Victoria’s Secret: Progressive and inclusive? Or another example of modern sexism?

The global lingerie enterprise Victoria’s Secret has once again been facing extensive criticism after their Chief Marketing Officer Ed Razek admitted that transgender and plus-size women would not be allowed to walk in their shows. During an interview with Vogue magazine, the interviewer asked Razek “shouldn’t you have transexuals in the show?”. He responded with “No, no. I don’t think we should”. In his opinion, this is because the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show “is a fantasy”, and therefore the company does not “market to the whole world”. According to Razek, they attempted to do a television special for plus-sized models (over eighteen years ago), but “no one had any interest, still don’t”.

These comments have sparked a huge backlash on social media, particularly from members of the LGBTQ community. The Transgender model Carmen Carrera tweeted “The worst feeling in the world is knowing you have what it takes but are being denied simply for being who you are”. These emotions were echoed by the lingerie blogger Cora Harrington, who wrote “An 80 year old man owns the company and a 70 year old man runs it… their archaic perspectives on women, on gender, on plus-size folks, are making VS a worse brand by the day”. Surely then “the fantasy” of the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is founded on outdated and discriminatory principles? In today’s world, regardless of the company’s ‘aesthetic vision’, the show should include models of all genders and sexual orientations. If not, then face being left behind in the world of progressive and inclusive fashion.

While Razek has publicly apologised for his “insensitive” remarks, and claimed “it was never about gender”, not everyone affected by his comments was convinced. In this year’s show, set to air on December 2, 19 new models walked the runway, yet none of them remotely approached plus-size or “curvy”. It is clear that Victoria’s Secret have only approached the topic of diversity from an ethnical standpoint, and have neglected the overwhelming majority of women who do not fit their ‘angel’ archetype.

Razek claims that “virtually all the bosses here have been women, and have been for 30 years”. But, in today’s age, surely it is not enough to fight one good fight? This year’s New York Fashion Week saw a record setting 53 trans or non-binary models walk the runway, and Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty show included the heavily pregnant model Slick Woods dressed in nipple pasties and stilettos; she in fact went into labour later that night. In the plus-size community, model and activist Ashley Graham recently published her bestselling book, ‘A New Model: What Confidence, Beauty, and Power Really Look Like’. In this book, Graham describes the struggles of trying to make it in the modelling industry with a curvier body, and encourages all women to embrace their authentic selves, regardless of their shape or size.

In this case, even the smallest of acts are having the greatest of consequences for the company’s reputation. After having read the comments made by Razek, Jocelyn Ratzer, a Victoria’s Secret sales assistant from Florida quit her job. Leaving her “appalled and disgusted”, Ratzer commented, “I felt like I was in a compromising position to be working in a place that didn’t want somebody like me representing their brand, or somebody like my trans allies”. This describes perfectly the level of exclusion and discrimination felt by thousands of women around the world directly affected by these comments. Even former models of the company Lily Aldridge and Karlie Kloss showed their support by posting about their respect for the trans community, and the importance of their inclusion in the industry. Yet, Razek and his colleagues claim there is a lack of demand for trans and plus size representation? Well, earlier this year the transgender model Lenya Bloom tweeted that she wanted to be there first ever trans woman cast in VS show. This post received more than 30,000 retweets and 100,000 likes.

So, the ultimate question remains, what will the future hold for Victoria’s Secret? Well, the company has been grappling with falling sales since 2016, and continues to face violent criticism from both inside and outside the industry. In my opinion, unless they dramatically change their casting strategy, Victoria’s Secret will no longer continue to dominate the world of lingerie, and its shows will do no more than highlight the regressive and discriminatory behaviour ridiculed by progressive companies of diverse and forward-thinking fashion.

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