On Wednesday night I was keeping one eye on Twitter while watching the finale of The Missing, a drama about a man who kidnapped teenage girls and abused them. Fun. Meanwhile, the Victoria’s Secret show was happening in Paris and the tweets about it were coming thick and fast. ‘When art makes you cry,’ wrote @hotlinemama above a photograph from the show of a model in her knickers and bra.
For a millisecond I thought she was being sarcastic. Then I woke up and it was still 2016. A man who bragged about genital-grabbing is going to be President, sarcasm is dead and a parade of lingerie models is being treated as a cultural event. We are in post-ironic times. Populist, sexist, pretending to be something it’s not, the Victoria’s Secret fashion show is so on trend this year.
Over on Instagram a fashion editor at the show captioned one of her pictures of the sleazefest: “Girls girls girls and boobs and booties!” She wasn’t being critical. Benny Hill couldn’t have put it better himself.
I feel like I’m going mad. A few weeks ago I saw a photograph of a woman in her 70s in New York at an anti-Trump rally holding a banner that read: “I can’t believe I’m still protesting this s***!” It made me laugh but hollowly. I imagined the knock-backs she might have endured over the decades: the consistently lower pay, the lack of promotion, the job she’d had to give up when she got pregnant, the arguments, and the slow, frustrating progress in trying to get people to understand that women are not sexual objects and that equality is a right, not an indulgence. She thought she was getting somewhere and now what do her granddaughter’s generation get in return? An underwear show.
2016 was the year that people said the unsayable and it got them somewhere. Bully for them. I’m not going to stop saying what I want to say either. But I feel out of time. I saw how my point of view was becoming archaic in 2014 when the Victoria’s Secret show came to London. I was sent an invitation and I ripped it up and chucked it in the bin. The 20-something female intern who sat next to me at the time was appalled. She didn’t understand. What was wrong with the Victoria’s Secrets fashion show? In her opinion it was an amazing, empowering celebration of the bodies of beautiful, healthy women. She and all her friends thought so.
I had a similar discussion a month ago with a teenage girl I know. She loves those models. She’d give anything to go to the show. Had I ever been? I told her that on the contrary I refused to go. She didn’t get it either. On her social media feeds this girl poses in swimming costumes and skimping clothing, showing off her tiny tummy and her cleavage. I worry about her.
This generation is being fed scantily clad lies by a lot of people who are complicit. The show is a fake safe place where these women strut about in their undies and everyone involved in the commercial aspect of it and everyone who loves the sight of women in their pants and the media groups who enjoy the traffic that the images bring, go along with the notion that it is empowering, that the models are in control, that we are celebrating sisterhood, fashion and ‘healthy’ body image. None of this is true. (A morsel of advice from one of the Angels’ physical trainers: “think of ice cream, drink water”).
And let’s see how these attitudes are currently playing out in the real world. Girls as young as seven have insecurities, anxieties and disorders relating to body image. According to a Department of Education report published in August, more than one in three teen girls suffer from anxiety or depression. Sexual abuse is rife not just on social media but in schools. Another government report, revealed on this newspaper’s front page on Wednesday, exposed how “sexual abuse of girls in schools is accepted as part of ‘lad culture’”.
“Boys are now surrounded with social and cultural messages that encourage them to act in ‘sexually dominant ways, and to collude with other males who do so,’” the findings warned.
So I don’t want to go along with the normalisation of commercial titillation, with the lies about Victoria’s Secret, thanks very much. I think it is part of something that is having a dire effect on our daughters – and our sons.
But maybe I’m just out of date. Maybe 48.1 million Victoria’s Secret Instagram followers can’t be wrong. Is the tide too strong to fight? Has 2016 got the ‘fashion show’ it deserves? Am I alone out here?
Did you know?
* There is no Victoria, and she doesn’t have any secrets. Founder Roy Raymond picked the brand’s name in 1977, simply by deciding that he wanted to mimic the look of a Victorian boudoir in his first shop. His idea was to create a store in which men didn’t feel embarrassed when buying underwear for their wives.
* The first Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show was in 1995 at the Plaza Hotel in New York.
* Naomi Campbell, Stephanie Seymour and Helena Christensen walked in the second show, at the same venue in 1996, thus starting the brand’s association with supermodels.
* Claudia Schiffer modelled the brand’s first Fantasy Bra in 1996, with a price tag of $1 million.
* The most expensive Fantasy Bra ever was modelled by Gisele Bündchen in 2005 and was composed of 2,900 pave diamonds, 22 rubies, and a 101-carat diamond centerpiece set in white gold. It cost $12.5 million.
* 2016’s Paris-based show is the second time that the brand has held its extravaganza outside of the US, the first time being at London’s Earl’s Court in 2014.
* There are now Victoria’s Secret Angels from every continent, except for Antarctica.
* In 2003, Heidi Klum sported the biggest wings in the brand’s history, standing 12 feet high.
* Victoria’s Secret’s revenue for the fiscal year ended January 31st 2015 was $7.2 billion, boasting a $1.2 billion profit.