The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show celebrated its twentieth anniversary last week. That means the lingerie company has been sending its Angels down the runway since I was 13—in other words, when I was just beginning to pay attention to what I was wearing under my clothes. I have never actually watched the show (it would have been expressly forbidden when I was younger, and I honestly have no interest in watching now, despite a secret fascination with model Kendall Jenner), but the Internet makes it almost impossible to avoid images and clips from the spectacle. This year, when confronted with the deluge of glamazons strutting confidently across my computer screen, my brain managed to form two questions: 1) Does anyone actually wear that stuff? and 2) Is there an OUNCE of body fat on these women?
With my upcoming wedding, I have been a bit preoccupied with body image and the expectations that come along with looking “perfect” for the big day. My body has changed quite a lot since my teenage days, which I have tried to embrace and adjust to. But everyone has their moments of looking in the mirror and thinking “ugh” no matter how confident we may aspire to be. I think these expectations come in large part from magazines, websites, and the gigantic wedding industry. It seems the consumer culture is intent on making sure that my wedding day in no way resembles the reality of my life or relationship, and those images, whether consumed intentionally or through cultural osmosis, are hard to shake. But oddly enough, the history of the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show might be a good place to start to remind myself that the “ideal” body shape changes constantly.
When the show began in 1995, it was in the heyday of the nineties supermodel ideal—tall and slender, yes, but still shapely and soft. If you look at photos from the first few shows, when the focus was on the lingerie and not the spectacle, models such as Tyra Banks strutted down the runway looking fierce for sure but still “natural” somehow. “Heroin chic” was being ushered in with the rise of Kate Moss, but the pin-thin, straight-up-and-down look hadn’t yet crossed over into the lingerie universe. The early 2000s strove to counteract the negative press about emaciated models by encouraging a more athletic shape—still thin and still feminine but stronger.
Now, in 2015, we appear to have landed in a realm where chiseled abs and legs and arms are displayed without an ounce of body fat. In fact, 20-year-old model Gigi Hadid, who also made her VS debut this year, wears a sample size 2. Her body perhaps most closely resembles the body type celebrated back in the nineties—for which she had to defend her curves to critics who criticized her shape as “different” from the other models. It boggles the mind.
The point is that there is no universally ideal body type—for a dose of hilarity, check out the recent BuzzFeed post about how Renaissance painters seem to have been very confused about the female form. And whatever the popular shape of the moment is, we need to start managing our own expectations. Models are paid to look however the trend of the moment demands. I don’t mean to disparage or undermine the ladies who walk down the runway—they work hard—but the gym time and the properly balanced diet aren’t in addition to their job; they ARE their job.
So, the next time you are looking in the mirror in your underwear wishing you looked different (because most of us do it at some point), understand that a whole bunch of lighting, makeup, and training that mere mortals do not have at their disposal goes into being a Victoria’s Secret Angel. Remind yourself that those getups are probably incredibly uncomfortable and not actually all that sexy. Acknowledge that it is OK to want to improve how you look in clothes or how healthy you feel if you go about it in a smart and thoughtful way. But please, for the sake of womankind, don’t leave that mirror until you dance around in celebration of everything you are at that exact moment—soft spots, flaws, and cellulite included. Because she is real and natural and pretty fabulous.
Photo Credit: from 1996 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show / Getty Images