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I'm No Angel: Fighting Against the Fashion Industry's "Perfect Body"
The Fault in Our Fashion Industry: Promoting an ‘Ideal’ Body Shape
To ring in the new year, Victoria’s Secret has recently launched the “biggest sports event of the year,” and with it, a new controversy. Its newest sports line campaign has compelled frustrated critics to point out and question the brand’s lack of body diversity. In an Instagram video counting down to the event and in an advertisement detailing a sales deal on Victoria’s Secret activewear, many noted the company’s exclusion of other body types, arguing that the homogenous nature of these models is not representative of a fit and body-positive lifestyle that the sportswear line should strive to depict (after all, newsflash: every body can be seen hitting up the gym).
This should not come as a surprise. Here, we are witnessing just one more controversy in a string of outcries against the infamous lingerie brand. Back in 2014, a Victoria’s Secret ad for the VS body bra captioned “The Perfect ‘Body’” positioned in front of a plethora of tall, thin women sparked a fair amount of backlash from customers, including a change.org petition demanding a change in brand messaging on their ads and a sincere apology from Victoria’s Secret for promoting an unrealistic standard of beauty and a dangerous message for young women about their bodies. The “Love Your Body” campaign, though seemingly promoting self-love, fell short as only thin women were portrayed, suggesting that everyone else could become deserving of such self-confidence and self-affection if only they became a little bit skinnier.
However, Victoria’s Secret is only the latest participant in a long practice of promoting an “ideal body.” Similar brands that actively appeal to young women are also guilty in establishing and maintaining conventional beauty standards that create a seriously damaging message for women.
In a 2006 interview, then-CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch Mike Jeffries candidly explained that its refusal to carry clothes in extra-large sizes was an attempt to appeal to “the attractive all-American kid,” and that “overweight” women did not fall into that category. Jeffries stressed the importance of hiring and marketing to good-looking people, in hopes that they would attract other good-looking people and give the brand an exclusionary and elite face. Despite receiving an incredible amount of backlash from the press, from talkshow host Ellen Degeneres to actor Jim O’Heir, the brand still exclusively hires impossibly wafer thin models and fails to carry any size above a large in women’s clothing.
Meanwhile, American Eagle has attempted to rebrand itself as more body-positive with its lingerie sister-brand Aerie recently launching a new campaign against Photoshop and airbrushing, depicting “real women” and “challenging supermodel standards” for their young demographic. However, its message fell short when the company chose Emma Roberts to represent the face of the brand. Roberts undeniably carries a natural tendency to align with conventional beauty standards, one commenter noting, “When you are picking such a thin and physically ideal person as this as your model, it isn’t as though you need to brag about no retouching.” Many have considered that by choosing a model who fall into such a narrow standard of beauty to represent this movement only co-opts the message, leaving Aerie’s young customers thinking that the only way they can be naturally beautiful is to be as slim, petite and large-chested.
The Devil Wears Prada: How the Fashion Industry Negatively Impacts Young Women’s Body Image
As big-name fashion brands continue to produce abnormally thin and digitally altered versions of “ideal femininity,” the more normalized these images become in our increasingly media-saturated world. Various studies have proven the negative repercussions of this normalization, as society develops a distorted body image that can have serious effects on self-image, especially during critical stages of their development as youth. Up to 80% of 10-year-old girls have been on a diet, 40-60% of children between the ages of 6-12 are concerned about their weight, and nearly 53% of 13-year-old girls are dissatisfied with the way their body looks, skyrocketing to 73% by the time they reach the age of 17. Unsurprisingly, the correlation between media exposure and the likeliness of developing an eating disorder is becoming stronger and more distinct, which can take a toll on an individual’s mental and physical health.
It’s even more discouraging when these models step out of the pages of magazines. Now more than ever, models are more interactive as they come to life through the power of social media. Hailed as the epitome of physical pristine, Victoria’s Secret Angels have become socialite sweethearts with impressive followings on social media where they so generously allow the public to see life through their glamorous existence as winners of the genetic lottery. Because of this, Angels have become largely influential in the lives of easily-impressionable young women. Their willingness to share their incredibly exciting lives, given to them in part by their blessed good looks, has given young women the impression that the only way to achieve happiness is to be as beautiful as these Angels: thin, tall, leggy and busty.
I’m No Angel: Embracing Body Positivity In Spite of the Media
It is difficult to embrace body-positivity when surrounded by messages telling you otherwise, however it can (and should) be done. At the end of the day, we must come to terms with the fact that this “perfect body” is nothing more than a social construct, whether meticulously crafted by a team of make-up artists and image editing software or filtered on social media, and let go of unrealistic beauty standards for ourselves.
Our bodies are magnificent. At any given second, there are millions of microscopic systems at work taking care of us and enabling us agency to experience this life. Our bodies deserve acceptance and appreciation, in every shape, size, and form. We should remember to be kind to ourselves and make the active effort to do so on a daily basis. We should know that there isn’t a right or wrong way to be beautiful, and the only thing preventing us from feeling beautiful at any given time is our own perception of what constitutes beauty.
In the meantime, the fashion industry should make a conscious effort to introduce more body diversity on their runways. Lane Bryant’s Cacique plus-size lingerie and intimate apparel line issued their “I’m No Angel” campaign in direct opposition to aforementioned Victoria’s Secret “The Perfect ‘Body’” campaign in 2014, reinforcing the idea that all sizes are beautiful. The brand made headlines once again this past year with its #PlusIsEqual movement, taking hold right before Fashion Week in New York City. The momentum for fashion equality and body representation is gaining, but there is still much work needed to be done.
Perhaps plus-size model Ashley Graham sums it up best in her Ted Talk. “We need to work together to re-define the global vision of beauty,” Graham concludes. “And it starts with becoming your own role model.”