Is this the only way to be beautiful? Sexualizing Women and the Influence of the VS Fashion Show

Mirriam Webster defines sexualization as deriving one’s value from their sexual appeal or behaviour, while excluding other characteristics. The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is a major corporation which has utilized the sexualization of women to construct their brand. These models have been turned into “sex-objects” for men and women everywhere. Wilhoit (2013) discusses Victoria’s Secret’s recently launched line of products targeting teen girls which encourages sex appeal. The campaign features the slogan, ‘Bright Young Things,’ and is aimed at 15 to 22 year olds, according to the Victoria’s Secret website. This slogan can be considered problematic, dehumanizing and sexualizes young women, because it refers to young women and teens as ‘things’. Advertisements for this new line features young looking models who are inadequately portrayed in provocative poses, which is sexualizing young women everywhere (Wilhoit, 2013). Recent Victoria’s Secret advertisements target young teens, promoting underwear that have phrases such as “Feeling Lucky” and “Call Me”. (Cole, 2013). These ads are influencing girls to sexualize themselves and this new line of clothing and promotion is sending a problematic message to youth worldwide. According to Wilhoit (2013), contemporary society views the most important attribute of women as their sexuality, rather than their intelligence and personality. The Victoria’s Secret advertising campaign adopts this misconception with its sexualized portrayal of women. Recently the show has been sexualizing adult and teen women more and more every year with their newly introduced promotional videos and photo-shoots (Harrington, 2015). Kite et al. (2013) discussed how the brand portrays that power comes from enhancing, fixing, and flaunting one’s bodies which can be seen as an issue, because it relies on women thinking beautiful and sexy is thin, tall and young. Valenti (2008) suggested that women have been viewed as living in tempting bodies for men, which has been used to justify the problematic social control of the population for a long time and is demonstrated in the Victoria Secret brand.

Victoria’s Secret sells their ideal version of femininity in their yearly shows, as well as advertisements leading up to the show. Victoria’s Secret’s marketing plan hinges on fantasy: the idea of promoting images that women should “aspire” to be. (Andrews, 2015). Edwards (2010) claimed that their lack of racial diversity has been demonstrated year after year, as well as the problematic way they differentiated and sexualized various races in their brand. She discussed that for years, the business refused to use non-white models in their show, and in their ads because they were not viewed as societies “picture perfect” runway model icons. If they did, models were often used to promote animal prints and African-themed garments (Edwards, 2010). He also discussed how when African American women were introduced to the show, one of their first segments was called “Wild Things,” and they had to wear tribal body paint and African wraps. The way the brand sexualized these women was significantly different then how they portrayed white women. This also demonstrates how the show disrespected and generalized different cultures and represented them inaccurately in their costumes for the show. White women in the show wore angel items and the black women were represented based off of their skin color. As well, all of the main Victoria’s Secrets angels are white and have always been. This shows the current and long lasting barrier and lack of diversity because only 30% of models in the show are from minorities (Builder 2015). If this continues, young girls will begin to feel that they are less desired due to their skin tone and when they are desired, a woman of that race is wearing sexual outfits based off of their specific culture.

The Victoria’s Secret model’s photos are promoted everywhere and do not accurately represent all shapes and sizes of women, and one might say Victoria’s Secret works within a very narrow range of unrealistic silhouettes (Brakebill, 2014). Christine (2014) found that 83% of adolescent girls read fashion magazines every week. “Girls are being taught to obsess over their appearance, their weight, and whether their bodies are “good enough.”” (Christine, 2014). The average woman is 5’4″ tall, and weighs 166 lbs. In comparison, the average model is 5’10” tall and weighs only 107 lbs (Christine, 2014). Studies claim that women feel pressured to be beautiful by the age of 14 and by age 29, that number increases to 90 percent, which means girls may turn into their own worst beauty critics (Granja-Sierra, 2013). This intensifies the pressure to achieve an unrealistic body, and is an underlying cause of various health issues. Most girls are left with mixed reactions to the images they see on the TV screen and computer, and compare themselves to the models, so women feel even more pressure to attain that ideal body image. It is suggested that the sexualizing of women has negative consequences on one’s ability to develop a healthy sexual image. After women see advertisements such as the ones from the Victoria’s Secret Fashion show, they could try to copy them (Stanley, 2009). He also suggested that due to more vulnerability from copying the way these models look and dress, there could be more rape cases in our society. The teenage pregnancy rate in the United States is three to ten times higher than in other industrialized nations (Conlon, 2006). “As a society, we need to replace all of these sexualized images with ones showing girls in positive settings, ones that show the uniqueness and competence of girls,” (Dr. Zurbriggen, 2007). “The goal should be to deliver messages to all adolescents that lead to healthy sexual development.” Milestone et al. (2012) stated that women in popular culture are scrutinized in terms of the size and shape of their bodies every day due to how society views a women’s body as “beautiful”, like the Victoria’s Secret angels. The beauty ideal is narrow and women are expected to compensate for their own appearance deficiencies by using makeup and fashion to live up to societies standards (Milestone et al. 2012).

