Thursday, April 4, 2013

Why We Should All Burn Our Victoria's Secret Bras

This may be a departure from what I normally talk about, but I’ve held my tongue long enough. My big secret is I hate Victoria’s Secret.

I hate them for many reasons. Their products are really low quality and way too expensive. I can never find a bra that doesn’t have more padding than a bra. Their sales girls won’t help you find a thing but are so eager to get your address, so they can send you catalogs for the rest of your life. If you're a larger lass, you can count on them not having your size. And in all of my years of going there, they have never once fit me in the correct size bra. Seriously—when I finally was fit in the correct size at a department store, I was shocked to find that these iron-clad, rib-crunching contraptions could be comfortable.
Woman wearing a corset. Victorian woman wearing a corset. Were corsets oppressive? Were corsets bad for your health?
It's not the 1800s. Underwear can be comfortable now.

Really, the list can go on and on for a long time, but, surprisingly, none of these is the reason why I don’t buy from them anymore. If there was one thing that changed my mind about VS, it was this article by Beauty Redefined, a non-profit run by two Ph.D. candidates in Salt Lake City who collaborated on their thesis to study the way the media affects body image.

This article analyzes the marketing strategy of VS and backs it up with an incredible amount of research. Lindsay and Lexie, the owners of Beauty Redefined, say that since its inception VS has been toting the message that they want to make women feel “empowered”. A surprising amount of their marketing practices, however, tend to send the message that being empowered, independent and powerful has to do with being sexy.

I'm not sold on the bandwagon with this the wearing-less-clothing-makes-you-sexy-which-makes-boys-notice-you-which-makes-you-powerful brand of feminism. While I like boys and beauty and fashion, I would like to think that being smart and doing things are what makes me cool, not the attention I get from looking nice. I can't say I've never been on this bandwagon because, yes, I've bought clothing with the thought in mind "Oh no! What will boys think about me?!" I was dressing for other people; I'm guilty of breaking rule 3a.

Did women really burn bras? Were corsets uncomfortable? Bra burners? did burn bras? Woman wearing a bra blowing bubbles.
I would be completely okay with marketing campaigns for underwear if they
just showed happy people in underwear, but Vicky's is something else entirely.

If you have at least one functional eye, you can see that they send this message in a lot of their promotional activities and with their products. Their stores have floor-to-ceiling posters of seductively-posed, scantily-clad women; their catalogs are almost more like a Playboy than a clothing catalog, and the photography in their promotional materials is edited to the point of a body-shame-inducing shell of what the models once were. Their art directors must be on crack because every two weeks a picture of a VS model with a missing leg or something surfaces on the internet.

Also, my bleeding feminist heart can’t help but feel like selling underwear that says, “feeling lucky?” and “I dare you” sends some very dangerous messages about femininity and sexuality.

Let me get this straight: I have nothing wrong with cute underwear; I love cute underwear! I also have nothing wrong with “sexy”—but I think there is a time and place for it. What I do have a problem with is a company sending the message that all of your value as a woman is based on how sexy you are—and nothing else. In light of VS’s release of their Bright Young Things line (ahem, we are people, not things) which is allegedly targeted at college-age girls, I especially have a problem with a company sending this message to kids.

Yes, that’s right. VS is sending this message to young girls. I might let them off of the hook if I thought that this wasn’t intentional, but using Justin Bieber to promote this line of underwear during the VS fashion show makes me believe otherwise. The company may have announced that this line was targeted at college-age girls (18-24-year-olds), but everything from the models they use to the way they present the products makes it look more like it is aimed toward the 12-17-year-old demographic.

I hope that I’ve made it clear in my blog posts that people—that means you—are much more valuable than what you could ever wear or look like (see the Golden Rule), and as the ladies at Beauty Redefined would say: “You are capable of much more than being looked at.

Beauty Redefined's sticky notes. Buy them here.

This is what you can do: Don’t buy Victoria’s Secret’s products. Companies might not react if you write a letter or complain about them, but they will have to listen if they aren’t making any money. Also, while you're at it, do some research on media literacy, so you can really understand the messages you are being hit with every day and know how to fight back.

Let's go misbehave.

UPDATE: I’m not writing here much anymore, but if you would like to follow me my writing, please sign up through the form below and please consider a free or paid subscription. I’d love to see you over at The Charrette.

I also want to update you and say that with almost 10 years of retrospect, I would take a well-fit corset over a bra any day of the week.


  1. Wow, this pic reminds me of my days of glorious puberty. I was forced to wear a padded bra and girdle, even to school. Talk about not being able to function as I was unable to breath. This however was a fashion must for my religious mom as my butt might wiggle without a girdle and what a sin that would be. I love Victoria Secret underwear, the only thing I hate is being unable to wear it due to all the chocolate I've eaten over the years.

  2. good article. i haven't bought a bra in years and recently stopped wearing the ones i do own. not that i even need one anyway being an A-cup. it's funny how easy it is to become obsessive about waring a padded bra though. feeling like it will make you sexier and more confident when really all it did was make me conscious of how it looked constantly. a trip to the bathroom usually meant having to check the bra, how it looked, pull my flesh up so that it actually fit into it properly etc. now that i've decided not to wear it anymore i feel much more comfortable and don't actually give a damn that my chest is even flatter. i do agree that this type of "empowement" mentioned in the article is a farce and i do feel like telling women and young girls they will feel more self confident and powerful by living up to beauty standards like this are, while they might work for a time, ultimately futile in the end because you still know that's not how big your boobs are, you still know you will always need to wear a padded bra in order for them to look like that... (unless you get surgery) and it feeds into the idea that their natural size is simply not sufficient.

    this of course comes completely from the reality tunnel of a flat chested woman who tries not to give a damn what people think and has no problem not adhering to other forms of beauty ideals. so i have no idea what the world of bra-wearing is like for those who are naturally more full chested.

  3. Great piece! Well said.

  4. On most of your points, I completely agree. I think their marketing is borderline pornographic and it is criminal the way they are trying to edge into the younger market. However, my favorite bra's have come from Victoria's Secret!

    1. I do have to admit, some of there stuff is pretty cute. I would probably let them off the hook on the other issues if I didn't think that their marketing practices were so atrocious.

      Thanks for commenting! I appreciate your thoughts. If you like my blog, you should like my Facebook page so you can stay updated.

  5. Just as a point of information, the term 'bright young things' is a phrase from the 1920's, a tabloid term for the socialites of the era. Still pretty wel known in Europe, don't know about the U.S but yea I can see how it got 'lost in translation'
    I think their choice of using phrases like 'I dare you' *shudders* etc is unfathomably stupid to say the least given the escalation of sexual/gender politics - I use the term broadly. Still, what do you expect from a company whose only way of getting fed is feeding the machine

    1. I remembered that, actually. The only reason I found that out was because my mom, who is a huge fan of British literature, told me that. Otherwise, it's not widely known in the US.

      You're right, it's absolutely shocking that Victoria's Secret even thought that underwear with these kinds of phrases would be acceptable in this political climate. So much for their product "empowering" women.