Victoria’s Secret is Out in the Open

Content Warning: 

The following article discusses instances of body shaming, sexual harrasment, pornography, objectification of people along with racism and transphobia. 

Fashion is the facet of life that adjures high scrutiny because, for many people, their self-esteem and confidence have a lot to do with how they seem to materialize. Fashion is an aesthetic expression that is ever-changing but oft repeating. Fashion has always fascinated and has been ingrained in the psyche of young minds. 

America’s top lingerie brand, Victoria’s secret known for its fashion show, an annual lingerie runway that showcased models as its secret angels, was once the most-watched runway show and the highlight of the year. Now its popularity has been downsizing rapidly due to being under scrutiny and receiving backlash from the netizens, which ultimately resulted in them getting cancelled in 2019. If we take a deeper look inside the controversies and criticisms, sexual harassment, racism, body image norms, and transphobia were a few of the reasons that led to its downfall.

Although the show has been running since the 20th century, the problems began back from their initial years. The first such case was recorded in the early 2000s where its broadcasting agency ABC had received complaints from National Organization for Women claiming it to be a “Soft – Core Porn Infomercial”. In some shows which were aired ABC had to blur out the screen, especially on sheer lingerie worn by models as it was cited as pornographic, which resulted in the company setting the parental guidelines rating of age 14+. This was the beginning of its scandalous journey.

Not only the spectators of the show, but the models were also not happy with the way they were being treated. The culprit behind the unhappiness of these glamourous models was none other than the top executive of the brand- Ed Razek, the Chief Marketing Officer. He was continuously subjected to harassment allegations by its models for decades. From trying to kiss models to asking them to sit on his lap and touch their crotch, he succeeded in creating an empire of misogyny. Any woman who tried to take a stand for herself faced repercussions or was silenced. An employee named ‘Monica Mitro’ who was a high-ranking executive of the company finally gained the courage to file a complaint in 2019 to fight against the verbal abuse she had been suffering by Razek for years. In return, for getting support and encouragement from the co-workers and company she found out she had been locked out of the company and was on administration leave. Disheartened by the decision made, she had no option but to take legal action much against her dismissal. Many believed it to be a retaliatory action for filing a complaint. 

The complaints were not only for pornography and harassment. Victoria’s Secret has faced numerous accusations of racism and discrimination by both managers and employees. Even after several apologies, such instances prevailed. This resulted in them settling cases amounting to $12 million. The company has repeatedly been criticized for appropriating designs of other cultures. Mainly emphasizing the minorities and the black cultures in their designs which made people believe them to be mocking their ethnicities. The outrage was so magnificent that the models had to apologize on behalf of the company for culture appropriations. 

When they thought things were going better with the company and the brand, a sudden bomb dropped on their shoulders. The chief marketing officer made a controversial comment when asked about including transgender and plus-size women, stating that the show is ‘a fantasy’. This one statement was just enough to make the readers rage with fury, especially fellow models, including transgender model Carmen Carrera, current and former Victoria’s Secret Angels Lily Aldridge and Karlie Kloss, and model Kendall Jenner. The aftermath, resulted in the brand hiring the first openly transgender Brazilian model Valentina Sampaio.

We still remember going to the VS store and not being able to find the appropriate sizes there. The simple reason being, they didn’t produce sizes for all body types. And that doesn’t just mean plus size women, but all women that didn’t suit the cultural ideology of sexual desirability for straight men. People of all sizes didn’t have the chance to shop the suitable lingerie, thus showcasing an ideology that it probably wasn’t made for them. There are so many different kinds of bodies that needed their products but they failed to showcase people in everyday bodies and instead, only focused on the people whose proportions are unattainable to the maximum population. The fact that they only made lingerie that would fit the ‘angel’ body type set a standard for unrealistic beauty and took a toll on the confidence of many women.

Such incessant treatment toward women made them feel guilty in the eyes of the public which occasioned the devaluation of the brand. They are on the verge of being outcasted for being a sexist company resulting in closing down their doors permanently. However, Victoria’s Secret has been making an effort to resuscitate its dying image by captivating a new set of audience. It has been undergoing a massive rebranding, eradicating its concept of winged angels and no longer fantasizing the unrealistic beauty standards. Now, it’s aiming to give a rich cross-cultural experience and a deeper understanding of the fashion panorama much necessitated for international exposure by aiming it through female empowerment. For this, they have collaborated with Victoria’s Secret Global Fund for Women’s Cancers and VS Collective, the latter of which will feature spokeswomen including soccer star Megan Rapinoe, trans model Valentina Sampaio, soon-to-be Olympic skier Eileen Gu, and actor Priyanka Chopra Jonas. To carve a niche for themselves again in the fashion world and being the celebrated leaders they once used to be they sure are gruelling hard. Only time will tell whether this attempt to revamp themselves was a golden ticket to heaven or an invitation to hell.

Nitya Agarwal

Rashi Surana

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