The only thing more scandalous than the bras and panties sold at Victoria’s Secret are the controversies surrounding the lingerie brand.
Its most recent faux pas doesn’t involve any Photoshop scandals (that we know of), but it does succeed in offending an entire continent, and then some. "Sexy Little Geisha," an Asian-inspired getup from Victoria’s Secret’s Go East collection, includes a mesh bodysuit with floral patterns on the bra cups and crotch, a tiny floral fan, a removable obi belt, and matching chopsticks with tassels. But history has shown there is a longstanding tradition of representing Asian women as hypersexualized and submissive individuals who exist to serve male fantasies, so it’s not surprising that many ladies responded to the revealing ensemble with anger.
The hate mail directed at this particular getup began weeks ago, with sites like Racialicious condemning the brand for stereotyping Asians as a Western sexual fantasy. “It’s a narrative that says the culture can be completely stripped of its realness in order to fulfill our fantasies of a safe and nonthreatening, mysterious East,” says contributor Nina Jacinto.
Other women’s interest sites responded similarly. “Considering the complicated history of geishas, repurposing the ‘look’ for a major corporation to sell as role-playing lingerie seems a bit tasteless,” said Jessica Wakeman of The Frisky.
Victoria’s Secret’s own marketing strategy even echoed these claims, branding the item as “your ticket to an exotic adventure.” But ultimately, the onslaught of negative feedback forced the lingerie monopoly to remove the item from its inventory.
The latest misstep is one of a long history of many blunders—Victoria’s Secret is no stranger to controversy.
While airbrushing or Photoshopping a retail image is commonplace in today’s market, VS has a proven tendency to take things a step too far, using computer tools to slim down legs or beef up the breast size of their already gorgeous models. For example, a bra from the Bombshell collection, promising to “add 2 cup sizes” to any figure, is modeled by Candice Swanepoel, but what’s unique about the image is that from the photo, the bra seems to be working its “2 cups size” magic on only one breast, leaving the other uninflated breast at its regular size.
Earlier this summer, the brand posted photos of a frightening-looking pair of carved out thighs posing in one of their bikini bottoms. Customers were quick to notice the blunder, posting more than 2,000 comments about the image on Victoria’s Secret’s site. It was just one of over a dozen instances in which VS has been called out on its Photoshopping B.S. The company has accidentally disconnected legs from hips, bulked up muscles, lengthened legs, and completely disproportioned just about every body part, all with the click of a mouse.
Somehow it’s hard to imagine that these kind of overzealous alterations are needed on anyone, let alone models like Adriana Lima, Doutzen Kroes, and Candice Swanepoel.
Victoria’s Secret’s own "Angels" aren’t the only ones deemed not “good” enough to model the company’s merchandise unaltered.
As a Sports Illustrated cover model and the average heterosexual man’s drool-worthy fantasy, Kate Upton seems like the ideal Victoria’s Secret model. Oozing sex appeal from every orifice, the eternally meme-able Upton has proven she is marketable in every way—selling everything from bikinis to headphones. So a pairing with sex-savvy Victoria’s Secret would seem like a match made in heaven. But no: “We would never use [her],” said the creative mind behind past VS fashion shows, Sophia Neophitou, to The New York Times. “She’s like a footballer’s wife with the too-blond hair and that kind of face that anyone with enough money can go out and buy.”
Oddly, Victoria’s Secret has used Upton to model its lingerie in the past, and we sort of think the same people who appreciate SI: Swimsuit Edition are the same people (with penises) who browse Victoria’s Secret catalogs. But perhaps Victoria’s Secret has evolved its look past the indisputable good looks of Gisele and Upton. If this is the case, we’d like to suggest a more realistic and cost-effective alternative: why not forgo actual models, and go entirely CGI? It works for videogames—surely it can work for selling lingerie.