In light of this year’s Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, the brand made headlines following a controversial interview published by Vogue magazine. In a series of questionable statements, the company’s chief marketing officer Ed Razek referred to casting plus-size and trans models as “pandering”, reducing the demand for diversity to a petty, millennial trend.
Insisting upon a “specific image” for the brand, Razek used a derogatory and objectifying slur to exclude trans women from the show’s narrative, the only justification being “Because the show is a fantasy.” If a brand that is meant to represent women actively excludes anyone who isn’t cisgender or below a US size 6, then the question is: who is it for?
Victoria’s Secret has become a household name in the fashion industry helping models like Gisele Bündchen and Naomi Campbell reach supermodel status. The brand was one of the first of its kind to infiltrate pop-culture on such a phantasmagorical scale, the faces representing it almost as important as the lingerie itself. That’s why in the new age of social media, the ‘Instagram model’ constitutes an essential aspect of the marketing process —the bigger the name, the bigger the exposure. It therefore comes as no surprise that Kendall Jenner (whose current Instagram following is a massive 99.1million) was announced 2017’s highest paid model with an income of $22million (£16.6million). What does come as a surprise though, is her complete lack of awareness of her own privileged background and its role in her success.
Light is only shed on a specific kind of womanhood. That is: mostly white, cis, and thin.
Jenner’s infamous feature in Love magazine’s tenth anniversary issue received major backlash in response to a comment about her not being “one of those girls who would do like 30 shows a season or whatever the f–k those girls do.” Fellow Victoria’s Secret model Leomie Anderson publicly expressed her frustration on Twitter, saying that “Not everyone gets to skip castings, get paid more than everyone else and generally work less”. In an industry predominantly run by cis white men, it’s barely a shock that light is only shed on a specific kind of womanhood. That is: mostly white, cis, and thin. Visibility is a merit afforded to a select few, the rare occasion of its occurrence posing a deadly threat for the rest. Transmisogyny is NOT a joke and the Victoria’s Secret executives should realise that this isn’t just a game of profits, human lives aren’t child’s play.
The Human Rights Campaign reported that in 2017, violence caused the deaths of 29 transgender people in the US alone, most of the victims being trans women of colour. The statistics haven’t really improved since then, with already 22 trans people losing their lives in 2018 — and the year hasn’t even come to an end yet. Even though the brand has made significant leaps when it comes to racial diversity, these are baby steps in the grand scheme of what needs to be done in terms of representation. Winnie Harlow, who became the first model with the skin condition vitiligo to be cast in a Victoria’s Secret show, commented “that we continue to make sure representation is not just a trend, but a standard.”
We live in a day and age where the political climate demands our constant attention. It’s so easy to desensitize ourselves to cope with the daily violence that surrounds us by becoming engrossed in the sensationalism sold to us by Hollywood. However, that isn’t the reality of most of the world’s population and that isn’t the solution to the world’s problems. We need to start actively questioning our own engagement with the capitalist market and reject faux female empowerment for real empowerment. That’s our only chance at true and lasting change.
Image: Vogue Australia