I, like most women, am not 6 feet tall and 100 lbs. To the women who are: you’re beautiful, don’t deserve to be body-shamed, and have the right to define your womanhood and your feminism any way you choose. Whether you choose to pursue blue-collar work, academia, or modelling, capitalize on your strength, intelligence, or your beauty, feminism is about giving women the choice. But validating the appearance of these women shouldn’t devalue those that are not built the same way. We don’t all look alike and we’re not supposed to, but every year the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show tells us differently, and I have no doubt this year’s broadcast will do the same.
The beauty industry annually rakes in 160 billion dollars by encouraging us to be insecure and then capitalizing on it. This is what the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show does when it employs women of one body type, and exacerbates only one race’s standard of beauty. It’s not about promoting a healthy lifestyle – if it was, we would see female athletes on runways – and it’s certainly not about cross-cultural beauty. Incorporating a few women of colour into the show doesn’t mean beauty standards are no longer Eurocentric; the women of colour selected are still ones deemed beautiful by our White-Eurocentric standards.
Instead of the clothes, these women are the ones examined like pieces of art: objects. Slender models were originally preferred because their small proportions enabled viewers to focus on the clothes. Now we’re focused on who’s wearing the clothes – in the case of the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, we’re focused on 20 women with the same body type – one that is frequently idealized, yet remains highly unattainable.
‘One size fits all’ beauty is a concept we grew up with, it’s made us feel small and unworthy, and it’s not our fault we feel forced to pursue it.
Let’s not forget the men and women making Victoria’s Secret garments; they too are objectified and commodified as part of the global value chain. In 2007, Director of the National Labour Committee (NLC) Charles Kernaghan gave an interview about the NLC’s report on conditions in Victoria’s Secret factories where individuals work 14 hour days, 7 days a week, and are stripped of their passports. Kernaghan at one point called it “slave labour.” Victoria’s Secret not only profits by making women feel objectified and reduced to their appearances, but also on maltreatment of their employees in the manufacturing sector. The show may seem to only harm Western women, but it hasn’t forgotten about the rest of the world either.
So what do we do? Well, we shouldn’t shame women for participating. “One size fits all” beauty is a concept we grew up with, it’s made us feel small and unworthy, and it’s not our fault we feel forced to pursue it. Instead we need to stop shaming women for not looking like models, and start demanding that the beauty industry hire models that represent more women. Victoria’s Secret needs to clean up their act – hire women of colour with body types that are attainable across cultures, and ultimately beautiful, in addition to ending sweatshop labour.
We as consumers have a choice. Boycott Victoria’s Secret – don’t buy their products until they stop capitalizing on our insecurities, and on the blood, sweat, and tears of the global South. Or, simply don’t watch the show. There are plenty of ways to appreciate beauty that are less harmful than the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. I encourage you to pursue ethical brands, and appreciate models and women of different shapes, sizes, cultures, and appearances.
**The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Bull & Bear.