On December 8th prepare yourself for flurries of Tweets and Facebook statuses because it’s once again time for the annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.
Victoria’s Secret is certainly no stranger to being accused of body shaming women. Last year their Perfect Body Campaign received so much backlash that the company changed it to “A Body for Every Body.”
Just last month, news sites started reporting that although women’s breasts have gotten progressively bigger over the last 50 years, the breasts of the models walking the runway on the show have gotten smaller.
Clearly, there’s a big difference between the Victoria’s Secret models and the average American woman, but is this difference necessarily a negative thing? We set out to find out how the Victoria’s Secret Fashion show makes college women feel about their bodies and the results were enlightening.
First, we’ve gotta lay down some background about what this show actually is. The show began in 1995 as a simple no-frills fashion show. It has since evolved into the spectacle it is today. In fact, today it is less of a fashion show in the traditional sense, and more of a performance where popular musicians and celebrities join VS “angels” (models) on the runway.
This years line up includes Selena Gomez, Ellie Goulding and The Weekend. You can check out more info about the models on this site.
A lot of the women I spoke to expressed that the main reason they watch the show is because they find it empowering. The models are “displaying their confidence,” one woman explained, and “it’s just fun to watch.” Another interviewee agreed, “Those girls are up there having the times of their lives, their confidence is contagious and it makes me want to be bolder in my life.”
Other women like watching the show because it’s, well, a show. “It makes me feel festive,” one woman laughed. Many others commented on how the models clearly have personalities, “they’re not just pieces of meat modelling clothes, it’s a celebration of individuals, maybe not totally representative, which is problematic, but definitely celebrating the individual.”
“I love watching all the women be women…[The show] does it’s job because it makes me want to go buy fun lingerie.”
Overall, many of the women I spoke to saw the show as a celebration of womanhood, a fun distraction from the stresses of college life.
Not everyone sees the show as a celebration. For many college women it is a painful reminder of a beauty standard they just can’t attain. As one woman concisely put it “It makes me feel really shitty.” Another said, “It makes me want to do some crunches.”
Others expressed how the show is not representative of real body types that they see every day. For example one woman explained, “I am reminded by it that I cannot, in fact, buy VS bras because they do not come in my size.”
For some women, the fashion show exacerbated body image issues such as eating disorders. One woman said, “As someone going through disordered eating for all of high school and dealing with it now, I would watch [the show] and hold myself to that standard. I think on one occasion I looked at myself after watching it and actually went and cried myself to sleep that night.” However, the one of the same women who struggled with these issues felt it important to point out that the models “Work really hard for their bodies… They don’t all starve themselves.”
Another woman had a similar story, “I have battled with nasty body dysmorphia since I was 8 years old and realized that when I sat down my stomach wrinkled.” She continued, “The show is meant to tap into any minor insecurity a girl has about her natural body and augment it, picking at her imperfections until she cracks. Am I being dramatic? Maybe. But for many girls this is real, they associate their self-worth with their size.”
“The fashion show may be entertaining, and sure I bought 3 bras online while watching last year, but it stands for all the wrong things.”
Overall, the show just adds to the pressure that many women feel from songs, TV shows, movies, commercials and other media to achieve society’s unattainable image of a beautiful woman.
Is it good or bad?
So is the show good for college women or bad? Based on the thoughts of many college women, the answer is: both. The show is a celebration of womanhood and a performance by strong women who have worked hard to attain their looks and confidence. However at the same time it is incredibly unrealistic.
The show is another example of mass media propagating an impossible beauty standard. One study states that 74.4% of college women with normal weights think about their bodies “all the time” or “frequently.” Watching seemingly impossibly beautiful women parade across a stage in elaborately ornate lingerie probably doesn’t help.
I don’t think the show should be taken off the air, but maybe Victoria’s Secret should consider hiring models that are more representative of the women they are trying to sell their products to. Perhaps the show could be even more of a celebration if the women watching could see women that look like their friends, their coworkers, classmates, sisters and most of all themselves, up there in those wings.
I’ll end with the words of one of the last women I spoke to, “We are all beautiful.”