Shame on us America. We have allowed Victoria’s Secret to dictate what is an attractive image of women. This occurred to me the other night when a commercial (for the Victoria’s Secret 2011 Holiday clothing line) came on at about 9:30 pm. (a time when many teenagers are watching TV). We are so inundated with sexual images that most of us don’t even recognize them immediately. When this ad began, it took me a second or two before I fully opened my eyes to what I was seeing. But when I came to my senses, I watched the end of the “holiday” commercial and was disgusted by the barely-clad women slinking around in lingerie saying, “Tell me you love me“, “Delight me” in an obviously sexually-intended manner. Why is this on prime time?!
There is plenty wrong here, and yet many viewers clearly have no real problem with this. Our sensibilites toward what is acceptable in television have been pushed and pushed until now it is really nothing unusual or offensive. The women in these commercials seem more playboy-bunny than holiday cheer, but what do I know… Well, come to think of it, I do know a thing or two. As one who has parented five teenagers (and still has four teens in the making), I know that they are vulnerable to a lot more than peer pressure. Our society and what is pervasive in our culture has a tremendous affect on teenagers (not to mention all of us). And whether we like to admit it or not, these “angels”, as the Victoria’s Secret models are known these days, are contributing to that culture. My children weren’t watching TV when this commercial came on, however it would be naive for me to think that they are still unaffected by it.
Curious, I did a Google search to see if there were any other similar commercials being aired. There are more than just commercials. Last week 10.5 million viewers tuned in for the 2011 Victoria’s Secret Runway Show. I pulled up a 10-minute video highlighting the show, and was further disappointed with what I saw. Not only were the Victoria’s Secret models walking the runway in their underwear with elaborate angel wings behind them and with accessories which highlighted a lot more than their lingerie, they were so skinny they appeared unreal. These runway shows are nothing new, and either are waft-thin super models. However as I watched the video I had to ask myself…Why aren’t we as consumers demanding something different?
One of the Victoria’s Secret models (a new mother as of last January, by the way) said she ate only liquid foods and protein shakes for nine days before the runway shoot. She even said later, somewhat defensively, that starving herself isn’t something she advocates doing, it’s just part of the job…and she sees it as a challenge not unlike that of an athlete preparing for an event. What? As one who considers myself a female athlete, I wanted to scream when I heard this. In my opinion, athletes are strong, and although disciplined, usually develop healthy ways to get better at what they do if they want to excel at their sport (some athletes do take things too far and become extreme about their weight, as evidenced in a recent article exposing the world of the female ballerina – anorexia, bulimia, infertility, and all).
As I continued to think about the Victoria’s Secret models, I found myself asking whether anybody in America really viewed these females as an image of fitness or health. I also had a strange urge to arm wrestle or race one of them in a 5K. While I realize that it is their job to be thin, I also understand the powerful impact they can have on young people. The promotion of an ideal body image that is incredibly unrealistic and unhealthy does nothing but add further pressure to young women who start to believe that it is how they should look. When it is estimated that 10 million American women suffer with an eating disorder, we cannot ignore the issue. Obesity, which some categorize as a different kind of eating disorder, is obviously rampant as well. We are certainly not a society that can claim we are doing well in the healthy eating and healthy body image department. So why do we continue to perpetuate this impossible body image as somehow ideal?
We are busy living our lives and may sometimes feel that we are at the mercy of what is dominant in society. We may believe that television, other media, and companies like Victoria’s Secret are so huge that there is little that we can do as individuals to oppose their image. But there is something. We don’t have to spend our money at Victoria’s Secret or anywhere else that promotes ideals and values that we find objectionable. It may be a small thing, but on the other hand, money talks. If we stand by and allow other people to dictate what is the “perfect” body type (as if there is one at all), we should feel helpless. But if instead, we stop buying from the likes of Victoria’s Secret (and not just this Christmas), and continue to speak to our teens about what is truly beautiful, inside and out, we can make a difference. Maybe if we pass on this message we can begin to alter the image of the perfect body that is put forth by the culture, and promote women, not as objects, but as images of the One who made them.