Boobs, butts, babes. For over two decades, the annual Victoria's Secret Fashion Show has been a leggy lingerie fest in which some of the most beautiful women in the world strut their stuff in the name of sexy. Starting in the early aughts, the industry-insider event became a televised broadcast and a signifier of the holiday season. OG supermodels from Tyra to Gisele have donned their angel wings on the VS catwalk, paired, admittedly, with little else. It seems, of course, to be a hyper-concentrated fantasy of the male gaze and so year after year it's met with think pieces and criticism; women with very good points discuss why they won't be watching and how it clashes with their brand of feminism. I'm about that! But for the sake of supporting an important discussion, I'm here to say I disagree.
Sure the show is a problematic fave (what isn't these days?), and people may not get all this ideological talk surrounding such a superficial display of capitalism, but because of its place at the forefront of pop culture, not to mention the millions of viewers it gets each year, opening up a conversation about the VS Fashion Show can highlight what it does right, and point out what it can do better.
The 2016 show, which took place in Paris last week, airs tonight on CBS and I, a proud feminist, will be watching. Here's why.
It celebrates women, their bodies, and their sexuality. There's no slut-shaming on the Victoria's Secret runway, there's no telling women to "cover up." And while some may argue that all this lingerie-donning is for the benefit of men, I think it's pretty obvious that men could care less about jewel encrusted bras and/or lacy underwear. In fact, I'd argue that if this show really was for men, the models would just be walking around completely nude - I mean, what do guys care about all this glamming up? No, this is for women. Lingerie is for women. Putting it on makes (many) women feel sexy, it doesn't matter who sees it or who doesn't. The looks, with all their frills, display the power of femininity, making the feminine look fierce AF.
And, since we have to, let's talk about bodies. While, yes, the Amazonian goddesses who count themselves amongst the stars have much different measurements than the average American woman, I (an average American woman) can relate much more to the cleavage and curves in the Victoria's Secret show than I can to almost any other mainstream designer show at New York Fashion Week. Plus, as if it wasn't so totally obvious, these ladies work hard for their bods. You can read any number of articles that explore just how strenuous their diet and exercise plans are, proving that even models have got to sweat for their abs. Though the argument of an idealized, unattainable body type is certainly a valid one, there's also a double standard here. These models' jobs are physical, so why do they pick up the slack while male actors and athletes are applauded for getting into shape? I say they should flaunt it and be as proud as anyone would be after powering through weeks and months of workouts and training.
Now, the show can do better when it comes to shapes and sizes. Women like Ashley Graham have proved (on the cover of Sports Illustrated, no less!) that you don't have to be a size 0 in order to be fit, healthy, and feel good about yourself, and if more women could see their bodies in this celebration of sexy, they might just feel more motivated to hit the gym, NOT to acquire an impossible standard, but to feel as good as that girl on the TV screen, the one whose bod looks a little more familiar.
But progress comes at the pace of progress. This year, at least, we saw some major strides on the side of diversity. A record number of Asian models strutted their stuff, and more women of color displayed their natural hairstyles than before. Not to mention a pregnant Irina Shayk looking as hot as ever in her second trimester, showing, quite literally, that women can be maternal and sexual at the same time - and feel empowered by that.
Finally, there's friendship. Female friendship. #SquadGoals, if you will. Now before you roll your eyes, just think - of all the reality shows on television featuring a bunch of women, how many of them don't pit everyone against each other? The Bachelor? America's Next Top Model? Competition is the name of the game in most cases, but not backstage with these babes. All you have to do is scan Instagram for their group selfies and photo ops to know that in a world that favors cat fights, these women, individually successful, support each other. And if that's not your brand of feminism, I don't know what else really could be.
[Photos by Josh Wong]