I really don’t understand the outcry over a lack of body representation at the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. The fashion industry as a whole? Definitely. But this particularly extravagant gig, which the brand itself calls “the biggest fashion show in the world?” No.
This network TV event (filmed this past Thursday in NYC and airing Dec. 2ndon ABC), an over-the-top fantasy of gross celebrity spectacle, regardless of how much it fits into the “fashion show” box (it features models walking down a runway wearing stylish (though minimal) fabrics, so I think it qualifies), is in many ways the Super Bowl of runway modeling. What’s the proof you ask? Look no further than the meta-human coupling of the Brazilian supermodel and Victoria’s Secret legend Gisele Bündchen and perhaps the greatest NFL Quarterback of all time, Tom Brady.
Don’t talk to me about “conventional beauty standards,” Tom and Gisele are unanimously attractive, hyper-athletic and the absolute best at what they do. The universe almost mandated their inevitable pairing and subsequent reproduction. As far as whether or not being a “super-model” is comparable to being a “super-athlete,” recall Gisele closing out the opening ceremony of the 2016, Rio Olympics.
Just Gisele, solo cat-walking in high heels with insane confidence across an almost pitch black arena with tanned, rippling, muscular, thoroughbred quads (I wouldn’t want to be round-housed by those legs…on second thought, maybe I would!) pumping under the spotlight with unbridled confidence as the proud Brazilian crowd roared while local singer Daniel Jobim sang “The Girl From Ipanema.” No need for think pieces. Everyone got it: Billions of years of evolution, despite or because of trillions of innumerable, chaotic, practically impossible variables, somehow rendered this immaculate, heavenly creature; this Olympian beauty; this diamond in the rough.
Here’s the thing: If we’re going to let all body types walk in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show-an apex exercise in ridiculously hyperbolic physical and aesthetic excellence-going forward, we need to let Zack Galifianakis play starting Quarterback for the New England Patriots. I mean, isn’t that the right thing to do? His go to Wide Receiver, Michael Cera.
To be very clear, I completely agree with the aggressive push towards racial diversity. There’s no excuse not to make considerable room for goddesses of color like Duckie Thot, Jasmine Tookes, Aiden Curtiss, Chey Carty, Grace Bol, Herieth Paul, Iesha Hodges, Mayowa Nicholas, Isilda Moreira, Lais Ribeiro, Leomie Anderson, Zuri Tiby, and Winnie Harlow (and more), who all walked this past Thursday. Not to mention the Asian, Latina and various other multi-ethnic models who crushed the runway.
For trans models of color, like the ascending Leyna Bloom for instance, who opened a recent Chromat runway show and aggressively campaigned on social media to be in the big VS show, she may actually have a shot in the near future. She’s (almost) got the look. Just recall the backlash Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner recieved, both staples now. Bloom should be able to do just that, bloom (I see a thousand-pedaled lotus flower set of wings). It could shake things up, mark a new chapter, and right when Adriana Lima is stepping away. That being said, I also think it’s Victoria Secret’s prerogative to sign off on that decision.
Ed Razek, VS’s (L Brands) Chief Marketing Officer, just apologized for his comments (made in a Vogue interview) regarding the reasoning for the lack of trans models, claiming it’s not a gender-based political maneuver essentially, just tough casting preferences. The enduring “all women” thing was always an ironic spin on the brand’s “secret” cross-dressing origins. This could and perhaps should rightfully change; maybe by next season, but girl, you better work!
Shout out to brands like Chromat for setting themselves apart in this capacity. In fact, the latest VS show seemed to rip a sartorial page out of the Gypsy Sport lookbook (though not their casting), with all the collaged, asymmetrical, repurposed ‘90s thrift store threads. Take a look at the recent press for Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty lingerie collaboration earlier this fall. It was wonderfully diverse in every way. But Savage x Fenty doesn’t have to-or want-to-be VS, who still “banks on bombshells,” and the same is true the other way around.
There is no denying that these models were, to a large degree, born with the embedded Victoria’s Secret gene ready to spring forth at puberty like a latent X-Men mutation, but why do writers never mention the amount of work, dedication and sacrifice that goes into preparing for one of these things? What about celebrating the acute diet, the intense exercise, the pressure, and the even more immense payoff? It’s hard. It’s intimate and incredibly revealing. Scrutinizing. So what? When Gisele had enough, she moved on.
The lead-up, though extremely trying, is safe in every sense of the word. As far as dieting, the models have the best doctors and trainers in the world looking out for them. Admittedly, this weekend, a friend of mine who trains some of the models and went to the taped show and after-party claimed some models looked dangerously frail and considerably more so than in recent years.
As to the show’s relevancy to society and culture; why can’t the millions and millions of straight men of all ages across the globe enjoy this consensual exhibition of the world’s greatest supermodels clad in revealing lingerie and bask in the million-year-old-definitely not going anywhere-male gaze? Why can’t women, gender and sexually fluid individuals of all ages who admire or are potentially attracted to these supreme, lofty, glistening goddesses do the same? It’s voyeurism. It’s fetish. It’s pageantry. It’s unbridled human desire fiercely articulated. It’s fashion.
