Over the 23 years that the televised, the decreasingly popular, increasingly debated Victoria's Secret Fashion Show has existed, the lingerie company has found myriad ways to capitalize on the allure of the elusive models, aka the Victoria's Secret Angels. You can buy the exact beauty products the models use for the runway show, seek out the same wildly over-the-top hair treatments, and of course cop the lingerie that they wear. And recently Victoria's Secret has tried to cash in on the models' workout routines.
Each year around the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, stories about the models' elaborate and intimidating workout routines inevitably go viral. So, Victoria's Secret launched its own marketing campaign called "Train Like An Angel," which chronicles the models' workouts as they prepare for the show. In addition, Victoria's Secret produced free YouTube workout videos featuring the Angels and their favorite trainers: You can try the HIIT workout that Sadie Newman does with her personal trainer, learn Stella Maxwell's yoga workout, do barre alongside Martha Hunt, and even dress in the same Victoria's Secret workout clothes that the models wear. While the workouts are impressive and feature reputable trainers, they do seem to oversimplify what's attainable for the average person.
In the weeks leading up to this year's Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, controversial comments from the brand's executives made waves. Ed Razek, the chief marketing officer of L Brands, Victoria's Secret's parent company, told Vogue that you won't see plus-size or curve models on the Victoria's Secret runway. When asked whether the company would put more focus on body diversity in the future, Razek told Vogue that the "girls have just continued to get more physically fit," even though they don't necessarily tell the models that they have to work out. Later in the interview, Razek said that the models are "aggressively fit," but they shouldn't be shamed for it, because "this is their profession." (Razek's comments, on top of rapidly evolving ideas about beauty and body standards, may have taken a serious toll: Last night's broadcast netted the lowest ratings ever for the annual special.)
In many ways, the brand's choice to publicize models' workout routines is just an easy way to counteract the stereotype that all models are unhealthy, or have disordered eating habits. But saying that plus-size and curve models don't mesh with the brand's "specific image," while simultaneously insisting that Victoria's Secret models are all just "aggressively fit," reinforces unattainable body standards and implies that there's only one way to look fit and healthy.
For the subset of models who get paid to adhere to Victoria's Secret's unobtainable and unwavering body standards, exercising is just part of the job. "People don't understand that the reason these women are where they're at in life is because they've worked their asses off to get there — but they're also naturally six feet tall and their physique is built for it," says Andrea Rogers, founder of Xtend Barre, who trains Victoria's Secret model Martha Hunt. Compared to her usual non-model clientele, Rogers says that models tend to be hyper-motivated and "extremely focused on their body as their instrument for their work."
In the same way that athletes have to exercise to succeed in their profession, these specific models have to "develop the lifestyle necessary to maintain the physique and body composition necessary to work," says Charles Passler, a chiropractor who is widely known as a "nutrition expert" for Victoria's Secret models, including Bella Hadid and Adriana Lima. "When it comes to any profession, the people that are successful long-term are typically willing to accept the cost required," he says.
Some might argue that promoting the models' specific workout routines and diets is irresponsible, and that the cost of being a Victoria's Secret model is simply too high. That's likely true, but given the recent headlines, the brand doesn't seem to be changing its ethos or "look" anytime soon. Unfortunately, what's often lost in translation is the fact that you can't just copy and paste someone's workout onto your lifestyle and assume you're going to have the same results. What works for one person — whether it's an Angel, your friend, or someone on Instagram — most likely will not work for you.
But at the end of the day, the whole point of the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show is not to promote healthy habits or positive body image, it's to sell lingerie, and to put unattainable otherworldly bodies on display for the rest of the world — after all, they're "Angels," not everyday mortals.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder and are in need of support, please call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. For a 24-hour crisis line, text “NEDA” to 741741.