Saturday 21 October 2017

Comment: Does Victoria's Secret celebrate women or body shame us?

Our reporter on why the only thing she has in common with the lingerie brand is her name...

Canadian singer/songwriter The Abel Tesfaye a.k.a The Weeknd (L) cheer alongside Victoria's Secret Angels US model Martha Hunt, Portuguese model Sara Sampaio, Brazilian model Lais Ribeiro, US model Gigi Hadid, US model Kendall Jenner, Chinese model Liu Wen, Chinese model Sui He, Brazilian model Izabel Goulart and Chinese model Ming Xi during the 2016 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show at the Grand Palais in Paris
Canadian singer/songwriter The Abel Tesfaye a.k.a The Weeknd (L) cheer alongside Victoria's Secret Angels US model Martha Hunt, Portuguese model Sara Sampaio, Brazilian model Lais Ribeiro, US model Gigi Hadid, US model Kendall Jenner, Chinese model Liu Wen, Chinese model Sui He, Brazilian model Izabel Goulart and Chinese model Ming Xi during the 2016 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show at the Grand Palais in Paris
Angel: Alessandra Ambrosio spreads her wings at the Victoria's Secret fashion show in Paris last week
US model Martha Hunt presents a creation during the 2016 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show at the Grand Palais in Paris
Joan Smalls during the Victoria's Secret show in Paris
A model at the Victoria's Secret 2017 show
Gigi Hadid and Bella Hadid pose backstage prior to the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show on November 30, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images for Victoria's Secret)
(L-R) Joan Smalls, Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid and Adriana Lima poses backstage during the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show on November 30, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by Dominique Charriau/Getty Images for Victoria's Secret)
Vicki Notaro

Vicki Notaro

For the past couple of weeks, it's likely you've been seeing pictures of nubile young women in their underwear with bouncy hair floating around the internet. That's because every December, we're treated to (or is it that we must endure?) the Victoria's Secret "fashion show". I've put that title in inverted commas because, let's face it, this pop culture phenomenon isn't really about showing off the latest in underwear trends. No, it's more an excuse for ladies and gents alike to gawk at the most popular models of the moment in their scanties, and develop crushes, aspirations, and let's face it, insecurities.

Last week, the Victoria's Secret posse took to the runway in Paris to model the brand's knickers, bras and sleepwear, as well as cumbersome angel wings that money actually can't buy. It was typically over the top, featuring some outfits that no woman in her right mind could or would wear, even in the bedroom.

It was, as always, a procession of stunning doe-eyed women with legs for days, groomed to perfection with rock-hard abdominal muscles, and showing as much bikini line as physically possible without it being indecent.

The show was globally televised this week, and featured performances from musical artists Bruno Mars, The Weeknd and Lady Gaga. Much like the 'Toy Show' (ahem), the show has grown from a small segment of Fashion Week into an anticipated event in the calendar. The first few years, it wasn't televised at all, but in 2001 the show moved from its pre-Valentine's slot in February to the beginning of the festive season, and began being broadcast.

(L-R) Joan Smalls, Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid and Adriana Lima poses backstage during the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show on November 30, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by Dominique Charriau/Getty Images for Victoria's Secret)
(L-R) Joan Smalls, Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid and Adriana Lima poses backstage during the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show on November 30, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by Dominique Charriau/Getty Images for Victoria's Secret)

It takes a big model to earn her Victoria's Secret wings, although of course I mean that in terms of stature. Many of the modern supermodels have walked the gilded runway, particularly those famous for having more curvy and feminine figures than their high-fashion counterparts.

Tyra Banks was one of the first "Angels", followed by Heidi Klum, Alessandra Ambrosio (pictured), Miranda Kerr and Karlie Kloss.

These days, the "Insta-models" take centre stage. Reality TV star Kendall Jenner and the British Fashion Institute's new Model of the Year Gigi Hadid made their debuts in last year's shows, but this year solidified their relationship with the brand by donning wings.

Gigi's younger sister Bella joined the troupe, which also featured Joan Smalls, Elsa Hosk, Lily Aldridge and show veteran Adriana Lima. Being a veteran at the age of 35 is the norm in the world of Vicki's knickers, just so you know.

A model at the Victoria's Secret 2017 show
A model at the Victoria's Secret 2017 show

In the age of widespread nouveau-feminism, the show is as derided as it is celebrated. Why should we have a prime-time show featuring women in their pants, one that entirely focuses on their outer shell? Is this the male gaze gone wild?

On the other hand, why shouldn't we admire the hard work these women clearly put into their bodies, and since when is it anti-feminist to have body goals, or admire pretty lingerie?

In all honesty, I'm just kind of over the show. It is what it is, indicative of the world we live in, and the whole point of it is actually to sell underwear to 20-something women; titillating men is simply an added bonus.

But do I wish we were less focused on women's bodies? Absolutely. Do I think that this parade of aesthetics makes many of us feel bad about ourselves? Yes, indeed. Do I think it contributes to young girls feeling that they must look a certain way? Most definitely.

Gigi Hadid and Bella Hadid pose backstage prior to the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show on November 30, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images for Victoria's Secret)
Gigi Hadid and Bella Hadid pose backstage prior to the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show on November 30, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images for Victoria's Secret)

But you could say that about the 'Sports Illustrated' swimsuit edition, about regular fashion shows and photoshoots, about the porn industry, about the awards season red carpets. Victoria's Secret is not to blame for our fascination with the female form, it's simply grown in tandem with interest in it.

I don't envy the Angels their punishing workout regimes or the pressure to be thin enough to walk a runway like that with confidence. This year, many seemed thinner than ever, particularly Gigi, a super-slim girl that in the past has spoken out about being body-shamed in the modelling industry.

Model Irina Shayk is said to be pregnant with her first baby, and she was one of the more covered-up models on the night, because a bump is so not on brand.

If the show is not going to go away (and it's not, it's a money-maker), then may it at least be more inclusive? Fuller-figured models like Ashley Graham have been on magazine covers all over the world, so why not on a lingerie runway? Her figure is far more representative of the majority of women.

Angel: Alessandra Ambrosio spreads her wings at the Victoria's Secret fashion show in Paris last week
Angel: Alessandra Ambrosio spreads her wings at the Victoria's Secret fashion show in Paris last week

So perhaps the VS head honchos should look at adding more women of Graham's ilk to its bevy of incredibly slender beauties. Just a suggestion.

Irish Independent

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