Photo by Justin Bishop
Cassie Yusofi – MANILA – Oh the dreaded day that my newsfeed is flooded with women in skimpy outfits, you’d almost think it’s Halloween, but nope – it’s the famed Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. Wings, lace and legs for days – the magic formula that VS has managed to pull off for years, putting Razek in the Forbes list of 1 out 5 most important people in modeling in 2007 for his “talent” of handpicking the models for the show for the last 15 years. It must be very difficult for him to choose out of thousands of gorgeous girls that crave the limelight.

Some of my friends are very into the countdown, the show, the performances planned, and of course the models that represent possibly 0.5% of women out in the world. For years feminists have requested more diversity, more body types, more… reality basically. Instead we are each year presented with quite the same kind of setup as previous years and still, nearly 500 million people tune in to watch it. The New York Times in its article (2015) describes the VS show as being great at catching people’s attention and nothing more – it has done nothing to move the female identity forward.

But when you are in the position to grab that many people’s attention at once, doesn’t that give you a certain responsibility for women in general, given the fact that it’s completely driven by women’s bodies? And should the VS show be held accountable for the image that it projects into the screens of millions of households and into the minds of vulnerable young teens? Yes the shows are supposed to be just a spectacular event – but aren’t women more than just limbs, faces and boobs?

But when you are in the position to grab that many people’s attention at once, doesn’t that give you a certain responsibility for women in general, given the fact that it’s completely driven by women’s bodies?

Online you can find many opinions on it. Even within feminists there are those that encourage and celebrate it and those that despise it. On the one hand, have we really worked this hard for female equality to be reduced to strutting around in underwear and be proud of it? But on the other hand, isn’t feminism about the choice and freedom to do what you want as women?

I have two arguments on this ‘choice’ perspective. Firstly: is that what goes through the mind of nearly 70% of girls aged 10 to 18 who said that magazines have an impact on their concept of a perfect body? The Huffington Post wanted to know how much responsibility the fashion industry has on creating eating disorders. They quote CFDA CEO Steven Kolb who acknowledges that Fashion Week has become a powerful voice and the consequences of the messages that it sends to millions around the world should not be underestimated.

On the one hand, have we really worked this hard for female equality to be reduced to strutting around in underwear and be proud of it? But on the other hand, isn’t feminism about the choice and freedom to do what you want as women?

In general the consequences of the show are either not looked at all by the massive amount of fans it has garnered (of which it is probably safe to say at least 70% are teens) or put in spotlight by individuals who are subsequently heckled, as the fabulous Catherine Bennet puts it in her article in the Guardian (2015) “probably not proper women but ugly/frustrated/jealous/old/ humoursless/wingless excuses for their sex who should get out more”. For this holy show you have to keep your ‘unrealistic beauty standards’ speech to yourself.

And secondly: Ella Gonzales points to the book of Ariel Levy “Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women & the Rise of Raunch Culture’ in her Huffington post article (2015) who gave a name for this new kind of feminism: women that think that sexual promiscuity is the same as liberation. This article gave me goose bumps on just how on point she was: “Victoria Secret Feminism is a brand of feminism that advances the idea that wearing sultry clothing (read: lingerie) is about choice, and as such, shows a woman taking charge of her sexuality and taking ownership of herself. (…) If feminism were indeed about inclusivity – about “choice” as a modern day champions of the movement advocate, then the following question is begged: is “choice” and the championing of feminist virtues only exclusive to a largely white, privileged, and conventionally attractive group of women?”

When thinking of women in Afghanistan for example, should I be proud of the fact that women in the Western world have the ‘choice’ to display their body and see it as an act of empowerment? What about Malala – is what she is doing (fully clothed and veiled) not an act of empowerment? I would also like to think that even if Malala would not be wearing a veil, her message and work should be just as powerful because what she is wearing doesn’t and shouldn’t contribute to her mission.

The VS Show takes zero responsibility for the unrealistic and often unattainable beauty standards it sets for millions of vulnerable girls around the world, and conveying a false sense of feminism: one that is only available if you’re white, privileged and attractive. Why do we need to be half naked to show how liberated we are? And are we so set on this kind of empowerment that we’ve become blind to the fact that we’re acting on an existing notion of misogyny? We’ve been fooled to think it’s our own idea of freedom when in fact we’ve walked into a new trap of oppression.

Why the Victoria Secret Fashion Show is Modern Misogyny