Halsey’s Victoria’s Secret Call-Out Points to a Larger Problem Within the Brand
As her performance in the 2018 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show aired on Sunday night, Halsey took to social media to call out the brand’s parent company L Brands and its chief marketing officer, Ed Razek, for transphobic and fatphobic comments he made in the weeks leading up to the show. (Razek has since apologized and stated that he accidentally misspoke.)
“I have adored the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show since I was young,” the singer shared in her posts. “Performing this year alongside other amazing artists and hardworking models/friends was supposed to be the best night of my year. However, after I filmed the performance, some comments were made regarding the show that I simply cannot ignore.”
She continued: “As a member of the LGBTQ community I have no tolerance for lack of inclusivity. Especially not one motivated by a stereotype.” Halsey then mentioned that in light of the statements made by Razek, she made a “sizable donation” to GSLEN, an organization that supports queer youth.
While the singer’s actions are commendable, they also raise a glaring point: that the fashion brand has never been inclusive. For the millions of women whose bodies and truths have never been reflected in the annual runway show, recognizing that reality is important.
Razek, 70, told Vogue in November that if the company were to use diverse models, they would be seen as pandering to a modern audience. He further said the company doesn’t use transgender or plus-size women models because “the show is a fantasy. It’s a 42-minute entertainment special. That’s what it is.”
And while that idea — that fantasy can only be captured by the bodies the company currently employs to stomp their runway — may be shocking to some, for those outside of traditional beauty standards, Razek’s words simply solidify the company’s longstanding ostracization of queer and fat people.
And that’s entirely by design. The brand has, since its founding, encouraged its wearers to play to the straight, male, and predominantly white gaze.
In her essay on the brand for Longreads, “Who Even Watches the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show Anymore?” Soraya Roberts points out that Roy Raymond, the brand’s founder, envisioned a company where men could feel comfortable shopping for their fantasy woman’s undergarments — not necessarily for the wearers themselves. In other words, Victoria’s Secret was intended not as a place where women would feel free to express themselves, but one where men could buy their sexual fantasies to impose upon them.
To skirt the elephant in the room with some plausible deniability, the brand positioned itself as a vehicle for empowerment for women.
“We had this whole pitch that the woman bought this very romantic and sexy lingerie to feel good about herself, and the effect it had on a man was secondary,” Roberts quotes from an interview between Raymond and author Susan Fauldi in her book Backlash. “It allowed us to sell these garments without seeming sexist.” They have continued to subtly market to men for 40 years.
The brand’s narrow beauty ideal is reflected in its sizes. The largest panty size Victoria’s Secret offers is an extra-large — equivalent to a size 16 — in a world where almost 70 percent of American women are bigger than a 14.
Meanwhile, the women who do walk the runway have been getting slimmer. Some have admitted to over-exercising, crash dieting, and worse in order to attain the brand’s signature look.
After Razek’s comments went viral, the executive issued a follow-up statement where he claimed that the brand had, in fact, seen trans models during casting calls in the past. Not everyone was buying it, though. Model and former Drag Race contestant Carmen Carrera replied to his statement, saying that while she couldn’t speak on behalf of other trans models, her own fan-promoted casting session with the company had indeed been scheduled — only to be canceled by Victoria’s Secret, day-of, with no explanation.
“They knew who I was and how much international support I received to make this happen,” Carrera said in her statement. “I hope they change real soon! If they are ready for a positive change with a real impact, they know where to find me.”
Meanwhile, Victoria’s Secret is struggling to maintain its 1,000 brick-and-mortar retail stores across the US. And Razek’s admission likely won’t help his brand’s success.
In the face of growing competition from trans and fat-friendly undergarment manufacturers across the globe, Victoria’s Secret’s insistence on selling a non-inclusive fantasy while struggling financially suggests that their idea of the perfect woman doesn’t actually exist. Maybe that was Victoria’s secret all along.
(Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Victoria’s Secret)