When you hear the words ‘Victoria Secret Fashion Show,’ what happens? Does your confidence slowly start to erode? Do you feel inspired after seeing the models strut the runway with the new lingerie? Or, maybe you cringe at the idea of hearing all the self body-shaming that occurs on social media the day before and after?
The inevitable VS Fashion Show has come and gone. Taking into consideration the different emotions and thoughts we have, here are two important issues I believe we need to address.
While I believe most of us like to feel beautiful, a desire that I consider perfectly healthy, the VS fashion show like so many other ‘celebrations’ of women treats us as though this is our only quality.
This is problematic because as the American Psychological Association states, when women consistently view other women depicted in such narrow ways we are negatively affected. Different ways we can be affected relate to sexual dysfunction, enforcing narrow attitudes, and beliefs about what femininity is, and can lead to an increase in mental health problems such as increase in depression and eating disorders, and a decrease in overall life satisfaction.
For me, the VS fashion show is the one of the most publicized reminders of the way that our society continues to celebrate and value women’s sexuality and physical attractiveness to the detriment of other qualities. Nevertheless, we must face the reality that in the coming years the Show ‘will go on’ and figure out ways that we can protect ourselves.
A) Be the example to others that women can be both beautiful and intelligent!
The media is a highly influential source of learning about gender norms and ideology. With women like those in the VS fashion show being consistently portrayed in one dimensional ways research is able to show us that it actually socializes women to think of themselves as objects to be looked at and evaluated. One recent study found that adolescent girls who viewed sexualized media internalized societal beauty ideals more often, which led to them valuing their appearance over being competent at a skill! While there are many ways that we can counter-act this, I believe there are some very practical and simple ways to begin.
First, realize that while our beauty as women is not dependent on our body, much of our world continues to think so. Each of us have female friends who are skilled at things pertaining to business, athletics, academics or something else. It is important to empower and encourage other women in areas that don’t just pertain to their physique.
Second, and this is something that we often fail to consider, younger girls especially are watching us to see how we respond to such depictions. If we want girls to grow up to feel empowered then we need to be examples and lead the way in showing how to value not just our bodies but the rest of ourselves. An interesting study has recently shown a correlation between a mother’s negative body-shaming talk and her daughter’s evaluation of her own body. The study also stated that mothers have the power to help their daughters filter the cultural standards and challenge conventional ideas of what beauty is. It does not matter whether you are a mother or not because the point is that others are watching us. With research demonstrating that girls as young as 5 years old are developing serious disordered eating attitudes, I think it is imperative we understand the influence we have on other girls.
B) Realize you too can have the same confidence and power that the VS angel models exude in whatever endeavor you decide to pursue!
While casting the girls, Collection Creative Director Sophia Neophitou says, “It’s all about ‘Do they have the confidence, the power to captivate you in that moment when they are projecting themselves to one thousand people in the audience and the millions of people that are going to watch them on T.V.?’”
Are they actually casting the women based on their confidence and power?
In part yes, but mostly no. Of course you want a model that is going to walk with her head held up high and project confidence. However, don’t tell us this is the main criteria right next to the “workout like a VS angel” video on the website. Months ahead of time, as many of the models confess they have strict work-out and diet plans before the casting call. Furthermore, women previously have been portrayed as submissive, and now part of the lure in watching the VS show is how the angels are so confident and assertive. However, that begs the question: What is confidence? How does a person powerfully captivate you?
Most social psychologists would argue that confidence can be learned, and that essentially YOU can fake it until YOU make it. Or in this case, fake it till you feel confident. If you stand tall, smile, look people in the eye, and raise your voice while you speak you will not only feel confident but will be powerfully captivating to the person you are talking too. Therefore going back to the appeal of watching the confident models, I would say that it does not matter that they are confident because the original problem is that they still are celebrated in terms of their bodies.
What we invest our energy into will influence us. Whether you decided to watch the VS fashion show or not this year, just remember to keep a critical mind. If watching the VS fashion show made you feel bad, next year do something that makes you feel good. Read a book or learn something new! Empower yourself in a way that does not mean you have to focus on your body.
Remember that (a) your beauty should never be the sole focus of who you are and (b) you can learn to become a confident, beautiful and intelligent woman in whatever you decide to do – be it engineer, designer or home-maker. We, as women, are so much more than our physical beauty and we need to keep reminding each other of that!
 American Psychological Association, Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. (2010). Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/pi/women/programs/girls/report-full.pdf
 Behm-Morawitz, E., & Mastro, D. (2009). The effects of the sexualization of female video game characters on gender stereotyping and female self-concept. Sex Roles, 61(11-12), 808-823. doi:10.1007/s11199-009-9683-8
 Fredrickson, B. L., & Roberts, T. (1997). Objectification theory: Toward understanding women's lived experiences and mental health risks. Psychology Of Women Quarterly, 21(2), 173-206. doi:10.1111/j.1471-6402.1997.tb00108.x
 Vandenbosch, L., & Eggermont, S. (2014b). The role of television in adolescents’ sexual attitudes: Exploring the explanatory value of the three-step self-objectification process. Poetics, 45, 19-35.doi:10.1016/j.poetic.2014.06.002
 Polak, E. L. (2014). Mother-daughter conversations about appearance: Body image development through joint projects (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). UBC: Vancouver.
 Rome, E. S. (2012). Eating disorders in children and adolescents. Current Problems in Pediatric and Adolescent Health Care, 42(2), 28-44. doi:10.1016/j.cppeds.2011.08.003
 Sophia Neophitou, (2013) Casting the 2013 Victoria Secret Fashion Show (Victoria Secret). Retrieved from http://vsallaccess.victoriassecret.com/2013/11/07/casting-the-2013-victorias-secret-fashion-show/