Each year as Nov. rolls around, the entertainment and fashion industry begin to buzz with chatter of the much anticipated Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. Over the years, the annual show has been characterized as a night filled with glamour, beauty, confidence and gorgeous pieces of lingerie. However, the show is also synonymous with advocating the perfect, dream-worthy bodies of its models, be it the original Angel Adriana Lima or rising stars such as Kelsey Merritt and Sui He. While Victoria’s Secret prides itself in having changed over time and increasing the diversity of cultures represented on the ramp, one aspect remains a constant: the body types. Recently, especially after this year’s fashion show on Nov. 8th, Victoria’s Secret has garnered immense criticism for not being more body positive and for its lack of size diversity.
The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is known for its rigorous selection process of the 60 or so women who will take the stage, but all of them share the same body with their slender thighs, flat stomachs and muscles toned to perfection. They have a body that most, if not all, women envy and desire at some point or another in their lives. Every single one of these models works tremendously hard towards maintaining herself, and there is nothing wrong with that, but the issue lies in the company’s resistance towards inclusivity. For while having Gigi Hadid or Jasmine Tookes walk the show is a sight to see and builds the exclusive image of the brand as one that is desired by all, it also propagates the unhealthy thinking that only thin can be beautiful and sexy. As a result, it continues to feed the growing insecurities of women and especially young adults, including so many of us, across the world, irrespective of whether we are already thin or not.
The constant reiteration and glamification of a particular size by the fashion industry sends many of us thinking that we will never be good enough if we don’t have a 24-inch waist or a thigh gap. This line of thinking is what is putting our generation and those in the future at a higher risk of suffering from eating and body image disorders, and companies such as Victoria’s Secret are not helping. Furthermore, the build-up to the show is equally extreme due to the social media presence of the brand. Interviews and videos of the models outline the intense regime of multiple workouts in a day and limited diets that they engage in to reach Angel status. But they do not caution the risks that are associated with obsessing over one’s body type, nor do they stress the importance of accepting your own body.
My complaint with Victoria’s Secret is not that they are casting women of a particular size. Instead, my issue is that they are not casting women of other sizes. It is not an an either/or situation, because one woman should feel as good and confident in what she wears as any other. As a business student, I acknowledge that at the end of the day, Victoria’s Secret is focusing on the bottom line, wanting to earn the highest possible profits. If this mold of their fashion show works and brings them more money, then there is no reason for the firm to change from a business standpoint. However, the famed reputation of the company and its leading position comes with a certain moral responsibility to fairly represent its consumer base, which is not limited to those who meet what are often unrealistic body standards. Victoria’s Secret needs to acknowledge that there is a problem, and if they do want women of all sizes to shop at Victoria's Secret, then it is high time that their actions reflect that.
However, the tragedy is that the issue runs much deeper than just a single fashion show held each year. The truth of the matter is that there are so many brands apart from Victoria’s Secret that simply do not produce garments larger than a particular size, inadvertently telling many women that they are not wanted. Some brands like Brandy Melville only produce clothes of a single size which, too, is limited to an extra-small or a small at the most. Such conscious decisions tend to have adverse effects on the mental health of young girls, especially when these brands are the ones that are perceived as popular due to being worn and promoted by influencers who the girls look up to and emulate.
The ratio of companies that are body positive to those that are not is both astounding and saddening, but being body positive does not simply mean having a “plus size” section. Rather, this sense of inclusivity needs to be demonstrated through each aspect of the brand, be it their marketing strategy or even the pricing of products. Often, in many stores, like Banana Republic, sizes apart from “regular” tend to be more expensive and hence reduce accessibility for so many consumers.
Body positivity has come a long way with change that is now visible. Fashion icons such as Ashley Graham and Tess Holliday are embracing their curves, becoming ultra-successful in the fashion industry and inspiring millions along the way. Brands like Aerie have recognized the importance of this movement and have focused on creating more inclusive campaigns in terms of cultures, sizes and even disabilities.
But is this enough? The reason I ask is that there still exists a distinct misalignment between the views of the fashion industry and its audience — but companies are not the only ones to blame. Brands seek to deliver and fulfill demands, and hence the lack of diversity is the result of the continual approval given to smaller sizes while reprimanding others that don’t fit the bill. As a society, we have started the journey toward true inclusivity in some measure, but need to yet encourage greater love for our own bodies irrespective of the size, color or anything else for that matter. On the other hand, brands need to move with time and realize that in the current climate, consumers are not going to continue accepting what comes their way and will demand change. Victoria’s Secret has been seeing a decline in financial performance in recent years, and with CEO Jan Singer resigning after this year’s fashion show following chief marketing officer Ed Razek’s rather uninformed comments on how “No one had any interest in it, still don’t” when referring to the plus size lingerie market, it is safe to say that the brand has taken a hit.
The fashion industry continues to be one of the most fast-paced and evolving global communities that is filled with talent of all kinds, but it isn’t perfect. As young adults who are now the prime market of the industry, the responsibility to call out what’s missing and push for change falls onto us. I don’t mean that we need to boycott brands or stop shopping at every store that isn’t equally diverse, but we do need to be more aware and at least address the issue at hand. We could do this by speaking out in any form, be it through social media or initiating conversations about the problems the industry faces, immaterial of whether we are personally affected by them or not.