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Unlocking Victoria’s Secret

Christen Gray

As I was absentmindedly browsing the web, I came across an article in a small on-line newsletter, “ChickClick,” deriding Victoria’s Secret.

We all know what Victoria’s Secret is: that store in the mall that sells women’s lingerie. It’s not quite Hubba Hubba, but it certainly does sell sex appeal.

The Victoria’s Secret models flash across our screens and pose in catalogs that women shop from, and men drool over. The items displayed vary from the “Wonder-Bra” to scented lotions and fancy make-up.

This article by a female Northwestern University student claimed that because men looked at the catalogs as “Playboy Magazine or Penthouse coming to their home for free,” the store and its marketing are therefore derogatory to women. It continued to support this theory by quoting Renee Redd, director of the Women’s Center at Northwestern University, as saying, “The models are not the anorexic type that women tend to idealize.” She continues to say “The images are much more what men’s standard of beauty is.”

First of all, since when is the anorexic type a woman’s idea of beauty? Haven’t feminists been crying for years that we do not need to look like toothpicks to be beautiful, that this idea has been forced on us by a misogynistic society? I have always been relieved to see Victoria’s Secret models actually have some meat on them. Is Calvin Klein then more respectable because its models look like they haven’t eaten in a week? Or perhaps the girls in Seventeen magazine are more in line with women’s wants and needs because they are a size zero.

I think it is a real tribute to Victoria’s Secret that their models are well fed and could probably do more push-ups than half the guys at MIT. If healthy-looking is the standard their advertising is pushing, more power to them. Women will inevitably look for role models in beauty, why not make these healthy? If Victoria’s Secret drives women to eat well and go to the gym, then I say we need more advertising.

Second, this is a store that caters to women. It’s an international corporation that thrives on giving women what they want. It is true that women often want to become closer to men’s idea of beauty and sexuality. However, it is also true that most men are clueless about the fashion trends and women, especially young girls, respond more to what their girlfriends think they ought to wear than what the boys think. Why women buy their underwear is up to them. Redd says that “many women purchase Victoria’s Secret for themselves, but the reason that underwear makes them feel better about themselves is because they think they are pleasing men by wearing it.” I will admit that there are probably many girls who follow that logic. However, most of the girls I know who shop at Victoria’s Secret have no intention of showing their precious lingerie to guys. They buy it for the comfort and even for the fun of the store itself. And, of course, partially because the marketing works; its fun to have that little label that says “Victoria’s Secret.”

Men’s clothing stores cater extraordinarily to men’s temper and ego, not just through the products sold, but through the service. This is not true of the vast majority of mainstream women’s clothing stores. However, at Victoria’s Secret, women are treated very personally, and the service is invariably excellent. Everything screams woman, from the apparel and lotions, to the little pink striped bags they carry away. Despite all of this, “ChickClick” accuses Victoria’s Secret of patronizing women. If being treated with respect and personal service is patronizing, then this is very true.

We may hail society’s ideals of women as imposing, unrealistic, and, yes, sometimes patronizing. The whole worlds of advertising and entertainment use this, and often capitalize on it. I’m not defending it, I’m just pointing out the facts. However, the success of Victoria’s Secret stores is not due to any capitalizing on women’s insecurities. They are successful because they do, indeed, treat women and their bodies as individuals. They help women to be more comfortable with their shape, as well as just plain comfortable.

As for the sex appeal of the models in the catalogs and on TV, what would you have instead? Five-hundred-pound women prancing around in their underwear? It is another fact of life that people want to see only pleasing things. You don’t sell anything by breaking this cardinal rule.

This coming February, MIT will be privileged to see its own students perform The Vagina Monologues. These monologues are a tribute and a cause for women. They allow women the freedom to express themselves. One monologue in particular, I think, makes a great point with regard to this sort of marketing. It is entitled “My Short Skirt,” and the reader proudly states that she wears her short skirt for herself, and not for anyone else. I’m sure the same goes for her panties.

To assume that women would only buy lingerie to suit men is to underestimate and patronize women. Victoria’s Secret sells because it sells to women. Let women have the freedom to buy and think what they want, and not have their motives questioned.