Is This the End for Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show?

Last week, the annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show was filmed in New York City. The show will be broadcast in early December and is expected to reach almost one billion viewers. Like every year, we can expect to see some of the world’s most beautiful models hit the runway. However, while the brand has taken great strides to showcase racial diversity in recent years, the lingerie powerhouse has recently been the target of major criticism for the limited range of body types seen on stage.

By Annie Cooper.

Image Source: Harper’s Bazaar

Since its inception in 1995, the show has seen hundreds of models from across the globe walk the runway. Despite its 23-year run, Victoria’s Secret has never cast a plus sized or gender diverse model. Though the brands limited casting could have, at one point, been chalked up to a large oversight on their part- it was made clear last week that it is in fact a purposeful decision made by the show’s casting directors.

In a recent interview with Vogue, Victoria’s Secret’s Chief Marketing Officer Ed Razek attempted to defend the brand’s exclusivity by describing the runway show as a ‘42-minute fantasy’. “So it’s like, why don’t you do [size] 50? Why don’t you do 60? Why don’t you do 24? It’s like, why doesn’t your show do this?” Razek told Vogue, “Shouldn’t you have transsexuals in the show? No. No, I don’t think we should. Well, why not? Because the show is a fantasy. It’s a 42-minute entertainment special. That’s what it is. It is the only one of its kind in the world, and any other fashion brand in the world would take it in a minute, including the competitors that are carping at us”.

Image Source: Forbes

In response to the question of if he would ever consider hiring plus-sized models, Razek claims that the brand considered a plus-sized show in 2000, but ‘no one had any interest in it, still don’t’. This statement was immediately questioned, with critics pointing out that brands like Aerie, ThirdLove and Savage x Fenty have all marketed themselves on being inclusive for all, and have all seen major success over the past few years.  Though Victoria’s Secret still holds a majority stake of the lingerie industry, their sales have been in steady decline over the past few years with shares of L Brands, Victoria’s Secret’s parent company, dropping 38% as of 2017. Earlier this week, it was reported that the brand’s CEO Jan Singer is also about to depart the company as a result of Victoria’s Secret’s diminishing popularity.

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Though there is nothing wrong with the bodies of the models that do get cast by Victoria’s Secret, the issue is that they are a representation of an extremely small percentage of female body types. Victoria’s Secret models are known for their extreme workout routines and diets, which while admirable, are not representative of the lifestyles of all women. Like Razek stated, the show and by extension it’s models bodies, are part of a fantasy.  However, whether or not this fantasy is healthy is up for debate. In the lead up to the show, models work out multiple times a day and dehydrate their bodies in order to obtain the perfect physique for the runway. While they certainly train like athletes, it’s questionable whether these intense routines are something that the average woman should aspire towards.

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In response to the backlash, Victoria’s Secret released a statement from Razek on Twitter. “My remark regarding the inclusion of transgender models in the Victoria’s Secret Show came across as insensitive,” he wrote. “I apologise. To be clear, we absolutely would cast a transgender model for the show. We’ve had transgender models come to castings… and like many others they didn’t make it.”

Image Source: Vogue

This isn’t the first time Victoria’s Secret has caught fire for refusing to represent all women, and it probably won’t be the last. This is a brand that has built its legacy off of the backs of women, and under the guise of celebrating femininity while simultaneously rejecting the notion that there is more than one kind of woman. In a cultural climate where consumers are begging companies for more diversity and putting their money where their mouth is, it’s unclear what the future will hold for the brand if they don’t respond to public demand.

Victoria’s Secret has monopolized the lingerie industry for two decades now, but if their declining sales are any indicator- women just aren’t responding to the ‘fantasy’ of the brand like they used to. We now have a myriad of different lingerie brands to choose from, many of which cater for women of all shapes and sizes. It’s clear at this stage that diversity for Victoria’s Secret might not just be the right thing, but the smart thing to do for the business.


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