Victoria’s Secret 2016: Lingerie leaps into Diversity

VS Wildabout Magazine

Air kisses, a performance by a celebrated pop artist and angel wings. The Victoria`s Secret Fashion Show, the annual flurry of laced and long-limbed girls. Since it’s first show in 1995, VS has had some of the fashion industry’s most celebrated supermodels walk the runway. From Klum to Campbell, every year viewers tune in to celebrate the craftsmanship of the beaded bras on what are considered the embodiments of the most beautiful women. 

It is the lingerie event of the year where no wings are too flamboyant, no setting too glamorous and no artist too out of reach. All this has equated to some iconic, standout moments: 2001 saw angels gliding over the audience  from the ceiling; PETA protesters erupted during Gisele Bundchen`swalk in 2002; Karolina Kurkova, Alessandro Ambrosio and Gisele strutted in matching Santa outfits, 2005`s 15 million pound fantasy bra, Miranda Kerr`s snow bunny costume, Justin Timberlake`s performance of Sexy Back in 2006, and who could forget the heart-warming couple, Heidi Klum and Seal stealing the show.   

The finale of the 2003 show. Image source: nydailynews.com
The finale of the 2003 show. Image source: nydailynews.com

But something was missing from each and every one of these celebrated moments: diversity. At an important time of political discomfort, Victoria Secret, with millions of viewers waiting for the show each year, has the potential of promoting a positive body image to a huge audience and leading the way into a new inclusive era of fashion. However, it is not as simple as this, with part of the appeal of the show being to display of slender, toned, “perfect” bodies that represent a Western ideal of beauty. Yet, while this would imply a lack of diversity in body shape, this does not excuse the minimal racial or ethnic diversity, traditionally typical of the show.

A lack of diversity was evident for many years. Image source: Alux.com
A lack of diversity was evident for many years. Image source: Alux.com

Despite changing location most years, the Victoria Secret Fashion Show fails to represent different women. Who exactly decides which models will be walking and representative of the most beautiful women in the world? Who has the authority to claim this? What are the attributes they are looking to show off and what flaws must be missing? What even counts as an attribute or a flaw?  Of course, Victoria Secret are not solely to blame. They are part of an industry where we are only beginning to see more diversity in race, gender and body shape. So, what makes these lingerie collections any different from controversial competitions such as Miss World and Miss Universe? That’s another story.  But, what we can at least recognise for now is Victoria Secret’s recent embrace of a wider variety in the representation of different races and women.

The four Asian models who walked this year
The four Asian models who walked this year. Image source: elle.com

In recent years, the Victoria`s Secret show has been heavily criticised for seemingly promoting a very limited definition of beauty- tall, invariably slim with long, glossy hair and more often than not, Western and white. 2016, however, ushered in a fresh approach with a whole array of beautiful women of various races, heritages and nationalities. As expected, there were many glowing, dark-haired Brazilians, Daniela Braga and Adriana Lima to name a few, along with the usual blue-eyed blondes, Elsa Hosk, Stella Tennant and Romee Strijd. They shared  the runway with the all-American beauties, Taylor Hill and Kendall Jenner. However, of the 51 models who walked the Paris show, 22% were black, a record 4 girls were Asian and Jasmine Tookes, of Brazilian, African and West Indian heritage, was chosen to wear the highly-coveted Fantasy Bra.

Jasmine Tookes is one of the few models to wear the Fantasy bra who have been white.
Jasmine Tookes is one of the few VS models to wear the Fantasy bra who is not white. Image source: elle.com

What`s more? Three girls rocked their natural hair, with Angolan Maria Borges enthusing “It was such a big opportunity…I want to show women that anything’s possible. You can still look beautiful with short hair”. Alongside her, Houston native Jourdana Philips shaved and bleached her hair one month before the show whilst New York born Dilone rocked an edgy pixie cut.

The three black models who rocked their natural hair
(from left) Jourdana Philips, Herieth Paul and Maria Borges rocking their shorter hair. Image source: elle.com

Unfortunately, there were no transgender models and there was very little diversity in body shape with the show comprising of tall, willowy and slender girls, completely devoid of any plus-size or curvier women. Victoria`s Secret has however progressed in portraying beauty as a global, multi-race, multi-cultural affair. As Maria Borges and co. sashayed down the runway, the lingerie brand made strides into new, inclusive territories where diversity and beauty go hand in hand and wing by wing, and we are already looking forward to next year’s runway.

The 2016 show finale
Image source: elle.com

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