Why the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show Makes Us Uncomfortable

How comfortable would you be even showing us what is in your lingerie drawers much less wearing it for a fashion show?

The 2014 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show is being broadcast in the United States at the moment of this writing, and any of us who have seen the buzz online in days leading up to the pre-recorded broadcast essentially know what's in it without the need to watch. The show is culturally noted not so much for its display of lingerie fashion as for the women who model it, with Twitter exploding during each year's airing with comments about low self esteem from female viewers who compare themselves to body standards impossible to attain on a daily basis in real life, even for models. The following list contains some of the techniques that reporters and Victoria's Secret itself have publicized that are specifically utilized for the the shows and among their most popular models to produce the "Victoria's Secret Angel" appearance for the once-a-year event. While reviewing the extensive efforts required, it is hoped that the reader will be encouraged to abstain from comparing herself to these standards that the media promotes as ideal.

  • Most Victoria's Secret models walk the runway at a height of over 6 feet including exceptional natural height plus platform stilettos. Shorter models are culled during casting for the show, regardless of how otherwise beautiful they may be.
  • Bust size is enhanced with surgical implants and/or padded bras and silicone bra inserts. Victoria's Secret models, while not as thin as most other fashion runway models, are still too thin to genuinely have the breast sizes they appear to have during the show.
  • Hair extensions, lots of them, are pasted into every model's hair in preparation for the show. One model said she flips her head upside down and shakes her hair to volumize it just before each of her 30-second walks down the runway, something most of us wouldn't desire to do every 30 seconds on an average day, but it does make hair look lovely for a moment!
  • Fake tans are a necessity for models, and Victoria's Secret manufactures its own line of self-tanners and bronzers for the aspiring woman to change her natural skin color, too.
  • Professional makeup artists create relatively natural looks for the shows, but a decent amount of eye makeup and bright pink lip color is still applied, something neither the models nor we were born with.
  • Most of the models start upping their workouts to two to four hours per day starting two to three months before the show. That would be easy for a professional athlete, more difficult for someone who has a normal life to live.
  • To reduce bloating, models engage in extreme diet and fluid restrictions in the day or two leading up to the show. Candid photos of the models on average days the rest of the year reveal they don't look that skinny all of the time.
  • A Twitter trend from the 2014 show is a close-up of stretch marks on one model's hip. Even models who make it through all the preparation and onto the runway are still not perfect when seen up close. Any still shots from the show used in advertising are touched up, and others are taken at a different time and made to look as if they were from the show in order to allow more control over hair and makeup.
  • The sad reality of the current fashion industry is that many models develop eating disorders or drug addictions in the quest to attain and remain "model size." Lower weights are more difficult to maintain than natural weights, meaning below-weight models may find themselves hungry often. The average modeling career is a short one, and it may take years after retirement for models to achieve a healthy mental and physical equilibrium, if ever. Weight maintenance is a constant issue for Victoria's Secret models, and the line is a fine one; they must be neither too thin nor too heavy. Several models who have given birth have recovered their pre-pregnant shapes within a few months in order to walk the runway. Articles are regularly written about the influence of these models upon other women who may develop eating disorders or undergo surgery trying to copy the look.

One of the models preparing for this year's show was interviewed by Women's Wear Daily and said that since becoming a Victoria's Secret model, she has gotten into the habit of walking around her house in underwear, and her mother has asked her what happened to her modesty. It is generally the case that when a woman is forced beyond her comfort zones of modesty for whatever reason, modeling, pageant participation or peer pressure, she will eventually become accustomed to a new set of standards. Modesty is probably the reason most of us, whether female or male, are uncomfortable with the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, even if all we've seen of it is the occasional advertisement. Lingerie is meant to be worn privately, so something seems off about women parading it in front of a full auditorium plus 9 million television viewers. Our culture may be sliding toward more immodesty in daily dressing, but we are not to the point yet of women walking around daily as undressed as Victoria's Secret show presents its models. Even swimwear with the same square inches of coverage is more opaque than most lingerie.

Although the wings and other accessories used for the shows are exquisitely done (see a few videos of the making of the shows to see master artisans in action), the embellishments seem more suited to a science fiction movie than lingerie intended to be marketed for real women in real life. The shows are estimated to cost between and $10 and $15 million to produce, easily so considering the cost of materials including precious metals and stones, time for costume construction, model fees, auditorium usage and other labor and materials costs. Clearly the company makes enough money to sustain the expense, but I wonder how much more business they would create by turning that expense into attention to better fitting lingerie. Ask anyone beyond a C cup what is the brand of their most comfortable bra, and it is probably not going to be Victoria's Secret since the designs, ironically, cater to smaller sizes, the opposite of those which their models appear to be. Comments are often made around the web about the poor fit of bras on Victoria's Secret models.

It would be interesting to test whether more shoppers would feel comfortable entering the stores if the advertising displays were more discreet. Several Victoria's Secret stores have recently opened in the Middle East, and the cultural standards of modesty there have forced the company to tame its advertising images and store displays in those countries, something many of us would welcome here in the United States if for nothing more than to be able to accompany a friend or spouse through a mall without feeling like the Victoria's Secret ads create an obstacle course to nervously navigate. Lingerie has its place in private, and it would be lovely if Victoria's Secret would work just as hard to make shoppers comfortable with its advertising as it does to produce beautiful designs.