If you were
alive on the internet at any point yesterday, you heard about the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. It started in the morning — first sneak peeks, trends from past years, then predictions and follow-along guides. By the afternoon, people were posting photos of their viewing parties on Snapchat and casting their votes for favorite Angel. By evening, practically everyone on my feed was counting down the minutes. My whole news feed so far today is best looks and favorite moments. And me? I was (and still am) secretly hating the whole thing.
In theory, I understand the spectacle. The VS Fashion Show is, for most people, pure entertainment, rather than something to aspire to. Viewers in and out of the fashion industry maintain a tongue-in-cheek perspective; they tune in, appreciate the always-outstanding concert and general insanity (I see you, Selena Gomez), and comment on whichever It Girls are leading the pack. I mean, who among us didn’t see that Gigi-Kendall moment coming? The show is the perfect opportunity to celebrate bodies, pop culture, and pageantry. And considering the rah-rah version of feminism that’s so popular today, it almost feels like a required-viewing girl-power moment.
But I can’t seem to get past how shitty the whole thing makes me feel. While my friends and coworkers spent last night Snapchatting the show, posting their behind-the-scenes Instagrams, and cheering from the comfort of their couches, I elected to watch this week’s episode of Saturday Night Live. I couldn’t bring myself to sit through a literal parade of “flawless” women in multi-million-dollar lingerie costumes. It made me angry to think about. Remember the VS “every body” campaign? Remember this piece of insane retouching? How is it that in 2015, 6.5 million people tune into something that celebrates one body type that’s virtually unattainable, sponsored by a brand that has so blatantly made other women feel inadequate?
On the flip side, I feel ashamed of my aforementioned anger because, well, aren’t I supposed to be a feminist? Shouldn’t I love my body unconditionally? Shouldn’t I be above skinny-shaming and instead choose to cheer on my fellow woman? How is it that I can look down on something celebratory of my sex with such irrational and jealous frustration? I feel stuck between a rock (my disdain of and displeasure with Victoria’s Secret) and a hard place (my understanding and interpretation of what it means to be a feminist).
My boyfriend — voice of reason that he is — calmly pointed out to me and my conflicting attitudes that looking at attractive people is objectively enjoyable. It’s one big, beautiful party, and that’s why my friends were able to participate in the extravaganza without thinking about guilt and feminist opinions. The VS Fashion Show is fun, and that’s just objectively true. However, I think my issue stems from the fact that our definition of “attractive people” is pretty heavily skewed in one direction, and that Victoria’s Secret capitalizes on that. Meanwhile, Aerie, a direct competitor of VS, made the almost-definitely-not-coincidental decision to post this photo right smack in the middle of the VS show’s live broadcast. Aerie’s move away from Photoshop was very public and widely lauded, despite the fact that most of its models didn’t "need" retouching to begin with. However, yesterday's image was an especially strong departure from the VS standard (and the model, to no one’s surprise, looked incredibly beautiful and sexy). I think it’s safe to say that Aerie intended to grab the attention and support of VS critics. Lane Bryant jumped on that same bandwagon, and I ate it up.
I know that part of this is just my insecurity. I’m 5’1, have no abs to speak of, and I haven’t worked out regularly since high school. It’s personally validating for me to see brands work with models who look more like me, and it’s easy to get irrationally jealous of women who look like Miranda Kerr — despite my full awareness that she and the other VS models are more like avatars than role models to realistically aspire to. But even still, this feels like something I should keep secret, since I also believe in the importance of self-love and positive body image; shouldn’t I be making every effort not to feel negative about others’ bodies? In that way, I’ve come to resent the VS show even more for making me feel like a self-conscious hypocrite.
As much as I’m all for raising other women up (and empowering each other to be the best we can be, no matter what we love, wear, or do), I think I personally need to see more diversity before I’m ready to tune in. For the same reason so many people have mixed feelings about Taylor Swift’s squad, this show just doesn’t feel real to me. While I know it’s supposed to be campy fantasy, it still feels exclusionary and weird. What Victoria’s Secret puts on the runway is such a tiny sliver of what we look like, and it just makes me want a show in which we see more women of color, more body types, and more visions to celebrate. Isn’t it more fun when everyone can feel included? Maybe next year we’ll see VS taking additional steps forward — after all, there’s no downside to that.
In the meantime, you can find me wrestling with my feelings and buying Aerie in bulk.