Victoria’s Secret Should Probably Get On Board With Body Positivity One Of These Days

Victoria’s Secret launched an ad campaign in the UK with the words ‘The Perfect “Body”’ plastered over a lineup of the tall, size-nothing, airbrushed, Photoshopped Angels. I shouldn’t have to say so, but I will spell out that the ad implies that the perfect body is tall, size-nothing, airbrushed, and Photoshopped, which is a standard that not even the Angels could live up to in real life.

I’m sure whatever marketing geniuses as Victoria’s Secret slapped this campaign together weren’t going about it with the intention of preaching to women that only very thin, tall women have perfect bodies, or that a “perfect body” exists. I’m sure that they thought the phrase was catchy, and it occurred to them that it might come off the wrong way if it read merely ‘The Perfect Body,’ so they threw in quotes around “Body” and thought that would exempt them from criticism.

Except there’s that nagging detail that using the phrase “The Perfect Body” with or without quotes to put a condition on it — to try (unsuccessfully) to make it clear that they’re referring to the Body by Victoria line — constitutes an implicit endorsement of the idea that a “perfect body” exists.

Now, I really don’t want to beat a dead horse, but because I’m on a roll critiquing the rhetoric here, let’s look at the logic behind the idea of a “perfect body.” The concept of the existence of a “perfect body” means that there’s a body type for women that’s spiritually/morally/divinely/naturally ordained to be the ideal, and any other body is a deviation from that ideal and inherently worse. When and where this was ordained, I have no idea — there at least aren’t any religious texts that talk about what women’s bodies are supposed to look like. And that’s remarkable, considering how many religious texts prescribe so much else that’s restrictive about what women are supposed to do or be. Science also haven’t proven that there’s a “perfect” body type — science wouldn’t, because science understands the processes by which the human body develops and how random and circumstantial they are.

There is no such thing as a body that is somehow morally or spiritually “worse” than a different body. They’re just bodies. Their shapes don’t have any kind of deeper meaning. We’ve been telling women that the shape of our bodies does have a meaning for such a long time – that the shape of our bodies determines how fertile we are (not true), that the shape of our bodies determines our sexual worth (not true unless you’re an asshole), that the shape of our bodies determines our moral worth (ditto), that the shape of our bodies determines our employability (true, but shouldn’t be). But again, let’s rely on science, here: The shape of your body is random and circumstantial. Your worth wasn’t pre-ordained by the genes you ended up getting, and the shape of your body has nothing to do with your moral character. If you don’t have the body shape that would get you hired as a Victoria’s Secret Angel, you aren’t less than perfect. You just don’t have the same body as a Victoria’s Secret Angel. Bottom line.

The idea that the Victoria’s Secret marketing team hasn’t gotten up-to-date with the body positivity movement is kind of surprising to me, since they’re the best-known purveyor of lingerie in America. We’re living in a social context in which it’s marketable, profitable, to be body-positive (or at least ostensibly so) — hell, Dove made a snarky response to the “Perfect Body” ad on Twitter. They’ve been branding themselves as body-positive for years.

There’s a theory that goes: If you keep women scared about our bodies, you keep us dieting, you keep up consuming products meant to make us look or actually make us thin, and you keep us docile — that the whole social mechanism that says to women that we must be incredibly thin works to keep us distracted from the issue of systemic misogyny, and works to keep us invested in making purchases from places like Victoria’s Secret. The problem is that not only have women started to wise up and start having more honest conversations about our bodies and our expectations, but corporations have started to see that it’s profitable to do so as well. That’s the way the tide is turning. Victoria’s Secret can drown, for all I care, if they don’t get on board.

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