Victoria’s Secret should empower, not insult women

By Opinions Editor

The Internet went into an uproar in late October when Victoria’s Secret unveiled its “Perfect Body” campaign to the world.

The initial advertisement seemed fairly typical: a display of half-naked, very thin models in sultry poses. But what made it different and what enraged many people was the phrase “The Perfect Body” splattered across it.

A petition created by three women in England circulated soon after demanding that Victoria’s Secret apologize for the advertisement and change the phrase “to something that does not promote unhealthy and unrealistic standards of beauty.” The petition surpassed its goal of 1,500 signatures and gained 33,002.

As a result of the petition and the resulting backlash, Victoria’s Secret changed the tagline to “A Body for Everybody” Nov. 6 but did not release a public apology or statement. Although it is great that Victoria’s Secret changed the tagline, the sneaky way it did so was cowardly. It would have been more admirable if Victoria’s Secret CEO Sharon Turney released a statement on the company’s website or social media accounts apologizing for the advertisement.

Instead, Victoria’s Secret continues to react in a way that is only getting the company into more trouble. The company posted a video on its Instagram Nov. 15 featuring model Sara Sampaio discussing her body insecurities. In the video, Sampaio compared her body to model Candice Swanepoel’s, saying, “Not in a million years I’m going to have that body because my bone structure is not built like her amazing…” she then trails off and gestures the shape of Swanepoel’s body.

This video also received criticism, with Jezebel writer Erin Gloria Ryan saying, “The video is packaged as though it’s supposed to encourage women to accept and love themselves, but it’s really just one model talking about how another model is so totally sexy.”

Ryan attacked the Instagram post a bit harshly, but the video does appear disjointed next to the body image issues that average women experience. Sampaio compares her body to another Victoria’s Secret model understanding that she can never have Swanepoel’s “amazing” figure because of their different bone structures. This does not effectively assuage the body insecurities of average women. It is difficult for a woman with a typical body to feel pity for a model who covets another model’s body. The average body measurements of an American woman is about 5’4”, 166 pounds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is quite different from the 5’10” height and below-average weight of a model.

Victoria’s Secret should have instead featured a model who does suffer from body image issues in the Instagram video. All women suffer from some body insecurity, and it would be empowering for a model to confess one of her insecurities. Confessions like these have famously been embraced by supermodel Tyra Banks. Banks has publicly discussed her own body struggles in the fashion industry and the adversity she faced for her figure. In January, she joined the Fight Fat Talk campaign, which encourages women to stop shaming themselves with phrases such as “I wish I had a flatter tummy.” If all models openly discussed their struggles with their bodies the way Banks does, there would likely be fewer women struggling with negative self-perception. Celebrities and models set trends and are adored in American culture—what they think and say has a lot of sway.

Furthermore, there are a multitude of studies proving that advertisements of thin models influence a woman’s body image, and body image issues have only increased with the advent of social media. A 2013 study by Claremont McKenna College found a correlation between the increased use of social media and a rise in body dissatisfaction and eating disorders among college-age women. The study also compared how ideal beauty standards have changed. Today’s models are underweight but models decades ago were not expected to be as thin.

Victoria’s Secret should break the norm of typical models in our society. Instead of hiring models that have the same tall, thin figures, Victoria’s Secret should also celebrate women of different shapes. This may be overreaching but it is time for Victoria’s Secret to adapt to the bodies of real life.

Victoria’s Secret has the ability to influence how young women see their bodies. The company is widely regarded as one that encapsulates what it means to be a sexy woman. Celebrating women of all shapes and sizes will not only help Victoria’s Secret successfully come back from its “Perfect Body” campaign flop, but, it will also help with the epidemic of negative self-perception in American culture.