The 2017 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show is set to air Tuesday night, and the glittering wings and gauzy lingerie are guaranteed to get a reaction on social media — just perhaps not the one Victoria's Secret wants.
Every year, the blowout spectacle seems to bring out the worst of insecurities, with viewers taking to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to denigrate their own bodies in the face of the impossibly-toned models, televised in high-definition for an hour. This isn't meant to insult those women, who all work extremely hard to get to where they are, but what's the deal here? In the 20-plus years of the fashion show, there has never been a body on the Victoria's Secret runway that helped to more accurately portray the brand's customer base, which is to say: Not everyone who shops at Victoria's Secret is a lithe size 2.
The brand has made positive strides when it comes to making its runway a better place. This year features the most racially diverse cast in the history of the show, and by centering the focus of its Angels' physiques around the popular #TrainLikeanAngel hashtag, Victoria's Secret is prioritizing health over thinness — at least, to the extent that it gets them a piece of the $179-billion athleisure pie. However, the lingerie giant has shied away from featuring a plus-size model for reasons unknown. As a fan of the brand, and of the show itself, I've been willing to write that off as simply being a symptom of a company running behind the times, as a mega-brand being slow to adapt, as the by-product of a company run by a cis, white man.
But in the face of a rapidly growing movement — and in the face of an inexplicably untapped market — it's increasingly difficult to understand why the brand keeps its blinders to plus size firmly over its eyes. It's not a secret that Victoria's Secret is struggling in sales; parent company L Brand has been suffering flagging numbers for a while now, and viewership for the fashion show has consistently declined year over year. This is purportedly the reason that Victoria's Secret staged the 2017 runway in Shanghai, jumping through serious government hoops and dealing with logistical nightmares in the hopes of targeting China's growing lingerie market.
That all seems so silly when you consider that the plus-size market here at home is growing at twice the rate of its straight size counterpart, taking in some $21.3 billion in 2016. Victoria's Secret's main competitor, Aerie, is eating into its demographic with Photoshop-free ads and #AerieREAL spokesmodels like Iskra Lawrence. It seems so obvious (and much easier than staging a show in Shanghai) to cast a few plus-size models. Even if it were only for the press — and believe me, there would be a ton of press — it would help advance body positivity for the six million-plus viewers of the fashion show.
Plus-size lingerie is a notoriously underserved market, with many smaller, independent brands citing production costs and engineering challenges as roadblocks to offering much wider size ranges. As a mega-company, Victoria's Secret has the resources to overcome those issues; they already have some extended sizing in certain styles, though it's a fairly measly offering. Victoria's Secret also already has an impressive brick-and-mortar footprint, which gives them easy access to all consumers.
So often the excuse is that casting models is about the fantasy, but the thing Victoria's Secret is saying through its casting choices is that the only women worth fantasizing about — for men or women — are tall, slim size 2s. There is nothing wrong with those women, either, but it would not detract from their hard work to include some who fall outside of that tiny range. When your "fantasy" only involves one body type, it leaves everyone else to wonder what they're worth — as they regularly do this time each year.
Maybe Victoria's Secret doesn't feel responsible for the self-esteem of the thousands of girls and women who will tune in Tuesday night. Maybe they shouldn't. But then, its entire marketing scheme is built upon tapping beautiful young women with millions of even younger, highly-impressionable followers. No one is asking Victoria's Secret to give up its bevy of statuesque Angels — but perhaps it is time they consider widening their view of who is worthy to don their lingerie.
Supposedly, the timing wasn't right this year because Victoria's Secret is courting the Chinese market. But when will it be the right time? The bottom line is that it is 2017. Even Vogue has begun to get on-board with diversifying its models. And if you're behind Vogue on the issue of body positivity ... well, let's just say you have some catching up to do.
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