparison to Rihanna’s lingerie brand SavageXFenty was also immediately shot down as he claimed Victoria’s Secret is more progressive and that everything Savage has ‘invented,’ Victoria’s Secret ‘has done and continues to do.’ As someone who has followed both brands and watched both fashion shows, I am tempted to send a dictionary over to Ed Resnick, so he can check the definition for “progressive”, because his interpretation seems to be confused.
However, I don’t intend to focus on the role of transgender models in the show; rather, it was Resnick’s comment about the show being a “fantasy” that struck me. I found myself asking the following question: Whose fantasy?
If we look at it specifically from an economic point of view, the aim of a fashion show is to advertise products, but no one is watching that show and noting down product reference numbers. I would expect it to be a fantasy for women as the brand is for women. If the fantasy is for women, then I would think that it is a fantasy of empowerment through taking control of our sexual autonomy. In other words, the show is to make women buy the brand, so they too can feel sexy and strong like an ‘Angel,’ which is great marketing. However, I think I speak for most women when I say, we do not feel like that (if you do, then fair enough!). I am also not saying that we shove our face into a pillow and cry for hours. Personally, I just don’t get a kick out of watching the Victoria’s Secret fashion show. It’s fun and entertaining and let’s be honest, the wings are beautiful! But it’s not our fantasy.
So, if it’s not a woman’s fantasy, then whose fantasy is it? Well, let’s look at who runs Victoria’s Secret: Ed Resnick. I think the answer is pretty straight forward. The Victoria’s Secret fashion show is Ed Resnick’s fantasy. It’s a stereotypical male fantasy. A lingerie brand with a show that is marketed as a fantasy with men at the helm makes it feel like the message of empowerment is a scam. Since Resnick made that comment, the whole brand feels like a performance to me, as if this 80-year-old man is telling women one thing so they and every other man like them has their fantasy fulfilled. The photos of Ed Resnick at the show surrounded by the models are very reminiscent of Hugh Hefner surrounded by Playboy models.
I wondered if this feeling was universal for lingerie shows. So, I watched some of the SavageXFenty show. The feeling did not persist for, what I think, are the following reasons: firstly, there is a woman at the head of that brand, a woman who has a reputation for embracing sexuality as a means of empowerment. The brand is simply an extrapolation of her own reputation, adding a layer of authenticity to the company’s message. Secondly, if Resnick did receive the dictionary I sent to him and looked up “progressive” or “inclusion” or “diversity”, he might be met with photos from the Savage show. Every woman on that stage was different, and every woman watching that show could find at least an element of someone that they could relate to and it did not do anything to take away from the ‘sexiness’ of the show. Thirdly, you do not find yourself gawking at the models in the same way as with Victoria’s Secret. Rihanna made it so the women, models and dancers alike, were ethereal. The women moved and breathed in a way that made them seem like moving sculptures, appreciating their raw sexuality, not for the pleasure of men but for their own satisfaction. Savage’s women are women, not models, and it is through the fact that they are women that they encapsulate both sex and power. The lingerie is just a bonus.
Victoria’s Secret is similar, in that it’s marketed to be empowering for women. I do think a woman should be allowed to express her sexual autonomy in any way she pleases, and to do so is an incredible form of self-empowerment. However, being told to express yourself on behalf of a brand just doesn’t feel right. It is a classic case of practice what you preach. If they truly believe that every woman can be and feel sexy and they want that to be their message, then why not show that? The Victoria’s Secret fashion show is the most watched fashion show in the world. It is internationally broadcasted, so they have a tumultuous stage to empower women of every shape and size. But they do not do that. You could claim that it is because of the fashion industry and all fashion shows demand models to be of certain proportions. But the Victoria’s Secret show is not like any other fashion show in the world, at least that is what they keep telling us. If they have that platform, status and freedom, why don’t they use it?
Because it does not fit into someone else’s fantasy.
I think Victoria’s Secret products are great, but the brand is being framed as an object of female performance, to fulfil a male desire. The Victoria’s Secret fashion show is a male fantasy, and I do not think a brand like that can continue to excel in this political climate, especially when so many other brands are willing to be inclusive and authentic.
They’re selling a message laced with conditions and exclusivity. We’re just not buying it anymore.