Undercover

Can I Hate Its Sexism, But Love Victoria’s Secret Underwear?

The scantily clad Victoria’s Secret “Angel” models are shamelessly, fleshily objectified. But our feminist author is not put off enough to stop buying her undies there.

Lucas Jackson/Reuters

When Victoria’s Secret tweeted out the “MAJOR NEWS” that it was adding 10 new Angels models, you could almost hear the breathy, sultry British accent gasping at the announcement, her appropriately ample breasts heaving out of her Very Sexy Lace-Up baby doll lingerie.

But for many women, including yours truly, the expansion of the Victoria’s Secret Angels roster only induced yawns.

All the best to the 10 interchangeable women who are all conventionally sexy in the same impossible to achieve way that Victoria’s Secret Angels are known for being. But I can’t tell the difference between Elsa Hosk and Kate Grigorieva.

My eyes glaze over in total boredom when I look at these 10 women, just as legions of heterosexual men start to salivate and combust.

Of course, Victoria’s Secret doesn’t do creative or progressive branding. Why bother when T&A seems to work just fine?

The lingerie chain produces some of the most shameless sexist contributions to modern-day society. The annual Victoria’s Secret fashion show is a primetime spectacular of female sexual objectification: breasts with some sparkly wings attached glide across the runway in the closest thing to porn allowed on network television once a year.

The company happily perpetuates a very narrow and unhealthy ideal of beauty, selecting only, and I do mean only, the most implausibly-toned-yet-busty women to model their wears.

Lane Bryant can scream #ImNoAngel from the Twitter rooftops all it wants. Victoria’s Secret gives zero fucks about body diversity.

Victoria’s Secret bites its thumb at the many naysayers and sticks to business as usual. Every time a strikingly leggy, appropriately buxom, and facially exotic woman is put on a pedestal as the only acceptable model of feminine beauty, an angel gets her wings. It’s a campaign as antiquated and somehow more demeaning than Virginia Slim’s “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby.”

For decades Victoria’s Secret has boasted a brand strategy that, by all accounts, was conceived by 16-year-old boys forced to throw out their Sports Illustrated swimsuit after jerking off into its pages a few too many times.

In fact, it has doubled-down on glamorizing, not modernizing. In 1995, Victoria’s Secret spent $120,000 on the first of their annual fashion shows. In 2014, it cost $20 million.

I’ll stop myself. For me—a feminist who values body diversity in the media, is hyper-sensitive to the disproportionate sexual objectification of women, and loves listening to “All About That Bass”—skewering Victoria’s Secret is like shooting fish in a barrel.

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As someone who has been wrestling with dieting and body image pretty much from the age of 8—which, by the way, is apparently the age by which most women now start their first diets—I find Victoria’s Secret’s Angels campaign frustratingly oblivious to the needs and desires of women.

There is no doubt it perpetuates a damaging and unrealistically single-minded vision of how the female body should appear to be considered sexy.

Yet, I buy their underwear, though never their bras, which I think are horribly made and stretch out almost immediately. This is where you actually should buy your bras.

I highly doubt I am the only card-carrying feminist who has a weakness for Victoria’s Secret underwear. By all accounts, the company is a financial success.

Coupled with Pink and La Senza, a Canadian-based lingerie company also owned by Victoria’s Secret’s parent company L Brands, the trio makes “up 41% of America’s $13.2 billion lingerie market,” noted a 2014 Forbes article. “Their next closest competitor, if you can call it that, has a 1% market share.”

A Business of Fashion article called Victoria’s Secret the “present-day Goliath” of the lingerie market.

In short, women may want ads that showcase greater shapes and sizes of women, but not enough that we’re willing to put our money where our mouth is.

That, for better or worse, may be a credit to Victoria’s Secret. As much as we are irked and outraged by the Victoria’s Secret Angels, we actually don’t mind the goods.

Certainly, there’s the convenience factor. I have yet to walk into a mall in this great nation without finding a Victoria’s Secret shop—and that’s because there are 1,060 domestic locations.

Victoria’s Secret is also pretty affordable, especially when you can snag seven pairs of underwear for $26 during a sale (yes, I speak from experience). When I casually asked a friend, she also said the relatively low prices kept her coming back—even though she hates braving the store, which she describes as a “hurricane of lace and cologne.”

Perhaps most importantly, the underwear itself can be fun. It gets boring buying bland, pastel-colored granny panties. Victoria’s Secret is an antidote to that, and it’s an antidote on the cheap.

In fact, what Victoria’s Secret promotes in their drool-inducing fashion show actually seems pretty far from what I and many women buy from the company.

Sure, giant blow-up photos of Angels with their breast spilling out of lacy, push-up bras line the windows of Victoria’s Secret shops. It’s hard to walk by and not stare at the mounds of flesh and immediately, negatively compare yourself.

But once you make it in past the flimsy pink ensembles that I am almost certain are stolen straight from the fembots in Austin Powers, there’s the stuff I want: the underwear with bold colors and prints, the “I Only Kiss Yankees fans” baseball shirts, the cheeky boy shorts.

At its best, Victoria’s Secret items are accessibly sexy in a way that doesn’t make women feel objectified or like they have to look like Behati Prinsloo to be deemed alluring. The company actually conveys this message pretty well in its product, just not its persona.

I put up with Victoria’s Secret in spite of the intimidatingly pneumatic Angels. As long as a gulf remains between their offerings and their advertisements, I’ll shrug and roll my eyes but keep shelling out for the products that speak to me. I guess I’m no angel.