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The Victoria's Secret Fashion Show's 15th annual refusal to diversify beauty standards

The fifteenth annual Victoria's Secret Fashion Show aired yesterday, on November 30th, 2010. Since its debut in 1995, the extravaganza has garnered much attention, both positive and negative. Victoria's Secret showcases female models with practically identical body types, but of course, Victoria's Secret is not alone. A reasonable approximation of the current high-fashion industry standard for female models is: young, 5'10", size 2.

Is it illegal for advertising to be unethical?  No.  Are companies allowed to irresponsibly spread negative messages to society?  Yes.  Is it still worthwhile to demand, or at least hope, that more companies will take example from movements such as Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty, which according to their initial press release, was instituted as a global effort for societal change, to widen the definition and discussion of beauty?  Absolutely.

For 3 primary reasons, this article targets the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, in particular, for irresponsibly propagating unrealistic beauty standards: 

  1. The event is called the biggest fashion show in the world, and with great power comes great responsibility.
  2. The event has aired on primetime public broadcasting annually for 15 years.
  3. Victoria's Secret is about sex appeal, a more psychologically intrusive arena than general fashion.

I could tell you I found the following letter in a train station to avoid being called ugly, as is usually the generalization made about smart women who take offense to the objectification and typification of women in the media.  But I won't.  I wrote it, tongue in cheek, not reasonably expecting any change from the world, but because I don't see any harm in hoping.

Dear Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, a.k.a. "the biggest fashion show in the world":

I have received your message that beauty in women is characterized by 6ft of height derived mostly from legs, with 2% body fat residing solely in the breast, and a small amount of muscle to sit on.  While I appreciate your occasional rotation of hair and skin color, I regret to inform you that you have overlooked the consistent malnutrition among your female representatives.  As such, I deny your expressed claim that it's socially responsible to exclusively hire models who are identical of height, weight, and breast. 

Thank you, once again, for your unabashed annual refusal to use your position of power as a platform to diversify the world's standard of female beauty.  No, nevermind.  No thanks.  Your propagation of the notion that a single body type defines sexiness is about as far from appreciated as your models' left and right thighs are from one another, and frankly, it's become as transparent as one of your nylon nighties.  You advertise your products solely on models with physical proportions that are unhealthy and unattainable for the vast majority of women to possess, and that keeps women shopping at your stores, clamoring for something they think you hold and they don't: beauty.

Is it your fault that these notions are internalized by women?  No.  Is it a normal human brain function to learn information that is repeatedly bombarded upon the psyche?  Yes.

Perhaps the day will come when you will extend the opportunity to model your fashions to women who more accurately represent the vastly varied beauty of the female population.  Selecting a variety of bodytypes among your models and encouraging your models to maintain a healthy weight would be a more respectful and ethical way to advertise to your clientelle, who are women. Your intensely public platform could be used for the promotion of a global atmosphere of pride among healthy women of various heights and shapes.  (Instead, you are an ethically anorexic poison.  Congratulations!)

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