Victoria’s Secret and the Reality of the Body Diversity Movement

There is something so gorgeously meta about a female supermodel stepping down as a Victoria’s Secret angel in the name of feminism.

And as a gig considered ‘opportunity of a lifetime’ in their line of work, Karlie Kloss’ decision to give up her wings made media waves in 2015.

Karlie Kloss for the 2018 Swavorski campaign.

On the one hand, it shows this kind of self-awareness that most models would fail to speak up about. After all, the modelling industry thrives off insecurity and a sort of enhanced egoism the media has welcomed with open arms. 

On the other end, however, it unearths the cruel reality that there is still much more to be fixed. In truth, the fashion industry has not changed as much as it should have- even after the dangerous ‘Heroin Chic’ fad of the 90s. To this day, around 30 million people struggle with an eating disorder in the U.S. alone, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (NAANAD).

This produces a disappointing conundrum. After all, while society is living in one of the best times for body diversity, it also heralds the toxicity of the impossible standards strewn across social media. The whole concept of the ‘Instagram-worthy’ body, for instance, lends itself far too much to the same mindset that are pro-anorexia.

Victoria’s Secret’s controversial 2014 campaign, originally titled ‘The Perfect “Body”‘

Several campaigns calling out brands for their ‘body type bias’ have since been launched. Last December, women of several body types donned nude garments and boldly posed in front of a Victoria’s Secret outlet in London. 

The event was a collaborative effort between NüNUDE and Love Disfigure. NüNUDE is an underwear company proactively working to offer products for women of all shapes and sizes, while Love Disfigure is an advocacy organization dedicated to supporting those living with bodily disfigurements.

“It is important to express that we are not forcing anyone in an angry way to be inclusive,” NüNUDE founder Joanne B. Morales stated in an interview following the campaign. “We are simply spreading the message that fashion can be used as a powerful, influential tool that can inspire women to feel positively about themselves by representing more women.”

The women of the London campaign, standing hand-in-hand

The protest, held mere days after the 2018 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, was an open and direct calling-out of the lingerie company’s Chief Marketing Officer Ed Razek. Razek had told Vogue that transgender models weren’t welcome to walk in the show- rightfully sparking outrage.

Victoria’s Secret has always been under fire for promoting unhealthy beauty standards, but the comments made by executives like Razek only solidify these claims. It is clear that the brand is only looking for one kind of model: tall, skinny, cisgender, and white. 

A majority of Victoria’s Secret models fall under this closed-off category, and the same can be said of the rest of the fashion industry. If not white, most models strive to emulate white features- or are praised once they make the proper efforts to change. If not tall, skinny, or able-bodied, models fall under a sort of ‘niche’ category. Too exotic to be mainstream, but included nonetheless. Why? So several members of the fashion industry can pat themselves on the back for progressive thinking.

There are several reasons Karlie Kloss’ sudden departure was so important as an act of defiance, but they all narrow down to two things- humility and growth. In stepping down and saying she did not want to ‘send the wrong message to women about beauty’, Kloss acknowledges that making money off of one’s beauty is a privilege. She internalizes that the conventional standards she benefits from disparages others, and takes the bigger picture into account.

Supermodels are not gods. To be a god in the context of the fashion world, a model would need to be virtually ‘immortal’. They would need to be ever-adaptable, always on top of the latest trends. And when your body is judged against an ever-changing checklist of standards, no one ever wins. 

The models of the 2018 Victoria’s Secret fashion show

Models are being stripped of their lifelines, constantly striving to beat their bodies into shapes that may be unnatural to them. And even after attaining the bodies that will keep them financially secure, companies abuse them with pounds of photoshop. 

There is nothing beautiful about this.

With all that has been said, diversity within the modelling industry is definitely improving. But change is coming very slowly. Western beauty standards have certainly been more flexible than their Eastern counterparts, but they are still hyper-focused on the skinny, white woman. Change cannot come if society continues to block opportunities for transgender and gender non-conforming individuals. Change cannot come if the disabled and neuro-divergent are treated as a niche demographic. And change certainly cannot come if the modelling industry continues to claim that a size 0 has more worth than a size 12. 

In the end, representation is a great step forward, but it is not enough. Models, conventional and unconventional alike, need to stand up against the toxic expectations that divide them. They must continue to show companies like Victoria’s Secret the error of their ways, or risk perpetuating their toxic beliefs. Only then will the modelling industry truly champion body diversity.