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Victoria’s Secret Swim 2012 by Cyril Attias 


January 24, 2024

Naisha Didwania

For decades, Victoria's Secret stood as an iconic brand, known for its lingerie, runway shows, and "angels'’ who graced glossy magazine covers. The brand's image was synonymous with glamor and feminine allure. However, in recent years, Victoria's Secret has faced a series of scandals that have eroded its once sterling reputation.


As ‘body positive’ brands such Aerie, Thirdlove and LIVELY cropped up, VS’s approach to body image and inclusivity came under intense scrutiny. People were, in particular, fed up with the sizing systems. Whilehere’s over 19 cup sizes,VS only carries 7. Additionally, there are 10 band sizes, butVS carries only 6. In fact, it can be argued that VS contributed to the rise of body dysmorphia cases in women in record numbers. The models and campaigns centered around a very particular stick-skinny body type, which is unattainable for the majority of the population. Women were buying into this toxic idealized version of what ‘sexy’ was supposed to look like, thus perpetuating generations of unhealthy eating habits. The models themselves admitted to suffering from anorexia and eating disorders. Adriana Lima's infamous interview detailed her extreme pre-show diet, where she went days without solid food. This seemed to be the last straw and immense backlash ensued. 


 Barington Capital sent a letter to Les Wexner, accusing the brand of being ‘tone deaf’ and ‘outdated’. Within the uproar of the #MeToo movement, Victoria Secret was forced to reevaluate its position in the current market. Soon after, minimal efforts were made to turn the brand image around. However, questions remain: Were these efforts genuine or performative? And more importantly, were they enough? 


To serve as new faces for the brand, Victoria Secret hired a ‘VS collective’: a group of women to serve as ambassadors who advise the band. Amongst these women are Priyanka Chopra, Indian actor and tech investor, and size 14 model Paloma Elesser. While this was a step up from the all angel-winged supermodels, critics argued it was not a significant improvement in terms of inclusivity. Applied psychology professor Rachel Rogers said that the women were all still ‘horrendously attractive’. However, Ms. Elsesser claims she joined the VS collective to go “back to the sheer metrics of the situation.” Instead of being ‘just a model or face’ for the brand, she actively involved herself in their rebrand and lobbied for the sizing to increase upto XXXXXL. Through similar efforts, VS’s marketing strategy shifted from deficit to empowering, where instead of insinuating that buying their product would ‘fix’ women’s problems, the advertisements veered toward values instead. 


A major step was getting rid of the infamous red carpet and replacing it with more inclusive campaigns, one of which was the Mother’s Day campaign. This was the first time in history VS launched a maternity line and maternity bras. Still, critics continue to question the campaign’s authenticity. For instance, Rogers argues “ost pregnant bodies don’t look like this… the image has been sexualized and stylized and made to look that way.” This in turn causes new pressures for pregnant women, whose attention would be misdirected towards appearance and physical upkeep as opposed to their bodily functionality and health in this vulnerable period. 


Yakov Bart, an Associate Director of Marketing, gives Victoria Secret the benefit of the doubt: ‘better late than never!’ he quips. However, he maintains that it will still take a lot more effort for the brand to convince consumers that they are making genuine changes and the “new values aren’t just window dressing.” Victoria Secret is just one of many brands who are engaging in what is coming to be known as”‘performative marketing.” Such brands are giving consumers what they think they want in the interest of greater market share and not greater brand ethos. In such cases, it is up to the consumers to identify what values they resonate with and which brands are the most in line with them. 

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