On eating BBQ wings while watching the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show…

As the cold winter begins to strike, I can’t help but be reminded of that special day in December when my roommates and I gather on the couch to watch the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. This usually consists of binge eating and scrolling through our social media platforms to read aloud the variety of tweets and posts pertaining to the show. Luckily, NY Mag managed to categorize these into nine different types ranging from “The I-will-never-eat again” tweet to “The I-will-eat-everything-all-the-time-including-my-feelings” tweet to “The I-want-her-body” tweet to “The I’m-not-into-sticks” tweet and even to “The I-might-think-I’m-a-lesbian” tweet.

As Professor Afia Ofori-Mensa pointed out a few weeks ago, beauty pageants can serve as exaggerated, hyperbolic versions of the process by which we ordinarily judge women on a daily basis (even just those we see walking down the streets of NYC). In my opinion, the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show serves a similar role of representing exaggerated forms of quintessential young, sexualized women whom we can project our anxieties, desires, and thoughts of self-image onto. These women are not only tall and thin but are voluptuous with toned bodies – and of course, gorgeous faces. They parade around in outfits that are, for lack of better words, absolutely ridiculous. Apart from being half naked, these women are embellished with rhinestones, diamonds, feathers and huge wings.

I think this sense of “ridiculousness” is actually quite fitting for the exaggerated image I alluded to prior. The women are sexualized like no other, dazzled up with glitz and glam (via physical items that represent luxury and sex) while remaining half-naked. I think the themed, costume portion of the show is a perfect means by which the producers can give a reason for dressing these women up in such a fashion. The themes (circus, santa’s helpers, candy, etc.) assist in fetishizing these women as well. Just to get everyone in the spirit of things here are some memorable looks courtesy of BuzzFeed:

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I think the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is interesting to look at alongside the types of modeling productions mentioned in Mears’s Pricing Beauty. I would say the Victoria’s Secret models (excuse me, Angels) fall somewhere between what Mears describes as commercial and editorial. Although none of the “girls next door” in my hometown neighborhood had bodies like these, I’d say that these women are very “pretty” and “approachable” (the commercial side of things). Yet they are also editorial in the sense that their elongated bodies serve as canvases for the representation of modern-day sex and sexual products that Victoria’s Secret would like to present to the world. They are certainly not strutting these feathers, jewels and bedazzled bras in an attempt to sell them directly but rather they represent the Victoria’s Secret brand and artistic vision (I would argue that Victoria’s Secret is one of the only brands today that straddles the line between commercial and editorial – they are catalog yet “prestigious” enough to have a runway show, prominent models, etc.). Victoria’s Secret, in my opinion, can afford (figuratively and literally) to put women like these on the runway without too drastically considering marketing implications (mainly because their brand is already well established – my friends of various shapes and sizes go to Victoria’s Secret for their underwear/bras because it’s the most renowned and recognizable place to do so – a staple). Mears remarks on the consideration of marketing implications as she states, “[editorial producers] seldom conducted focus groups, and only occasionally invoked market research” in contrast to commercial producers who generally use larger women of more diverse backgrounds to appeal to a broad range of consumers (150).

I think it’s interesting to further contrast the body types of these Angels and those of the typical “editorial” models you see on the runway. As described in Mears’s book, the editorial body serves as a “hanger for garments” – thin, straight, weightless, boob-less, butt-less (182). I would argue that the bodies of the Angels serve more as precise molds of the perfect, sexualized woman – busty where they should be and thin where the ought to be. Rather than “ageless, unattainable beauty” combined with “sexual unavailability” present in high end runway shows, Victoria’s Secret shows flaunt women with abs, muscles, and boobs- seemingly attainable aspects of the female body (190). They parade their sexualities with confident, quirky, silly personalities that in a sense invite us in as an audience to consume them. They are not flat, stagnant pale white, blank slates that we cannot identify with. The smiles and personalities on the runway alongside the behind the scenes footage presented throughout the television program make girls all over America love to hate these women and love to love them.

I would argue that these models are the prime fashion figures in the media that we can view as something other than “bizarre, exotic, over-the-top floating figures on a runway”. We know their names, we have a favorite Angel (my roommates shouted out “Adriana” nearly in sync one second after me posing this question). They have the power to put us on the Internet to talk about how much we want to be them, love them, despise everything they represent, etc. – bottom line, they’re getting through to us somehow because we all know those girls…with their “perfect bodies” and “bubbly, vibrant personalities”. Angels are the most exaggerated version of “those girls” – put a runway for us to fawn over no matter how badly we feel about doing so.

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2 thoughts on “On eating BBQ wings while watching the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show…

  1. I think you and Niki both raise really great points, bringing into question why certain corporations are able to get away with flaunting the objectification of women or promoting unhealthy beauty ideals, with no risk of retaliation. It reminded me of our recent class mentioning of Terry Richardson, whose sexual predation, until very recently, remained completely under the radar. Even after numerous allegations have been brought up against him, he continues to get away with the coercion and sexual harassment of numerous young models merely because of his high profile standing as an elite photographer. Just as Victoria’s Secret depends on their well-established and popular brand to keep them out of trouble, Richardson relies on his celebrity endorsements to keep him free from having to face his allegations.

    His aesthetic popularity as an edgy photographer, which keeps him on the payroll and free of conviction, is equivalent to the fashion industry as a whole. This is the ‘sheen’ Sara Ziff speaks of, the illusion and allure of the glamorous lifestyle, which distracts critics and hides all of the industries ugly blemishes, leaving young models vulnerable to sexual harassment with no legal means or support to file (or even voice) a complaint.

    In a recent post to the Model Alliance website Sara Ziff writes, “Under federal law, independent contractors cannot sue for sexual harassment. Since the industry generally insists that models are independent contractors, not employees, most models are vulnerable to harassment with little recourse. This injustice will inevitably continue to be a problem in an industry where young models, including minors, are put into adult situations, and where nudity is common, but should not denote a holiday from maintaining a safe working environment. This must be addressed. Brands, magazines, and agencies that turn a blind eye should be held accountable.”

    I think it is most problematic that the people in power continue to propagate and perpetuate these dangerous situations, relying on their high-standing to keep them out of trouble and free from the blame they deserve, instead of using their power to promote healthy and safe ideals.

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  2. Perry, I totally agree with your assessment of Victoria’s Secret as being an amalgamation of commercial and editorial. And I definitely agree that the curves are part of this, though I would argue that they are not just part of Victoria’s Secret’s editorial side, but their commercial side as well. As Mears notes, high-end brands and designers shy away from more voluptuous models because “curves and their accompanying suggestions of female sexual desire and availability are polluting images… There’s something kind of average, a little to attainable, and too cheap about curves” (189-190). I would argue that this sentiment – that curves are average and attainable – that generates the relatability towards the Angels you speak about and is why Victoria’s Secret is not only such a staple brand, but why even young women have favorite Angels.

    The other thing I found interesting in your post was your argument that Victoria’s Secret Angels aren’t “hangers for garments.” I disagree. I would argue they are 110% hangers for the bras and panties they model. There is a type of body meant to display Victoria’s Secret bras, and it’s curvaceous. Why else would every Victoria’s Secret ad feature a model whose boobs were *thisclose* to spilling out of the bra cups? (Even in an ad that is – ostensibly – not for bras, like this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_fMRrhha5JU). Victoria’s Secret is looking for a different kind of ageless beauty to use as a hanger: the pin-up.

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