Why I don’t shop at Victoria’s Secret anymore

I penned this rant a number of years ago after I was involved in an in-office conversation about the Victoria’s Secret fashion show wherein a male colleague high fived another male colleague as a follow-up reaction to a comment about women starving themselves to look like Victoria’s Secret models. Although I would write this differently now, my general opinion on the subject remains the same.

“We are not for men to look at but for women to feel good about themselves.” Victoria’s Secret Public Relations Official, 1996 [2].

Why are most women that I know so adamant about encouraging the warped portrayal of feminism that makes up the entire Victoria’s Secret brand? I’ve heard various answers to this question: “The underwear and bras are so pretty!” “The models are so beautiful and empowered!” I can understand these sentiments, having been an Angel card-carrying, loyal Victoria’s Secret customer for the majority of my life. However, I recently realized that I cannot morally support a company that brands itself on such a phenomenally warped type of female empowerment.

The Secret Behind Victoria’s Secret Feminism

In recent years, the line between popular culture and pornography has become extremely blurred [3], opening the door for a flood of Victoria’s Secret ads with striking similarities to pornography without FCC censorship. Research has shown that college-aged women who were exposed to Victoria’s Secret “Angel” commercials had reinforced beliefs that their self-worth should be measured by appearance and decreased their body satisfaction [4]. The women shown in these ads have the same “perfect body” as a result of thousands of dollars of training, surgeries, and careful (sometimes not so) post-processing.

The Victoria’s Secret catalogues are more risqué than ever before (see the holiday 2015 catalogue). Apparently, they are distributed for the consumption of women only, which must be the explanation for the overall soft core pornographic nature. The models are frequently wearing only a bra or underwear, often suggestively tugging at them with open mouths and tousled hair, reflective of pornography [1]. Victoria’s Secret’s claimed goal of making women “feel good about themselves” is accomplished through marketing women as commodities desiring only to be consumed. Through the wide acceptance of this idea, “the sexually liberated modern women turns out to resemble — what do you know! — the pneumatic take-me-now male fantasy after all” [7].

In the 2010 holiday catalogue, only two women of color are present within the 175 pages, and somehow still manage to represent the “white ideal” of small features, long, shiny hair, and tan skin [1, 2]. Why are so many women emphatically endorsing the narrow brand of beauty and pornographication of culture that is being forced upon us by Victoria’s Secret?

On With the Show…

So what’s so bad about watching the show? Don’t the models look so empowered as they strut down the runway, hands on their hips, blowing kisses at the audience and winking? Kind of, until the camera begins to pan up and down their bodies in the familiar pattern of Mulvey’s male gaze [1, 8]. During the “interviews”, the models are asked the all-too-familiar questions that are never asked of men, and rampant objectification follows:

“What’s my favorite feature of hers? Definitely her ass!”

“She is a sexy bomb.”

“Candice has an amazing body.”

This further reinforces the commodification of the female form and the idea that women are worth little aside from their appearance. Did you hear about the recent interview with the female cosmonaut team? Upon being asked similar ridiculous questions, one responded, “We are here to do our job and we don’t have time to think about men… We are doing work. When you’re doing your work, you don’t think about men and women.” These are the kind of women who should be applauded for their dismissal of patronizing questions and idealized in the way of Victoria’s Secret “angels”.

Let’s return now to Victoria’s Secret’s idea of the “perfect body”, as shown above. Millions of men and women watching the fashion show are repeatedly bombarded with the message that these models have sexy, ideal bodies. Adriana Lima has shared what the secret is to having the “perfect body”: Nine days before the show, she will consume no solids, only protein shakes, while working out twice a day and drinking a gallon of water each day. The two days before the show, she drinks normally, and for the twelve hours prior to the show, she will fast completely. Most people would refer to this diet plan as “starvation”. It is then logical to conclude that the “perfect body” type as marketed by Victoria’s Secret is “starving”.

This has to stop.

I do not want young men and women growing up and seeing the commodification of the female form as normal. Dozens of studies have shown that feminist values are totally lost when sexualized female bodies inundate the media landscape [1], as is the current situation. Adolescent girls with a more objectified view of their bodies have demonstrated diminished sexual assertiveness and condom use [9], and paying unnecessary attention to physical characteristics leaves fewer cognitive resources for other mental and physical activities including mathematics, logical reasoning, spatial skills, and athletic performance [10, 11, 12, 13]. Irreparable damage is being done on young women, and the ideas of feminism and true beauty are being lost.