Therefore, it can be seen how the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show sexualizes women of all races in different ways and negatively influences women worldwide.

Literature Cited

Andrews, J. C. (2015, December 7). Why we deserve more diversity on the Victoria’s Secret Runway | Teen Vogue. Retrieved January 31, 2016, from http://www.teenvogue.com/story/victorias-secret-fashion-show-diversity

Brakebill, R. (2014, March 3). Victoria’s Secret: Sexualizing and exploiting women. Retrieved January 31, 2016, from http://www.thebray.com/opinion/victoria-s-secret-sexualizing-and-exploiting-women/article_62fb9bf4-a356-11e3-b74f-001a4bcf6878.html

B.R. (2013, August 08). Victoria’s Secret war on women. Nothing sexy about tt. Retrieved January 31, 2016, from http://www.beautyredefined.net/victorias-secret-war-on-women/

Christine, R. (2014, March 19). The average woman vs. the average model. Retrieved January 31, 2016, from http://thoughtfulwomen.org/2014/03/19/average-woman-vs-average-model/

Cole, A. (2013, April 24). How Victoria’s Secret is trying to turn your teenage daughter into a sex object. Retrieved January 31, 2016, from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2314367/How-Victorias-Secret-trying-turn-teenage-daughter-sex-object.html

EDWARDS, J. (2010, December 8). Fashion’s race problem is back: Victoria’s Secret relegates black models to tribal skit. Retrieved January 31, 2016, from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/fashions-race-problem-is-back-victorias-secret-relegates-black-models-to-tribal-skit/

Granja-Sierra, V. (2013, December 10). Why the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is damaging to a woman’s psyche. Retrieved January 31, 2016, from http://elitedaily.com/women/victorias-dirty-little-secret/

Herrington, C. (2015, December 9). Lingerie expert: Here’s the problem with the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. Retrieved January 31, 2016, from http://fusion.net/story/243216/lingerie-expert-victorias-secret-fashion-show-models/

Newsom, J. S. (2013, May 4). The problem with Victoria’s Secret’s marketing. Retrieved January 31, 2016, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jennifer-siebel-newsom/the-danger-in-victorias-secrets-marketing_b_3024702.html

Press, W. (2007, November 30). Sexual Exploitation: Victoria Secret Campaign. Retrieved January 31, 2016, from https://victoriasecret1.wordpress.com/

Stanley, M. (2009, July 13). How Teenagers Consume Media: The report that shook the City. Retrieved January 31, 2016, from http://www.theguardian.com/business/2009/jul/13/teenage-media-habits-morgan-stanley

Victoria’s Secret Victoria’s Secret “Bright Young Things” Ad: A Negative Representation of Women’s Sexuality in Fashion/Advertisements. (2015). Retrieved January 31, 2016, from https://womensexualityinpopculture.wordpress.com/victorias-secret/

Wilhoit, S. (2013, October 23). Tell Victoria’s Secret to Stop Sexualizing Teens. Retrieved January 31, 2016, from https://forcechange.com/61532/tell-victorias-secret-to-stop-sexualizing-teens/

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3 comments

  1. sydfed · February 1, 2016

    word count: 1023

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  2. keaaton · February 8, 2016

    I completely agree with Sydney’s overall point in her blog post. My thesis is in close relation with hers, and I would just like to reiterate it. Women from all around the world are being negatively influenced by the VSFS due to the thin frames and beautiful looks that the models in the show have. These types of bodies put false hopes in the minds of women who watch this show, and they set nearly impossible expectations to look like them. Sydney also discussed how there is an extreme lack in diversity in race amongst the models who participate in the show. I agree with Sydney’s opinions on this, and I think that the show certainly needs to add more variety in terms of race. I found it interesting that the show only added African American women to the event in the last few years, and found it even more interesting that the shows creators would make these women participate in themes that the creators assumed were of African American culture.

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  3. ruthealack · February 8, 2016

    The point that stood out for me personally was how women in the Victoria Secret Fashion Show are in comparison with “things” and not seen as human at all but a mere item. I never had this thought on my own but now it being relayed through a analysis I see more clearly the motive of what Victoria Secret is trying to accomplish by presenting their product and apparel in this manner. These are not women, women are humans who have unique characteristics as cliche as it sounds. The fashion show manages to make these women so immaculately sculpted that they no longer contain a variety of so called womanly features. They turn into part of the product. There is no woman wearing that bra but a calculated and pined over object. The models are altered to fit the clothes, not the normal sense that clothes are altered to fit the woman. This contributes to the grand scheme of things that women are not objects and should not be selected based off who the product will look best on.

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