When a Lingerie Company Dictates Your Highest Aspirations
A few days ago, when I read that Victoria's Secret had cast its first transgender model for a catalog shoot, I thought, Okay, good. But then I read the model's statement on Instagram: "Never stop dreaming."
What does it say about women when our ultimate dream is to qualify for the standards of Victoria's Secret? Should we really applaud the fact that a trans woman feels validated by being objectified in an industry that sees us as toys for the male gaze? While the model, Valentina Sampaio, has every right to her own choices, it makes me sad that fulfilling the distorted ideal of a hypersexualized lingerie model is anyone's goal.
What other brand of lingerie has had a more pervasive effect on our culture than Victoria's Secret? Without wishing to single it out unfairly, the company still controls more than 60 per cent of the American lingerie market. The image of an undernourished young woman with enormous tits and swollen lips has been appearing in mailboxes now for a generation. The TV specials are meant to be a huge step in a model's career, no matter how demeaning and ridiculous the whole affair seems to the uninitiated.
Perhaps the brand is a symptom rather than a cause of our culture's preoccupation with thin young girls whose job is to look silently compliant. But you can't deny its impact. Just today, a group of 100 models including Karlie Kloss sent a letter to Victoria's Secret, demanding that it protect its models from predators like Jeffrey Epstein, who was allowed to interview would-be models in the company's name. It's a little late for their outrage, considering some of the sexist statements of the brand’s chief marketing officer, who was coincidentally fired on Monday.
When lingerie companies target teenage girls, we ought to take note of what they are selling. Thongs with slogans like I DARE YOU! are preparing girls for a lifetime of subservience to male sexuality. There's nothing wrong with girls being sexual, obviously! But why groom them to be vacuous props?
Everything about the Victoria's Secret branding seems anachronistic and regressive in 2019. Hiring a trans model seems like a desperate ploy to stay relevant. Meanwhile, there are new brands like ThirdLove and Savage X Fenty that are genuinely inclusive. Showing bodies of all sizes, shapes and skin colors, these brands celebrate real woman's bodies in a way that feels empowering rather than demeaning. Founded by women, they put comfort and fit before male stimulation.
A world where trans women have the same opportunities as any other woman is a goal we should all support. I am also looking forward to a world where women are celebrated as fully human, regardless of how attractive we are or are not. I look forward to renouncing the stereotype of a Barbie doll as the highest form of female beauty. Trans women may feel a need to prove themselves in ways that non-trans women frown on, because the latter haven't suffered just to be female. Meanwhile, being female, as presented by advertising, is still a full-time job for all of us. If it's not a "booty mask" it's a foot mask. If you have a tummy, start saving up for Cool-Scuplting!
The more we recognize the ways our culture determines our behavior and self-worth, the easier it should be to resist that power. Unfortunately, it's an ongoing struggle. For every ad featuring a normal woman's body, there are 50 more that undermine your confidence. Accepting our various shapes and our natural hair, lips, and eyebrows means constantly swimming against the tide of advertising.
Images that make you feel deficient should be a warning signal. Catalogues featuring only bony-hipped models with buxom tits are no good for anyone, male or female. If it works as porn, then that is a valid function, but let's not pretend it's anything else.
Let's vote these catalogues off our island. We can vote with our credit cards, every day. Let's vote for real adult bodies in ads for revealing lingerie. Let's give our young girls something better to reach for than becoming some guy's eye candy.