Through Victoria’s Secret, women are wholeheartedly endorsing a view of themselves as consumable commodities. With 100 million fashion show viewers and the distribution of nearly 400 million catalogs annually, the wild popularity of Victoria’s Secret is teaching women that “their objectification is pleasurable, normal, and self-chosen” [1].

Multiple studies have showed that repeated exposure to sexualized female bodies encourage women to self-objectify, positively endorse sexually objectifying images, and experience body hatred.

I am a scientist in a hugely male-dominated field trying to be valued for my knowledge, skills, and creativity, while society wants to see me only as an object. By supporting Victoria’s Secret and their fashion show, you are supporting the commodification of the female form and the normalization of their warped idea of feminism. Feminism is advocating for the equality of women and men, and if this is something that you truly believe is important, I implore you to join me in not supporting the Victoria’s Secret brand and not watching the “fashion show”. And don’t worry; as I have discovered, there are plenty of other places to buy pretty bras and underwear.

1. Kite, L. 2011. From Objectification to Self-Subjectification: Victoria’s Secret as a Do-It-Yourself Guide. Dept. of Communication, University of Utah.

2. Juffer, J. 1996. A Pornographic femininity? Telling and Selling Victoria’s Dirty Little Secrets. Social Text 48, 27–48.

3. Mayer, V. 2005. Soft-Core in TV Time: The Political Economy of a “Cultural Trend”. Critical Studies in Media Communication 22, 4, 302–320.

4. Strahan, E., Lafrance, A., Wilson, A.E., Ethier, N., Spencer, S., and Zanna, M. 2008. Victoria’s Dirty Secret: How Sociocultural Norms Influence Adolescent Girls and Women. Pers Soc Phychol Bull 34, 288.

5. Perkins, K. 1996. The Influence of Television Images on Black Females’ Self-Perceptions of Physical Attractiveness. Journal of Black Psychology 22, 4, 453–469.

6. Turner, J. 2005. Dirty Young Men. The Guardian.

7. Mulvey, L. 1976. Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. Arizona State University.

8. Impett, E.A., Schooler, D., and Tolman, D. 2006. To Be Seen and Not Heard: Femininity Ideology and Adolescent Girls’ Sexual Health. Archives of Sexual Behavior 35, 2, 129–142.

9. Fredrickson, B.L. and Roberts, R.A. 1997. Objectification theory: Toward understanding women’s lived experiences and mental health risks. Psychology of Women Quarterly 21, 173–206.

10. Fredrickson, B.L. and Harrison, K. 2005. Throwing Like a Girl: Self-Objectification Predicts Adolescent Girls’ Motor Performance. Journal of Sport and Social Issues 29, 1, 79–101.

11. Gapinski, K.D., Brownell, K.D., and LaFrance, M. 2003. Body Objectification and “Fat Talk”: Effects on Emotion, Motivation, and Cognitive Performance. Sex Roles 48, 9, 377–388.

12. Hebl, M.R., King, E.B., and Lin, J. 2004. The Swimsuit Becomes Us All: Ethnicity, Gender, and Vulnerability to Self-Objectification. Pers Soc Psychol Bull 30, 10, 1322–1331.

13. Fredrickson, B.L., Roberts, T.A., Noll, S.M., Quinn, D.M., and Twenge, J.M. 1998. That swimsuit becomes you: Sex differences in self-objectification, restrained eating, and math performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 75, 1, 269–284.

14. McKinley, N.M., and Hyde, J.S. 2006. The Objectified Body Consciousness Scale Development and Validation. Psychology of Women Quarterly 20, 2, 181–215.

15. Tiggemann, M. 2005. Body dissatisfaction and adolescent self-esteem: Prospective findings. Body Image 2, 2, 129–135.

16. Ward, L.M. 2002. Does television exposure affect emerging adults’ attitudes and assumptions about sexual relationships? Correlational and experimental confirmation. Journal of Youth and Adolescence 31, 1–15.

17. Zurbriggen, E.L. and Morgan, E.M. 2006. Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire? Reality Dating Television Programs, Attitudes Toward Sex, and Sexual Behaviors. Sex Roles 54, 1, 1–17.

18. Groesz, L., Levin, M., and Murnen, S. 2002. The effect of experimental presentation of thin media images on body satisfaction: A meta-analytic review. International Journal of Eating Disorders 31, 1, 1–16.

ramblings about and tangentially related to my experiences as an academic

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