Last week, American lingerie company Victoria’s Secret announced that they would not continue with their famous fashion show. The show with top models in signature costumes – very often with wings – stops after 24 years.
I remember when I first saw the show: I was 19 and I went to a club with some university friends. This was in the early 2000s, when it was all about being skinny (not fit). The music was accompanied by flat screens showing the Victoria’s Secret show over and over again. Men were glued to the screens rather than looking at the women around them and I remember my friends and I discuss that we would never manage look like them. What we did not realise at this point in time was that subconsciously we were being told that this is what we had to look like: tall, thin, busty, no bum, long hair, tan, straight teeth. I think it all made us feel the same way: that we were not enough.
Over the years, I kept following the shows. They names became bigger – if a model was chosen for the show – she made, she was crowned as an “Angel” and allowed in supermodel heaven. And similar to the celebrity status of the models, the show grew bigger and so did the names of the performing singers and attendants of the show. Furthermore, also their beauty ideal changed: fit became the new skinny.
I particularly remember one show: Miranda Kerr was coming down the runway and her then husband Orlando Bloom got up and applauded her. He was obviously proud of her hard work, determination and – first and foremost – looks. I found it so ridiculous: these women were only applauded for one thing: looking beautiful. It was not about their personality, their brains, their careers. They were being applauded for not eating and training their body at a limit which is in my opinion borderline insane. But every year, the show was hyped by the media. The lingerie was what we needed and, of course, we should aspire to look like these models. We glorified women for looking like angels – heavenly, sweet, beautiful – silent, always smiling, corresponding to an ideal.
Thanks to brands like Victoria’s Secret and the media creating a hype around them, we are even expected to “bounce back” to our “amazing bodies” after giving birth just like these models. (I recently had an argument at a meeting when I heard the following: “My wife is worried about what she would look like after having our first child. But I told her not to worry, the angels look amazing after having kids too.” I have heard this line multiple times. Guys, if you expect this from a woman who HAS JUST GIVEN BIRTH think about doing the same: attending a boot camp without eating right after you ran a marathon for months while you still juggle your career. Please let me know if you are interested!)
A few years ago the diet and workout plans of the “Angels” were a major topic in the news. Please google it for fun – just in a nutshell: it is basically eating very little, shortly before the show actually nothing. According to Business Insider, Adriana Lima works out twice a day, cuts out solid food nine days before the show and even stops drinking water two days before the show. I still find it upsetting to see the search results of “Victoria’s Secret workout”: the majority of articles glorify the methods and encouraging women to follow the training and diet plan. However, there have been more and more critical voices.
I was very active as a teenager and played tennis most days of the week. When I started university and later on moved into professional life I kind of lost the interest in sports, unfortunately. But I guess this was the phase of life where partying and enjoying life was more important to me in my leisure time. I rediscovered sports, especially running, during my PhD. I spent hours in front of my laptop and my notoriously bad posture became even worse. I just felt better when I exercised. In Germany a friend then introduced me to strength training and until today I try to exercise three to five times a week with a mix of cardio and strength training. Of course, I saw the effects on my body. But my major goal was to feel better. And this should be what it all is about: making us feel better. No matter what we look like.
The announcement to stop the fashion show did not come as a surprise for me. Over the past year or two, I was glad to see that there has been movement to make the fashion and beauty industry more diverse. Models such as Ashley Graham and Tess Holiday have shaken up the way society sees “curvy women”, apparel companies slowly start to rethink their range of sizes and Rihanna launched her lingerie brand “Savage” for which she uses models of different sizes, skin colours and backgrounds.
I wished this diversity had been there when I was younger. I was a bit chubby when I was in primary school. And sadly, it took me a very long time to overcome all the mean comments (and sometimes even physical attacks). At first it was my weight, then it was my nose and later on it was my teeth. But the older I got, the more I saw that every single one of us was bullied for some part of their outward appearance. And we all bought into the lie that one day, when we look better – maybe even like the models – everything will be easier.
Let me tell you one thing: you are an “angel” the way you are. Not matter your size, height, skin, hair or whatever. I learned to not give a f**k about what other people think of my looks. And yes, there are days where I do not like myself, I think that is normal. But I always say if I ever have children, I rather see them have a great personality than being “beautiful”. Our looks are just a shell which can be changed easily. Our personality is what makes us special.
I am very glad that we seem to have moved on. I am happy that this show has stopped telling young (and old) women what we are supposed to look like. And I hope that this will spark a movement in the fashion industry as a whole to finally include more personality than looks into the runways.