GIRL POWER

Seduced and Abandoned by Victoria’s Secret’s Fleshy Fashion Parade

Received wisdom has it that the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is a night of pert, bouncy demi-porn. But it feels more celebratory than masturbatory.

Adam Jeffery/CNBC

In a world where objectifying women is increasingly frowned upon, the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show stands a strutting, pouting exception to the rule—an annual parade of pneumatic babes in lingerie.

After traveling to London last year, the Victoria’s Secret Festival of Shimmering Flesh was held at the Lexington Armory in New York last month, where the audience ogled acres of toned, russety thighs, stomachs as firm as cutting boards, and breasts bobbling atop jewel-encrusted bras and bodices.

The rest of America waited impatiently to watch the world’s most expensively-produced peep show on CBS Tuesday night.

Indeed, the show’s budget has been estimated at $12 million in recent years, which covers the high-profile entertainment acts that make it more like the superbowl than a fashion show.

Ellie Goulding, The Weeknd, and Selena Gomez all performed this year.

Model Behati Prinsloo opened the show for the second year in a row, wearing thigh-high suede boots and a paisley, jeweled bodice with fringed velour sleeves.

Bras, panties, and bikinis were accessorized with long capes in psychedelic prints and leather wings, which morphed into butterfly wings as Adriana Lima, a 34-year-old veteran Angel, modeled the first in the next series of looks.

Other veterans included Alessandra Ambrosio, also 34, and 30-year-old Lily Aldridge, who wore the $2 million Fireworks Fantasy Bra—embellished with more than 6,500 precious stones—in the final leg of the show.

Lima and Ambrosio were both teenagers when they debuted as Angels in 2001. Now, they represent the old maids on the Victoria’s Secret runway (both of them have two children), but they remain in pretty good shape.

Among the rookies were Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid, who was twice turned down before finally making the cut this year. The hour-long broadcast included a clip of Hadid’s most recent audition and tears of unmitigated joy upon learning she’d been cast in the show.

These reality TV-like moments, along with footage of the models preening and taking selfies backstage, fill the remaining 45 minutes or so when the girls aren’t actually on the runway.

While traditional fashion models look sullen, fierce, predatory, and generally miserable on the catwalk, the Angels look like cheerleaders: gleeful, energetic, and eager to please.

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Excessive winking and kiss-blowing are among their signature moves, which are more girlie and campy than sexy. This year the models were seemingly instructed to pump their fists, flash peace signs, and draw hearts in the air. There were precious few sultry expressions.

But the models always look like they’re having fun, which is refreshing for a runway show, absurd as it may be.

Every year, the show ends with the Angels prancing around together and embracing on stage amidst a confetti storm, evoking Old Navy commercials and middle-school girls at sleepovers. The only redeeming part of this silly lovefest are the 40 or so pert bums displayed all at once—an embarrassment of riches.

But there were fewer bum shots this year than in the past. The cameras didn’t allow for much ogling, training their lenses on the Angels’ toothy smiles and goofy sing-alongs with the performers.

As a woman who happily objectifies women from time to time, I watched the broadcast hoping there would be more opportunities for gawping, and hoping it would be sexier (and remembering that it was sexier in past years).

But who’s looking and how they look has been pasteurized in this slice of overtly body-con primetime. It wouldn’t offend me at all to celebrate all that nubile, basted flesh on display; if anything I was more offended that the show was so cheesy.

The Victoria’s Secret fashion show has never been about fashion, but for a televised spectacle of gorgeous, underwear-clad women, it oddly couldn’t be tamer.

Indeed, Victoria’s Secret has managed to turn naughty lingerie (and the hot babes who wear it) into something altogether wholesome.

If this is objectification, it’s of the most anodyne kind—a bouncy celebration of sisterhood, rather than prettified female flesh served up for the laziest male and female gaze. More’s the pity.