To be fair, even the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has looked into creating more weight divisions, as cutting excess weight for a major fight can be dangerous for the body. That being said, when I see championship caliber mixed martial artists like Khabib Numagomedov and Conor McGregor, perhaps the two greatest fighters at 155 pounds on Earth step onto the scale at the pre-fight weigh-ins, my first thought is, “Wow, these guys are ripped and ready to go. Not a shred of excess fat. What incredible dedication, willpower, sacrifice and fortitude, and all for our entertainment! They’re really earning the mountains of cash they’re going to be paid.” What I don’t think is this: “Man, they should let these guys fight at any weight.” They actually did this in the earliest stages of the UFC and it was dumb, unsafe, and often painfully boring. I have seen some guys hobble to the scale-frail, skeletal and dehydrated. It is a bit disconcerting, but that’s the fight game.
We as a society, in America especially, must comprehend that yes, Victoria’s Secret models are a ridiculous standard and should by no means be anyone’s basis for comparison, unless you want to give that look a serious go. But for some girls, a very small percentage, this is their championship ring. I think bodies like Serena Williams or Ashley Graham should absolutely be celebrated, but at the VS show? Also, Halsey, Nicki Minaj, Rita Ora, Ariana Grande and even Taylor Swift, each with a unique body type, seem to know their role within the VS equation. This doesn’t stop them from having fun and completely owning the stage.
If we know this and we should, why is it still an issue? Watching Duane “The Rock” Johnson climb hand over muscled fist up the façade of a burning skyscraper in a ripped t-shirt doesn’t trigger me or give me a complex, but it might inspire me to put down the ice cream pint and do some pushups. And for the women who say, “Easy for you to say, you’re a guy,” just check out the increasingly numerous fit women of Instagram. They put the excuses (barring serious health issues and often despite them) to bed. Still, for almost all of them-abs, skin, booty and a face to die for-VF is forever out of reach.
At some point, we might see some bigger girls chugging down the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show catwalk. There are some beautiful, formerly known as “plus-size” models out there certainly; sexy, healthy, bigger women without a trace of cellulite (not that there’s anything wrong with that) who might even be able to crush the 40-yard dash in killer heels. Some of these women aren’t even “plus,” they’re simply “normal;” whatever that means. But normal doesn’t work for Victoria’s Secret. Normal has to shop retail, purchase the fantasy, and bring it home to their presumably normal partner.
Aren’t we at a point where we should be able to separate fantasy from reality? Does everything have to be an across the board, equal opportunity scenario? Can’t we just openly declare that Victoria’s Secret, the fashion show especially, is for a very particular type of superhuman (“giraffe aliens,” “praying mantis women,” I’ve heard women say), a hyper-feminine, otherworldly,”angel” archetype and be ok with that?
Why can’t we grasp this? It’s entertainment folks! If Paul Blart is your preferred action movie mainstay, more power to you, but that’s just not my jam and he just won’t work for the inevitable Commando reboot. If you’re looking for the modeling equivalent of Kevin James, those options are out there, but I’d look somewhere else besides the super-exclusive VS Fashion Show.
Now, a concluding rebuttal: With all the school and public shootings, I wonder if we’re due for a new study on how movie, TV and video game violence might actually effect the brains and behavior of young people, boys especially, but honestly, I think most shooters are just disaffected punks, ex-military PTSD cases, orphaned human pharmaceutical fallout, or some unfortunate combination of these factors. However, watching The Matrix for the thousandth time still, to this day, doesn’t make me want to throw on a black trench, strap up and go postal. Similarly, watching Gandalf shoot magic light beams at the Nazgûl and their fell beasts from atop a full-stride Shadowfax doesn’t make me want to write a think piece on white wizard bias and how everyone should have the right to be servants of a secret fire.
Similarly, for women and girls of all ages-toddlers playing with increasingly inclusive Barbies (I get it and support it), dopamine-hijacked scroll-hound teenage girls, insecure college sorority rejects or not so firm, but firmly adult women-watching the VS Fashion Show shouldn’t make you feel “less than” in a truly disruptive way, just like watching Conor McGregor kickass or get his ass kicked shouldn’t make me feel like a helpless, soft, lazy, beer-guzzling, spliff-smoking loser, not enough to make me truly feel like a total waste of life at least, and if it does, by any measure, the gym is right around the block and membership is cheaper than ever. Really, I’m inspired mostly, despite the fact that I’m pretty sure I’ll never get to be a UFC Champion at this stage of the game (bad knees, bad health insurance, etc.) and I shouldn’t need, want, demand, or expect to see my “less than” fighting avatar in the octagon just to feel better about myself.
If seeing superior physical specimens in high-def action and at the highest levels does make you feel less than, depressed or even suicidal, you’ve probably got bigger fish to fry and should probably swerve the culture war scapegoating and just get help. Seriously, I’m not shrugging off the rapidly rising suicide rate among young women in America. For parents of boys or girls, have a conversation, stay involved; offer some perspective.
But perhaps, just perhaps, having something to aspire to, even something completely out of reach, something like a literal, openly advertised fantasy even, especially when the product has “fantasy” in the title, might actually be healthy for the human spirit.
Kurt McVey began his journalism career as a prolific contributor to Interview Magazine where he covered emerging and established names in the art, music, fashion and entertainment worlds. He has since contributed to The New York Times, T Magazine, Vanity Fair, Paper Magazine, ArtNet News, Forbes, Whitehot Magazine, and many more. A Long Island native, McVey is also a successful artist, model, performer, entrepreneur, and screenwriter working out of NYC.