Which part of Victoria’s Secret do I disdain most deeply? There’s the catalog! The fashion show. The website. The storefronts. All with their models with exactly the same body type — not the body type of most healthy women on the planet. It’s incredibly awful for girls’ development and women’s mental health, and harmful for hetero boys to see women portrayed this way as the only version of “sexy”.
So when I heard about the latest downhill slide of Victoria’s Secret, I have to say I was elated. In sort of a sick way. I’d been waiting for this.
I’ve been dedicated to helping teen girls get free from mandates of behavior, appearance, and identity based on gender for more than 20 years. In those years, a few companies have emerged as my personal nemeses for their consistent objectification, disrespect, and usage of women’s bodies to sell their products and literally make us hate ourselves.
And the tide seems to be turning somewhat, but Victoria’s Secret is resisting hard.
Victoria’s Secret has, sadly, been a staple in About-Face’s Gallery of Offenders, we’ve written about them on our blog many times, and the company has even been the object of one of our social change actions that received press coverage, Operation All Bodies, Real Love.
The triggers of my delight: Sales at Victoria’s Secret stores have been way down year over year for the last 3 years; the company closed 83 stores in 2 years; the network broadcast of the disgusting “Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show” has been canceled after viewership hit an all-time low; and it turns out that late pedophile Jeffrey Epstein had advised the Victoria’s Secret founder/CEO about models and other business.
I feel like doing that villain move: rubbing my hands together and laughing diabolically as I watch Victoria’s Secret burn. (Terrible, right?)
I’d love for About-Face to be able to take significant credit for the reduced popularity of Victoria’s Secret. That would be a little arrogant, though. But of course we contributed to a groundswell: We were some of many helping to change the culture, and our strategy was person by person, on the street.
Victoria, Your Secret is Out…
…and the secret is that your refusal to modernize is going to be your downfall.
For example, Neil Saunders of GlobalData Retail said he has issues with the brand’s “tone and image.”
“The dark environment, the conspicuous sexuality of the offer and the brash marketing are increasingly out of step with what modern consumers want.— Neil Saunders, Global Data Retail, in an email to CNBC
Interesting. Victoria’s Secret didn’t see this coming, somehow. Or they chose not to participate. They were so stuck in their women’s-sexuality-as-commodity mindset that they didn’t shift with the culture.
Becoming a modern brand would mean both seeing and participating in the zeitgeist, and adjusting as women began to free themselves from rigid cultural expectations and try to embrace their bodies as they are. We simply are not crafting our bodies into the shape of what certain types of hetero men like as much anymore. (And thank goodness we got this far.)
Instead, Victoria’s Secret retained a steadfast dedication to an out-of-date message. We actually know now, as the rise of the body-positive movement continues, that a variety of bodies are beautiful — more beautiful than sameness. It’s as if Victoria’s Secret forgot that women have their own agency, bodily and economically.
Even models are getting on board: A case in point is Kate Upton’s recent interview, where she called Victoria’s Secret a “snoozefest” when it comes to body inclusivity.
Now Victoria’s Secret has an opportunity to do something redeeming. Recently, more than 100 models and Time’s Up signed an open letter to Victoria’s Secret CEO John Mehas asking for support in ending sexual misconduct and trafficking. What action they take will say everything about its dedication to keeping women safe.
Let this be a warning to other out-of-date brands out there: either come along with us, where diversity, body inclusivity, and seeing women as more than bodies reigns, or die a slow, painful death.
Some brands that are getting with the times a little more:
- Aerie (by American Eagle) sales increased steeply while Victoria’s Secret’s declined, due to body-positive and inclusive advertising aimed at younger customers.
- American Apparel, which transformed itself from a skeezy brand into a more-empowering one (stay tuned for that story).
- CVS, which started putting a symbol on in-store cosmetics displays to denote digitally manipulated images, and set out to eliminate such images in their stores by 2020.
So it’s not impossible.
Change is coming, and Victoria’s Secret will get with it (unlikely) or lose their business (likely).
How to Quit “Using” Victoria’s Secret
You too can help Victoria’s Secret go down. Join me!
- Consider what you’re repping, and where you’re putting your money (i.e. buying their stuff means approving of a company’s behavior).
- If you’re one of those people who is still wearing Victoria’s Secret or Pink lingerie because they’re the only bras that fit you, or some such garbage, you need to ask yourself: “Am I just not looking that hard?” And “Do I really need my breast tissue to be pushed up that high?”
Consider these alternatives, which I have tried and recommend:
- Title Nine Sports (more than sports bras)
- Third Love
- Your local department store’s lingerie section (Nordstrom is good)
- Julianna Rae
3. And for extra credit, avoid Victoria’s sister brands. L Brands owns Victoria’s Secret, Pink, and Bath & Body Works. Stop buying from them. I don’t care how much you like that hand sanitizer.
What have we learned today, friends? We learned that our eyes, dollars, and beliefs about who matters really count in shaping our culture in a way that supports us. Let’s keep being part of it. — Jennifer Berger
Jennifer Berger is the Executive Director of About-Face.
I wish Honey Birdette would go the same way. I shudder each time my young daughters walk past their shop windows which, unfortunately, are way more provocative than VS. Sadly they’ve landed on US shores as well.