Victoria’s Secret: A Do-It-Yourself Guide to Sexual Objectification!
Hello Beautiful Friends! This piece was published almost a year ago, and since that point, I have written a paper on Victoria’s Secret that won a “top paper” award in the Women’s Studies division at the 2011 National Communication Association Conference in New Orleans! In conjunction with my presentation in November, I have written an intriguing new piece on Victoria’s Secret you can find here. Please read and share!
In the U.S. and now across the world, a multi-billion-dollar corporation has been fighting a tough battle for female empowerment since 1963, and according to their unmatched commercial success, women appear to be quite literally buying what this franchise is selling. Holding tight to a mission statement that stands first and foremost to “empower women,” and a slogan stating the brand is one to “Inspire, Empower and Indulge,” the company “helps customers to feel sexy, bold and powerful.” This is being accomplished through the distribution of 400 million catalogs to homes each year, a constant array of television commercials all hours of the day, a CBS primetime show viewed by 100 million, and 1,500 mall storefront displays in the U.S. alone. And to the tune of $5 billion every year, women are buying into the envelope-pushing “empowerment” sold by Victoria’s Secret, the nation’s premiere lingerie retailer.
Due to Victoria’s Secret’s ubiquitous media presence and radical transformation from a modest, Victorian-era boutique to a sexed-up pop-culture phenomenon in the last decade, a critical look at VS’s media texts is now more warranted than ever. Sexual objectification is in no way subtle here – it is central to VS’s varied promotions and operates at the forefront of the texts. Thus, my purpose in my work is not to assess the level of blatant sexual objectification or inherent “male gaze” within VS’s advertisements, but to illustrate how Victoria’s Secret teaches and normalizes self-objectification and normalized pornography as desirable, self chosen, and empowering.
Where once sexualized representations of women in the media presented them as passive, mute objects of an assumed male gaze, today women are presented as active, desiring sexual subjects who choose to present themselves in an objectified manner because it suits their “liberated” interests to do so. I argue VS advertising adds a further layer of oppression. The brand’s official slogan is “We are redefining what it means to be sought-after,” and in this regard, the company is not exaggerating. Not only are women objectified as they have been, but through sexual subjectification, they must also now understand their own objectification as pleasurable and self-chosen. As an aside, the Limited Too, a retail chain owned by Limited Brands that targets girls ages 7 on up sells “sexy lingerie” such as camisoles and lacy panties – including thongs – in what can only be interpreted as a move to prepare their girl customers to consume Victoria’s Secret lingerie as soon as they are able to do so.
Further, if we take “pornography” as referring to a state of undress as well as a mode of representation that invites the sexualized gaze of the viewer, VS effectively contributes to the “pornographication of culture” – or the normalized state of porn in our society. In an era when girls and women learn to treat and experience their bodies as sexual objects from a young age, VS’s nearly inescapable media messages render it not only likely but normal for females to engage in self-objectification as self-chosen and empowering.
A close analysis of the chain’s advertising is necessary, especially due to studies that demonstrate repeated exposure to sexualized female bodies encourages women to self-objectify, positively endorse sexually objectifying images and experience body hatred. Specifically, vital psychological research done in 2008 demonstrated that college-aged women who were exposed to Victoria’s Secret “Angel” commercials reinforced their belief that they should measure their self-worth with their appearance, and negatively affected their body satisfaction (Strahan, et al, 2008).
The accompanying self-subjectification, endorsement of sexually objectifying images, and body hatred proved to go hand-in-hand with such “bold, sexy, powerful” ideals – though ideal for an industry raking in $5 billion a year and expanding across the globe – is not conducive to real progress as individuals or as a culture. Feminist values include self-definition, control over one’s body and personal freedom (see Russo, 1987, p. 104), and VS represents a severe distortion of feminism – a faux form of power – proclaiming women can have it all if they can be it all. When the desire only to be desired is a woman’s primary objective, she loses herself, her control, and her freedom.
In the case of Victoria’s Secret, a push-up bra and thigh-high boots are made to stand for “empowerment” in a way that objectifies feminism and femininity simultaneously through its commodification of the female form. I encourage any readers to consider ways they can take their own power back – whether that is through switching the television channel when the VS Fashion Show is on, complaining to your local cable network when a VS commercial airs during daytime or primetime hours (as they always do), not buying or supporting VS products anymore, or passing this information along to others you love. We can fight back!
Please feel free to share this work, but contact the author, Lexie Kite, through this site first for citation information you will need if using this for a research paper or other publications. Citations have been removed for the blog post, but the original research contains all proper citations. Paper titled, “From Objectification to Self-Subjectification: Victoria’s Secret as a Do-It-Yourself Guide.”