Ever since I was a woman, I have been haunted by angels.
In commercials and on billboards, in the prime-time Victoria’s Secret parade and every time I walked into a mall in the 1990s, I saw them: flat bellies, narrow hips , the toned thighs and incredibly full breasts of the elite models chosen to represent the lingerie brand under the Victoria’s Secret Angels name. In their bras, panties, and elaborate feathered wings, they set a standard that the 99.99% of female model genetics-free women could never achieve.
It was a standard that even the Angels themselves struggled to achieve. Whispers of messy eating and pre-show starvation-level diets sometimes dripped from the sky. But what American girls and women have heard, read or known is nothing compared to what we have seen: on the billboards, on the catwalks, in the catalogs that came to us on a weekly basis. . You could not get away from the Angels any further than you, a mortal, could hope to reach their bodies.
That hasn’t stopped mere mortals from trying: For years, fashion magazines have published articles about journalists attempting one of Angel’s many diets (veteran Angel nutritionist Adriana Lima reportedly asked for 1,500 calories). and two liters of water per day) diets (ballet workouts are apparently popular). Their bodies were the bodies we were all meant to want.
The times have changed. Brands are striving to be more inclusive, offering sizes larger than 12 or 14 and colors in a less narrow range of pink “skin” tones. Victoria’s Secret didn’t follow along and, as a result, started to seem out of touch. The fashion show is no longer airing, after ratings jumped from 10 million in 2010 to 3 million in 2018. And as L Brands, the parent company of Victoria’s Secret, explored a sale last year , she closed hundreds of stores. (He is now reportedly in the process of turning Victoria’s Secret into his own business.)
L Brands also had to scramble its crisis communications teams after several moments of pied-à-bouche: in a 2018 interview with Vogue, then marketing director Ed Razek bluntly claimed that Victoria’s Secret didn’t have the intends to include plus sizes or trans models in her shows. His explanation didn’t help: “Because the show is a fantasy. It’s a special 42-minute entertainment. It is what it is.
There have been reports of a toxic workplace and male executives treating models like their personal toys. And in 2019, it emerged that convicted financier and sex offender Jeffrey Epstein was a longtime friend of L Brands president Leslie Wexner. For years, Mr. Epstein managed Mr. Wexner’s billions and introduced himself as a Victoria’s Secret model scout in order to lure women into hotel rooms. According to women and court records, at least two of these “hearings” ended in assault.
Meanwhile, competitors emerged from all sides, perhaps none as fierce as Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty brand, which debuted in 2018 and proudly showcased the body types Victoria’s Secret had judged apart. of its margins. While VS ignored tall women and threw Angels that were always thin and almost always white, Savage x Fenty offered size 3X panties and 44DDD bras. In the inaugural Savage x Fenty runway show in 2018, model Slick Woods, who was pregnant at the time, paraded in heels and lingerie, then gave birth later that evening.
Shaken by scandals and castigated by critics, Victoria’s Secret announced this week that its angels will be replaced by a group of seven accomplished women called “The VS Collective,” including football star Megan Rapinoe, skier Eileen Gu, the actress Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Paloma Elsesser, a biracial model and advocate for inclusiveness who wears a size 14 (and has been on the Savage x Fenty runways).
“When the world changed, we were too slow to respond,” said Martin Waters, the former head of international affairs at Victoria’s Secret, who became its chief executive in February.
The late about-face is cynical and calculated – a gesture that stinks of despair. It is also important.
As tempting as it may be to want to burn everything down, Victoria and her secrets are likely to endure. It may be a declining brand, but it is still one of the biggest players in the game. In the United States, Victoria’s Secret had a 19% share of the women’s underwear market as of December 2020, according to WWD. This is a significant drop from its peak in 2015, when the company had a 32% market share. It’s also up from its 16% market share in spring 2020, an improvement WWD has hailed as a sign of a comeback. Either way, with over $ 5 billion in annual sales and 32,000 people employed in a global retail network of approximately 1,400 stores, Victoria’s Secret still surpasses $ 150 million in annual revenue. Savage x Fenty.
Yes, there are many truly inclusive lingerie brands out there, some of which have been from the start. But these businesses are not necessarily in your local mall. Their ads don’t run during the Super Bowl. Their billboards aren’t on your face – or your daughter’s face.
The VS collective is way too small, and it’s coming way too late. These are small steps, especially when you compare Victoria’s Secret to other clothing brands that have made much bigger strides forward, like Athleta’s presentation of older models with white hair and Universal’s size range. Standard up to 4XL.
But representation still matters. Seeing yourself – and above all seeing yourself as beautiful and desirable – is important. If Victoria’s Secret new additions mean even a girl feels a little more worthy, then these are steps in the right direction.