As someone who has covered the news for all things health and wellness for over a year now, I know a thing or two about body positivity. I’ve written about every celebrity’s makeup-free selfie and every mother’s inspiring post-baby selfie that’s gone viral. I’ve watched every ad campaign that not-so-subtly attacks Victoria’s Secret for promoting unrealistic beauty standards with its not-so-diverse models.
Maybe I’m jaded, but I just don’t know if the body positive movement is really working.
Trust me: I couldn’t be happier that women are so comfortable showing the world raw, almost-nude photos of themselves, inspiring other women to do the same in solidarity.
I’m thrilled Chrissy Teigen uses Instagram to show off the cellulite on her legs. This would have never happened just a couple of years ago. Now, instead of scoffing at a “flaw”-filled photo of a woman, we’re much more supportive, commending them on their “bravery” for keeping it real.
But, as long as the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, which airs tomorrow night, continues to go on as it is — featuring models of one, very specific body type — I fear nothing’s really going to change. We’re going to continue to idolize these women as long as they’re put on this very literal pedestal.
We all say we support fuller bodies, stretch marks, and wrinkles. And we do a lot less grimacing when we see them on other people. But do we want stretch marks or wrinkles on ourselves? Do we want to see them in a Victoria’s Secret fashion show? No, we’d rather not.
At the end of the day, what we expect from the Victoria’s Secret Angels is “perfection”: the models are typically about 24-years-old, almost six feet tall, with flat abs, a perky butt and boobs, and big, preferably anything-but-brown eyes.
And no, it’s not just Victoria’s Secret undermining the body positive movement, which attempts to remind the world that many kinds of women are beautiful; it’s all different companies that only want their products on conventionally beautiful, typically white women. (And sure, some designers have made progress by featuring models with fuller bodies, some have even used models with disabilities, but those are only very small exceptions to the rule. We just hear about them a lot because they’re such anomalies.)
But I am zeroing in on the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show because it is such an occasion here in the U.S. It’s practically a national holiday to celebrate — nay, worship — the one body type that each of these models share and hardly any of us can attain. Last year 9.29 million people watched it during its first airing. CBS has called it “the Super Bowl of fashion.”
In fact, ratings will likely go up this year given that Taylor Swift’s #squad makes up a big chunk of the Angels this year: Gigi Hadid, Kendall Jenner, Karlie Kloss, Lily Aldridge, Martha Hunt are modeling and Selena Gomez is performing.
And I fully plan to participate in this hoopla. I, too, want to know what the pinnacle of beauty is. As much as I want to ignore it in order to take away some of its power, I can’t help but look. I’m curious. A critical side of me wants to see what I don’t have.
My friends and I have made it a ritual every year to watch it together at one of our apartments, in the biggest sweats we own, no makeup on, with as much food as possible in front of us. Wings, fries, pizza, Chipotle, ice cream, you name it. No utensils necessary. You could say what we’re doing is pretty powerful — you know, enjoying ourselves as we watch bikini-clad supermodels strut down a runway, informing America of what beauty really is.
But we’re not really loving ourselves, so it’s not really powerful at all. It’s straight up masochism. We’re shoving food into our faces because we’re not sure what else to do with our feelings other than mock them.
We’re all women who value ourselves based on our accomplishments — how hard we work, how good of friends we are, how much we give back, etc. — but for that hour every year, we ask ourselves, Do our accomplishments matter as much as looking like THAT in our underwear?
Some might argue that these model bodies could serve as inspiration for the rest of us to get fit like them. But on that, I call bullshit. Watching them isn’t inspiring. Sure, they work their butts off to stay in shape, but these women are just built differently than most of us. But, as much as we try to fight it, we can’t help but compare ourselves to each Angel as she makes her way down the runway.
“Why can’t I get my hair to look like that?”
“How is her waist even possible?”
“Her legs literally never touch!”
And we’re not the only ones. I know many friend groups (all millennials indeed) who gather to engage in similar activities the night of the fashion show.
“Let’s all eat and cry together!” the invitations say.
I want so badly for everyone to have a broad, widely sweeping definition of beauty, a goal the body positive movement is pushing so fervently toward, but the reality is most of us still admire these Angels’ appearances as much as we did a few years ago, before the body positive movement began.
Despite all I’ve read, nodded in agreement, and written about the body-positive movement, I still find myself thinking Shanina Shaik is one of the most beautiful creatures to grace the planet whenever she appears on stage.
So, what’s the answer? Should I just throw in the towel on the body positive movement? No, it’s making progress, slowly but surely. Women are actually starting to back each other up on the Internet — can you believe it?
But in the short term, I just plan to be more aware of what I’m feeling as I watch. I realize it’s not actually cathartic for me to shove chicken fingers into my face as Maria Borges flashes that mesmerizing smile at the end of the runway. I’ll probably just stick to one entree instead of five.
I want to be able to laugh at the ridiculousness of the show — its lack of diversity, the enormous spectacle it’s become, how seriously it’s taken — because, really, what else can I do? There’s no point in beating myself up about it — or hating on the models instead, as they’re just doing their job.
I hope, as I watch, I’ll realize there’s likely always going to be some insane standard of beauty disseminated by the media, but that my self-worth isn’t determined by how well I can pull off a pair of wings (though, of course, I wish I could pull them off the way they do). That’s my plan. Let’s hope it helps, even if just a little bit.