This is a rebuttal to Marni Chan's article, "Why Does Victoria's Secret Think Lingerie is Not For Women?" Rather than post 1,000 comments to make my point, it seemed easier to write a counter-piece to reassure our female readers that the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show is still all about them.
In her article, Chan states that "The women are coquettish in feathered wings and garters, telegraphing to the audience that they are the ultimate stereotypical male fantasy, a fallen saint ... The logic would then be that women are purchasing lingerie to please men."
This however, in not the case.
While I personally don't fantasize about fallen angels, I can see the allure, so I won't harp too much on that point. But as Chan accurately notes, "[VS'] marketing caters to women’s fantasies of feeling sensual, with product placement videos featuring self-pleasure, or even female dominance and unapologetic sexuality."
The point she is making is that women aren't/shoudln't be buying lingerie for men, they are buying it for themselves. Women like to feel sexy.
But what is "sexy?" Who defines, "sexy?"
Well, lets look at the other side.
Walk into any gym and what do you see? Men lifting weights. For someone like me who is begrudgingly athletic, this is not a particularly pleasant activity. However, I shell out money so that three times a week I can go lift heavy things and put them down again, and repeat. Why do I put myself through this? For the same reason I deny myself chocolate chip cookies (my one true joy in life); I do it so I can have a nice body.
Why do I want a nice body? Well, I say for my self-confidence. But what is my self-confidence made of? Many will say that it is intrinsic, that what other people think doesn't matter (or it shouldn't). However, if I build my self-confidence by accomplishing a great task for which I'm proud of myself. How do I know that task was impressive in the first place? The only way we can gauge our abilities, and therefore feel confidence in ourselves, is to compare ourselves to our peers. Our perceptions of what is good to attain and what isn't is likewise defined by the consensus of our peers.
So no matter how stoic about "other people's opinions" you want to be, in the end, it always matters.
"Nice body" for me is defined by what society deems a nice body. That is the body all men are trying to achieve, and it is the body most desired by women.
Women want to feel sexy. Why? Because just like men, being attractive to the opposite sex is a key component of self-esteem. No one, man or woman, likes being told they are undesirable.
So when Chan comments that women should be buying lingerie for themselves, and not for men, there is a contradiction. Women are buying lingerie for themselves, so they can feel sexy, but that is inevitably defined by how desired they are by men (or rather how desirable women think and feel like they are).
Posters in the comment's section of Chan's article chide society for this. Women who are not as attractive as the VS models feel inadequate, and its all because men and by extension the media, set too high a standard for beauty. Men should care about what's on the inside.
Men don't care about the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show. That show has and always will be geared towards women. Chan seems to think that rail-thin models bedazzled in bras made of gemstones is somehow a typical male fantasy, but all I see is a really expensive bra and an attractive woman who'd probably look better in a dress (at dinner with me of course). Which group of people care the most about gemstones and jewelry? It's women. There is absolutely nothing about that scene that has any marketing potential towards men, except for the fact there is an attractive (note word choice, I didn't say "sexy") woman.
The body image problem of women is largely self-inflicted. When a woman looks at pictures of other attractive women, where is she looking? Fashion magazines. They live in a bubble of sorts, without realizing it. Fashion magazines exist to do one thing, sell clothing. A friend of our family runs one of the many modeling agencies in New York that caters to the high-fashion world. The criteria for becoming a female model should surprise no one. Tall, skinny, and a unique face. Being "hot" by conventional standards is not on that list. How could it? Models can't set a standard while simultaneously adhering to an old one.
What may be surprising to some, is that large breasts, large butts, curvy figures, all signs of "sexy" are generally disqualifiers in the modeling world. (Remember what a big deal it was for Kate Upton to be doing high-fashion?) Models' bodies need to be as unintrusive as possible. The point is to show off the clothing, not the woman wearing it. The woman's body needs to be a walking clothes hanger.
Where a model really shines is in the face (and you can't starve yourself a new face). Her face is the accessory that goes with the outfit, and sometimes women who make great models on the runway, aren't necessarily "sexy" in real life. Model's faces often have very dramatic features. Full lips, big eyes, defined cheekbones, etc. Without the make-up, without the hats and earrings, without the lights of the runway, some of these models go from beautiful to simply "unique looking" which of course can be good or bad. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.
But in terms of body type. Models only excel at one thing, not being fat. However it takes more than that to be "sexy" and too many women don't understand this. They think being rail thin is the ideal, because they think that female models in their magazines are the definition of beautiful.
They are looking in the wrong place.
If women are looking for examples of sexy. They'd find much more accurate depictions not in the fashion industry, which is designed to cater to them, but in media catering to men. Namely, magazines like GQ and Maxim, and of course, porn.
A cursory look at the stars in the porn industry will see two things:
1. Curvy and more normal looking women.
2. Fake boobs (for the porn stars who have become caricatures of 'sexy' in order to play up a fantasy-aspect inherent in all forms of entertainment.)
There are many books on the psychology of being sexy. One thing agreed upon by most is that the qualities men look for in a woman are generally either health related, or reproductive in nature. Clear eyes, clear skin, bigger hips, and fuller breasts are all signs of health and fertility, all biological advantages in reproducing (which if you remember is supposed to be the point of sex in the first place).
There is a charisma component to sexy as well. Just like in guys, being attractive is a mental game just as much as its a physical one. Even a larger girl can be "sexy" if she has the right attitude, and any man whose watched Downton Abbey or similar TV drama can attest that even a very attractive woman can become ugly very quick if her personality is poison.
I skipped the VS Fashion Show this year, as I do every year. I can't name a single male friend who watched. Most didn't even know it was taking place. Someone watched though, as it crushed the ratings, delivering CBS a much needed win.
However, according to Ed Razek, creative director at Victoria's Secret for over 10 years: two-thirds of the fashion show's viewers are women, and a staggering 98% of the store's customers are women. The shows are meticulously designed with their audience in mind.
The fantasies that Chan enumerates in her article are not designed for men. They are designed for women. Whether people want to believe it or not, men don't go for harps, angel wings, and S3 million bras made out of diamonds. Having only seen pictures of the show (for science!), while one of the angels may have qualified for the most 'beautiful' woman on stage, the "sexiest" woman award probably goes to Rhianna. While beautiful people are nice to look at, sexy people are the ones you want to take home and make babies with.
So women of the world, put down Cosmo (seriously, the advice in that magazine is atrocious) and instead pick up a Maxim. Curvy girls with much more attainable bodies, like Kate Upton fill our magazines, not Giselle.