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Victoria’s Secret’s latest runway wasn’t woke, it was real

By Lauren Rae, November 23 2023—

Victoria’s Secret’s reputation has remained relatively unchanged since its fruition. Often perceived as a company built on perpetuating unrealistic body standards and diet culture, the company has done little (if anything at all) to disprove this throughout the last forty years. That is, until their most recent runway show, The Victoria’s Secret World Tour. 

In an attempt to detach themselves from their tarnished image, the company stocked its model roster with a number of diverse candidates, ranging from plus-sized models to models who broke out of the typical cisgender boundaries of the runway world. A stepping stone, one might think, to finally having one of the most exclusive brands in the world represent the reality and natural beauty of womanhood. However, the show was only met with backlash. On one end, there were the cries of those who resent the new “wokeness” that has been plaguing modern media. On the other, there were those who drew a sense of nostalgia from the old Angels that Victoria’s Secret used to display. They miss the fantasy, they miss the display of what a woman could be. 

My first introduction to Victoria’s Secret Angels was in the school gym change room at the age of 11. As children, we would look at each other, examine each other thoroughly and decide which of us could make a good Victoria’s Secret model. They became swift idols for us, and were symbolic of the dreams we had as children; to be famous for being pretty and thin. I never really cared for them. As a child, I knew that the condition they had managed to dwindle their bodies down to was not something an 11-year-old could maintain. “We were growing children,” was something our teachers and mothers taught us, and growing children could not survive off of the rigour and dieting those Angels went through.

My lack of acknowledgement for them changed, however, when I was no longer a growing child. Perhaps at or around the age of 16, I had gotten caught in an endless loop of dietary media that outlined the food (or lack thereof) that Victoria’s Secret Models consumed on a daily basis. It did not take long for me to stop craving food, and instead to start craving the thinness that they had. Throughout my youth, and even now in my adult years, I had seldom been exposed to plus-sized models. Even then, the plus-sized models I and many others saw in magazines and on screens still maintained the flat tummies and sharp jaws of the petite women on the front of the page. I so badly wanted even just a semblance of the figures I was seeing on screen. 

Their methods of dieting stuck with me. “Juice cleanses” and “ice chewing” ran circles around my mind. I had been told that gum was a good replacement for the sensation of eating and that a nutritious kale juice would last me much longer than a full meal. Hunger was a mental battle, not a real confrontation, and all I had to do was outpower my mind. I began to realize that just like me, these women were human. Not in the sense that they should be acknowledged as flawed, or that I should be seeking imperfections in them, but rather that if they could outlast their hunger in the pursuit of vanity, then so could I, because we were one in the same.

Just short of turning 18, I gave their methods a try. For a while, I was confined to two meals a day. Soon after it became one, then even sooner became small snacks that I would overwhelm myself with guilt for touching. I did lose weight, yes — but, in some sense, I also lost a part of myself I wasn’t sure I would ever get back. My once bright skin turned quite dull, and I had bags under my eyes that weren’t there when I started. My attitude became very short, and somehow my self-worth (despite needing to be soothed by weight loss) was dwindling more and more as the days went by. Though I have gone through a decent amount of recovery, therapy, and a reintroduction to eating, I still feel the guilt over “giving in” to myself, and for not being able to make it to their point. I am angry that I am still a woman, and not an Angel.

Seeing the 2023 runway, and seeing the vibrant diversity that emanated from the show, was very healing for me. I steered clear of Victoria’s Secret for a long time because I felt that my body was not deserving of frilly lace and pretty pink undergarments. But, seeing women of my figure and face decorated in the same way they had been long adorning the adverse made me want to dive into my femininity, just a little more. It was a bittersweet show for me. I was ecstatic to see that Victoria’s Secret had finally reached this point, and yet, I was resentful that it took this long to happen — that it didn’t happen before I tried to conform to their image.

Despite my own excitement, real womanhood did not seem profitable for the company, which has experienced great financial losses as an aftereffect of the show. Those who are fans of the typical Angels displayed in their yearly runways additionally seem upset at their loss, with one TikTok user stating that “they’re called Victoria’s Secret Angels because not everyone can be them, so stop with the inclusivity bullshit”. All around, it seems dedicated customers and the company itself desire a return to their previously “sexy” image despite the short length of its inclusive campaign.

It’s frustrating to see Victoria’s Secret decided to return to “sexiness” as a result of their finances, and even more frustrating to watch fellow women alike praise them for it. Showing disabled, plus-sized, trans, neurodivergent, and racially diverse models is far from an adherence to the “woke” agenda. It is real. It is finally telling women that they don’t have to be white, thin, cisgender, neurotypical and heteronormative in order to be an Angel. In fact, it’s telling women that we do not need to be Angels at all. Instead, we are free to be ourselves, not the fantasy we have been conditioned to expect.

This article is a part of our Voices section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet editorial board.

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