Ideological issues in The 2013 Annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show
Victoria’s Secret is a powerhouse lingerie company, known for it’s glitz, glamour, and so-called “sexy” fashions that appeal to the young, flirty, thin female role. Notorious for it’s celebration of what they classify as beautiful bodies, the company is constantly working through ideological issues brought on by their sexually suggestive apparel. Victoria’s Secret has been sexualizing women since the company emerged in 1977 and sex and sexuality are used to court Victoria’s Secrets’ imagined audience by selling the way their products look on beautiful women. The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show challenges the viewer to question the issues of beauty in our society by putting a face to what sexy should look like. This is done by constant representation of beauty norms, female empowerment, and the use of consent in products. Overall, Victoria’s Secret is constantly worried about their image, but mostly concerned with selling product, if they have to use sex and sexuality to be successful, they will. Throughout this blog post, I will be unpacking the dazzling complexities of beauty and sexuality expressed during The 2013 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.
Background of The Annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show
The Annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is one of the most looked-forward-to events of the year. It features their brands of lingerie as well as sleepwear, makeup, and accessories. They also normally debut their most lavish bra that costs up to millions of dollars. In The 2013 Fashion Show, model Candice Swanepoel had the honor and responsibility of wearing their ten million dollar bra.
In order to walk in the fashion show, models have to last though the difficult and political process, in which the producers scout “gorgeous, healthy women”. Some Victoria’s Secret Angels include, Alessandra Ambrosio, Lily Aldridge, Behati Prinsloo, Candice Swanepeol, Adriana Lima, and Cara Delevingne to name a few. The Victoria’s Secret Fashion show is televised by CBS, typically in December, right before the holidays to appeal to all consumers, and promote their product even further during the Christmas season.
Every year, the show has to be better than the previous, constantly competing with the preceding numbers and sales. The numbers behind the 2013 Fashion Show were the best to date. The producers bring in various artists to accompany the models while they walk down the runway. In 2013 the artists were Fall Out Boy, Taylor Swift, A Great Big World, and Neon Jungle. Each song constitutes a different theme that is visible through costumes, set design, and artist’s outfits. The costumes and lingerie featured throughout the fashion show are extremely elaborate, not to mention heavy. Models get the honor of wearing giant angel wings to symbolize their efforts as a Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show Angel. Various wings include devil, feather, lace, etc. which have become symbolic for the brand.
One ideological issue that Victoria’s Secret is constantly working through is beauty norms. The Annual Fashion Show is an infamous event that many women and girls look forward to watching every year. Women every day dream about being something better, something different, or more importantly something they are not. Victoria’s Secret took advantage of women’s fantasies and put a face and body to those hypothetical perfect women. Unfortunately for those dreamers, the Victoria’s Secret model is almost unachievable because they are too perfect, except their trainer will tell you how to get an insane body like the Angels. This article suggests that everyone wants to look just like a model, but the expectations of being just like them are too great for anyone to achieve. No model of Victoria’s Secret wears a size bigger than a 2, this idea does not promote much diversity among their models, or good body image, because the consumers idealize the model’s body, and not their own. There is no room to not be perfect if you are a Victoria’s Secret Angel, because they all look the same. An issue that was present during the fashion show is their lack of diversity among their Angels. For the duration of the entire show, only one black girl is featured, among the 20-40 models selected to walk. They also have a “sexy little geisha” costume featured on their website, worn by a model who is clearly not Asian, and a Geisha is almost a prostitute. This costume makes it feel like Victoria’s Secret is making a mockery of the lack of diversity.
The PINK section of the fashion show features the most conservative pieces because this brand is catered to a younger crowd. Comparing outfits from their PINK theme to any other theme it is clear that they are trying to promote a more conservative stance for younger girls. However this idea conflicts with the rest of the show, which only features racy and revealing outfits/ costumes.
The also obvious model stereotype or norm is that they are not intelligent, however, Victoria’s Secret producers say that they are looking for an angel who is happy, enthusiastic, and bright. They want to combat this stereotype and have their models be seen in the highest light. A cameo featured in the fashion show, questions their attempt to have their models be seen as smart and intelligent because they ask them what they would do stranded on an island. Many of the responses include:
“I would bring… a surfboard…ummm a barbeque”
“a really strong man”
“obviously we need wi-fi?”
Many of the responses were pretty scattered and do not reinforce their intelligence. The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show deals with many different ideological issues, specifically beauty norms and how they are reinforced or questioned throughout the entire show.
Another thing that is constantly being worked though specifically during the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is female empowerment. Critics of the company are quick to say that the way they organize models and set up pictures/ advertisements objectifies women, but during the Fashion Show, the models are always justifying that walking down the runway for Victoria’s Secret is something they have always wanted, and have even dreamed about since they were little. Victoria’s Secret wants to give off the impression that women are there because they want to be, and feel empowered by being a Victoria’s Secret Angel. For example, a women who works for Victoria’s Secret is featured in an interview and says “for us it’s important to find a girl who’s enthusiastic, positive, and always happy, a gorgeous healthy woman”. She gives off the impression that they are looking for average girls, “just like you!”, but as the same 6 foot tall, blonde, white, tan girl walked down the aisle, her statement was continually proved wrong. There are many different scenarios in which Victoria’s Secret makes statements on how to look like their model. During many of the Angel’s interviews during the fashion show, in between themes, many of the models speak to the camera telling the audience how happy they are to be an Angel, making statements like, “I made it”, “one lucky girl”. Such phrases justify that they feel empowered by being an angel, and not objectified like the critics are quick to suggest. Other opportunities to empower the angels include commercials, like this, that feature women as strong, independent, athletic women who men should not mess with. This commercial is exactly what Victoria’s Secret wants their models to feel: empowered.
However, the ideological issue of female empowerment is contested in the way that the producers highlight the relationship between Angel Behati Prinsloo and fiancé Adam Levine (who is sitting in the audience). When Behati walks down the runway we see her look to her fiancé with a questionable look, one may even describe it as a desire for approval? Adam Levine supplies her with an adequate expression, accompanied with applause and cheering. This scene that is reenacted every time she walks down the runways, supporting a claim that females need to please their male counterpart. Another scenario that occurred onstage that negates female empowerment is when Taylor Swift is performing, a model walks by her and Taylor spanks her. This action supports the sexualization of women, and how they are only seen as objects. Throughout the Fashion Show, the actions and responses of many of the models, and the way the camera frames relationships/ interactions question Victoria’s Secrets’ efforts to empower their models
The last ideological issue that Victoria’s Secret is constantly working through, that I looked at while analyzing Victoria’s Secret is the “consent” line. Rape and sexual abuse is definitely not a joking matter, and unfortunately is a very serious issue across the United States especially on college campuses. Victoria’s Secret took tag lines like “no means no” and “ask first” and plastered it on barely-there panties to make money. The irony is not lost on me. Such blatant mockery questions the values and moral set by Victoria’s Secret.