Victoria’s Secret Reveals the “Perfect Body”

Posted by on Nov 4, 2014

Just when we thought we were making progress on valuing women’s realistic shapes and sizes, Victoria’s Secret jumps in to tighten the measuring tape again.

The lingerie baron recently launched a marketing campaign for their “Body” line of lingerie that features the slogan “The Perfect ‘Body’.” The lacy creations are modeled by ten of the Victoria’s Secret “Angels” — thigh gabs, visible ribs, protruding collar bones, and all.

Questionably-nourished models are nothing new for Victoria’s Secret; emblazoning the word PERFECT on them, though, eliminates any doubt we might’ve had about the message Victoria’s Secret is sending: Thin ⇔ Perfect.

The campaign has earned plenty of backlash from women and men who are outraged by the blatant marketing strategy, which they say is meant to make women feel insecure about their bodies so that they will buy products that will make them feel less badly about not meeting the societal standard of beauty. A petition that has gathered more than 20,000 signatures is demanding that Victoria’s Secret “apologize and take responsibility for the unhealthy and damaging message that their ‘Perfect Body’ campaign sends out about women’s bodies and how they should be judged.”

TRIGGER WARNING: The Victoria’s Secret “Perfect Body” campaign photo is posted below.

Victoria’s Secret is not the first retailer to feed (so to speak) into the thin ideal. It certainly won’t be the last. Granted, I imagine Victoria’s Secret would insist its “perfect” slogan is intended only as a clever way to advertise the Body line as “perfect” for women: the most comfortable, form-fitting, aesthetically-pleasing underwear you’ll ever have the privilege to hide beneath your clothing. After all, a business exists to sell a product or service, and the best way to get the product sold is to inspire a want or need in the customer. And who doesn’t want perfection?

Victoria's Secret

New York-based retailer Dear Kate created a parody of the Victoria’s Secret “Perfect Body” image. The company wrote: “Through this photo, we showcase women who are often neglected by the media and traditional retailers. We show the multitude of shapes perfect bodies can take.”

Here’s the thing, though. Our society is image-centric. In the era of social media and high-definition photography, images are the quickest and catchiest way to communicate a message. Outside of The Middle Ground, I too belong to the marketing world. Images draw readers in. We use them in very deliberate ways. I use them on this very blog so that they will add a visual component to my messages and will hopefully draw readers in to actually read the post.

Put simply, marketers communicate messages in the way that is most likely going to make you, the viewer, stop what you’re doing and pay attention. No retailer or advertiser is “just” showcasing their product. They want to you to believe that this product holds a meaningful place in your life — that you need this product. Those “angels” in the Victoria’s Secret poster aren’t simply modeling underwear; they’re telling a story. Who are they? Why did they choose these garments? How did the ten of them form this particular group? What are their eyes saying? What are their bodies saying?

That might sound like an overstatement. You might argue that an image doesn’t hold that kind of power over you — rather, you glance at it and then go back to thinking about more important things. But our minds work in far more complex ways than we realize. The thoughts that are triggered when we see an image, or hear a song, or just walk down the street are merely the tip of the iceberg. There is an entire world of unconscious thoughts and feelings beneath the ones we actively think and feel. Your unconscious registers every piece of information that enters into your experience.

So even if you see a bone-thin model and don’t consciously think one way or another about her, the information you instantaneously gather from that image nevertheless gets logged in your unconscious. And the more your unconscious “sees” those models associated with fame, success, glory, wealth, and beauty, the more those associations get reinforced.

Images are everywhere. And they do have an impact on our thoughts and feelings about ourselves and about the world, especially if we don’t think critically about the messages we internalize. Is it asking too much for media, advertisers, and the like to start taking seriously the fact that, like it or not, they shape cultural attitudes? At what point will they take responsibility for the messages they are breathing into our atmosphere? How long will we suffer these message before we start holding their creators responsible?

Victoria's Secret

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