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Me for Minding the Campus: Victoria’s Secret’s feminist capitulation to the bad and the ugly

February 6, 2020

From my latest for Minding the Campus:

[S]omething else happened in 2019: Victoria’s Secret did an ideological about-face. For at least the past two decades, the chain had been subjected to a barrage of criticism from feminist academia and the feminist press. The critics focused on the company’s lack of “diversity” and “inclusivity” (although it has essentially made the careers of [Tyra] Banks, Naomi Campbell, and other minority models), its insistence that its models be tall and slender, even as the average weight of American women continued to rise, its promotion of an “unattainable” standard of beauty said to make ordinary-looking women feel inferior and drive teenage girls to anorexia; its “androcentric” advertising catering to male ideas of what makes a female look sexy; and its refusal to hire transgenders, who starting in 2015 had become America’s most vocal sexual minority, to walk its runways….

[Singer Rihanna’s] Savage X Fenty’s edgy fashion shows, streamed on Amazon in 2019, have been celebrations of unusual body types: obvious transgenders, other performers of uncertain sex, and hefty females showing off their cellulite dimples. The fashion press’s response was ecstatic. “We’d say that makes for a perfect runway show,” Glamour’s Abby Gardner wrote.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, Victoria’s Secret’s top executives panicked at Rihanna’s successes and its own apparent missteps. During the summer of 2019, it hired its first transgender model, 22-year-old Victoria Sampaio….In October 2019, it announced a partnership with Bluebella, another small lingerie company, whose 2006 founder, Emily Bendell, is a feminist academic’s dream CEO. “I always felt that the imagery in the lingerie industry as it was didn’t speak to me,” Bendell told Into the Fold magazine. “It was often narrow, submissive, and focused on dressing up for someone else.”

Victoria’s Secret revamped the windows of its New York and London stores to feature an “inclusivity” campaign starring photographs of another trans model, May Simón Lifschitz, and body-positivity activist Ali Tate Cutler. The window display, featuring four models, including Lifschitz and Cutler, clad in embroidered black Bluebella dominatrix-wear, couldn’t be further from the exuberant spirit of the Victoria’s Secret of just one year ago. For one thing, Lifschitz, who towers over her three fellow models, is probably the only Victoria’s Secret model in history not to wear stilettoes.

Victoria’s Secret now has plenty of what its academic critics have demanded: a dethroning of female beauty—which is not democratic or “inclusive”—and the enthronement of a more democratic ethos that enshrines beauty only if you happen to chant the mantra that everybody is beautiful. Women, presumably, no longer want to buy lingerie in order to look enticing to the menfolk they might love or marry but to “speak for” themselves, alone and unencumbered. Academic feminism has always rested on antagonism toward men, but now it seems to be celebrating antagonism toward anything that makes women feel particularly like women.

Read the whole thing here.

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