The Fall Of Victoria’s Angels: Why The Power Of Inclusivity (And Rihanna) Is Winning
By Elisheba Akalawu
The allure of the heavenly woman, a supposed angel on earth, is an unattainable vision for most. Even the models. Once seen as the pinnacle of a model’s career, an invitation to Victoria’s Secret fashion show and having the honor to wear a pair of luxuriously designed and decadent wings, was a way of securing a career in the world of fashion modeling. An honor afforded only to 20-40 of the top models, with previous angels such as Tyra Banks, Gisele Bündchen, Adriana Lima and Candice Swanepoel becoming some of the highest-paid models in the world, the show seriously lacked in more ways than one, making its fall from grace totally unsurprising and wholly necessary.
It can be agreed that Victoria’s Secret fashion show is one thing that should have been canceled a long time ago. The internet is rife with controversy as to why the show, which holds an ‘iconic’ status in pop culture, has been canceled after 18 years of national broadcast. With first broadcast numbers plummeting from 12 million in 2001 to a mere 3.3 million in 2018, sales have dropped 7% in the last year and the reporting of 53 stores closing their doors across the US, it’s clear that the market is changing and so are consumers. In a cultural climate that is body inclusive and all about pushing diverse and realistic images of what beauty is, there just isn’t room for the type of beauty standard that Victoria’s Secret show perpetuates.
When 12 year-old-me thinks of Victoria’s Secret, the images that come to mind are blonde hair, blue eyes, 5’ something with a flat stomach, legs for days and thigh gaps, all neatly packaged in white tanned skin. This image for a long time was extremely normalized on the social media platforms I was frequently using, such as Tumblr and Youtube, and had an adverse effect on the way I viewed my body. Memes that promoted self-imposed body-shaming did little to alleviate the anxieties pertaining to my self-image, and it was a seemingly universal feeling, considering the sheer number of self-deprecating memes that plagued the internet around the time the show aired.
Fast-forward 10 years and we’re now in a social landscape where #selfcare is just as important as brushing your teeth in the morning. There is no longer space on these platforms to make light of feeling overweight and depressed, instead, our intentions have shifted to make people feel included and accepted. No matter your gender, size, race, or sexual orientation, there is a community to be found in our online spaces, and although it has its issues, it can make people comfortable expressing themselves. These communities, especially in the last few years, have been a safe haven for the most silenced groups in society, a source of love and support, and a way for many to claim back their personal power.
Women and all those that identify, have struggled for millennia to take back power against a society that is quick to tell us how to act and what we should look like on and offline. This constant pressure to fit the mold of what the ‘ideal’ woman is, comes with a multitude of negative emotions that can result in poor mental health and low self-esteem. Oftentimes these ideals are the furthest thing from reality and usually serve only to appease the male gaze. Unfortunately, this is a message that Victoria’s Secret fashion show and the brand has traditionally pushed to their audience; the ex-Chief Marketing Officer Ed Razek, in a 2018 interview with Vogue, justified that the reason Victoria’s Secret would never cast a transgender or plus-sized model is because “the show is a fantasy.”
Male gaze aside, it’s apparent that Victoria’s Secret portrayal of what makes a woman desirable has simply become outdated. Where, for many women, Victoria’s Secret was the epitome of sexiness and the infamous Bombshell bra the answer to all your problems, the modern woman is choosing to no longer buy into the fantasy. What should make a woman feel sexy is being comfortable in her own skin because she embraces it and owns it, which is perhaps why more women are moving toward brands that champion the female body in all its wonderful forms, is comfortable and looks amazing on all body types!
Enter the likes of Aerie, Chromat, and Rihanna’s beautifully crafted Savage x Fenty lingerie line, which has all proven a sexy woman deserves more than a lavishly designed bra. Whether you have cellulite, are pregnant, top-heavy or bottom-heavy, are an amputee, disabled or trans, your body as a woman should be celebrated and adorned in underwear and clothing that makes you feel that extra bit special. It’s not rocket science that real, everyday women just want to see themselves in ad campaigns and social media as a norm, and not a token. It’s becoming increasingly normal to see that there is no definition of what a ‘perfect’ body is, and that lingerie or bikinis aren’t just made for the bodies of 5’11 models.
Not that Victoria’s Secret was ever a poster brand for what inclusivity and diversity stand for, apparent in the fact that only four models of color have donned the ‘Fantasy Bra’ – regarded as the highest honor of a VS angel – and introduced their first model of Asian descent in 2009, some 10 years after the inaugural show took place in 1995, they have proven that no matter how successful you are, resting on your laurels is dangerous. As the leading underwear brand in the US, it speaks volumes that it’s taken almost two decades for them to realize that their brand message needs evolving, yet it took Rihanna only one attempt at a lingerie line and show to completely blow the market up and offer what every woman wanted!
The fantasy that Victoria’s Secret strived to push was damaging the way women saw themselves, and thankfully as consumers, we have woken up so that their standard for what sexy is has no place in our culture today. Inclusivity and diversity are not just buzzwords anymore, as consumers we are actively looking for brands to embody these concepts through and through. So, while everyone finally starts to figure out their sh*t, I will gladly keep giving all my coins to Rihanna.