Victoria's Secret...the economy of sex appeal
It’s difficult to believe almost a year has passed since we last heard the pitter patter of Louboutins on inch-thick glitter, but it’s almost time for pre-production to begin on this year’s Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.
That means we get a thrilling insight into the heady, Love Spell-spiked air of the VS team’s preparation. This year us plebs are treated to an exclusive Vogue UK interview with Sophia Neophitou-Apostolou, the show’s creative director, in which she sounds off about the casting process for the yearly extravaganza.
What really sticks out is the way Neophitou-Apostolou describes the models’ part in the process: “It's about being show-ready. It's really like being an Olympian - they have to be in peak condition. It's not about being thin or anything like that - it's about being ready to perform and be the best you can be in that moment.”
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Jess Hart appears totally comfortable having handlebars attached to her lingerie. Photo: Antonio de Moraes Barros Filho
Reading this twaddle, I thought immediately of the episode of The Goodies where they start an advertising agency committed to brutal honesty (“Champion dog breeder Jock McPhee was paid a lot of money to try the Nosho test on his dog”). Wouldn’t it be fantastic if the organisers of the Victoria’s Secret parade just came out and said what we would surely all love them to say, which is “Yeah we just want to put on a really great tits n’ arse blast with some pop tunes and make a mint selling tawdry bras and synthetic lace g-strings that make you feel like you’re getting a yeast infection”?
That is, of course, but a beautiful dream; I am also unlikely to own a solid gold toilet or marry Henry Cavill in-game in World Of Warcraft any time soon. Thus, we are left with the profoundly depressing knowledge that honesty doesn’t wash with the multi-billion-dollar objectification industry. This leaves us with two ways to unpack this notion of VS parade as gladiatorial test of strength.
The first, and perhaps most obvious, is to answer Neophitou-Apostolou’s claim that “It’s really like being an Olympian” with a resounding “It IS NOT”. Yes, modelling is tough work (and often scandalously underpaid, despite what Miranda Kerr’s beatific $100-note-eating grin might have you believe), and most models combine their genetic lottery winnings with countless hours in the gym in order to maintain the measurements printed on their agency’s cards. But an hour or so in the gym each day is nothing to compare to the training schedules of an Olympic athlete. This fact seems so obvious that my fingertips hurt to type it.
Rather, I think it’s the second option for unpacking such statements that is the most compelling one. Let’s instead say, okay, it is a bit like training for the Olympics: well, what on earth does that say about the ridiculous standards of beauty we impose on these women?
Victoria’s Secret models are on record as far as letting everybody know exactly what it takes to walk that glittery catwalk; last year Adriana Lima detailed her pre-show “health” routine, which included the truly deadening paragraph: “For nine days before the show, she will drink only protein shakes — ‘no solids’. The concoctions include powdered egg. Two days before the show, she will abstain from the daily gallon of water, and ‘just drink normally’. Then, 12 hours before the show, she will stop drinking entirely. ‘No liquids at all so you dry out, sometimes you can lose up to eight pounds just from that,’ she says.”
That’s less like an Olympic athlete’s routine and a lot more like those of competitive bodybuilders, who at their most extreme and water-phobic commitment to the sport are not known to be bastions of healthy eating or exercising.
Make no mistake: women may buy and wear Victoria’s Secret lingerie and clothing, but the VS Fashion Show exists primarily to dazzle male viewers. If every year we are to be told - as we were last year, and likely will again in 2014 - what months of torture the models go through in order to parade for a half hour for the delectation of millions of men worldwide, at what point will people stop dismissing concerns about it with a wave of the hand and a hissed “Oh shoosh, it’s just a bit of fun”?