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Victorias Real Secret: Female Empowerment or Marketing Tools

of Oppression
Victorias Secret is known for racy, scandalous advertisements that
grab the viewers attention by featuring models in lingerie. The brand claims
that it wishes to promote female empowerment, but is it in fact just another
tool of oppression? Though on the surface, Victorias Secret gives the illusion
of female dominance and confidence; in reality it promotes objectification
and hyper-sexualization of women. Their ads reinforce the ideal that tall,
thin with outrageous curves is what is beautiful and thus attractive to the
opposite sex.
I first came across Victorias Secret (VS) in the mall with my mother in
the 8th grade. She refused to let me go in claiming I was too young for a
store like that; however she later relented when she saw the more demure,
less sexual Pink line that was attached. I was attracted to VS because I
thought the models were not only beautiful, but had fuller figures than
runway models. Though I never consciously related the ads to my own
identity I do remember wishing my hair was as long and thick as the models
in the ads. Since VS mostly deals with lingerie, at that age I mainly bought
from the Pink line and wore sweatshirts, t-shirts and pants because the name
was clearly printed on the items. It was a deliberate promotion on my part
because I wanted to fit in at my school by buying the items but a little part of
me also felt a little like a supermodel whenever I wore those clothes.

Though I felt a little more glamorous in the clothing, the messages that

VS tries to send about female satisfaction with their own bodies seems to be
lost in the sexualization of the models in their advertisements. VS just
launched a new campaign for Body by Victoria in which the models are
seen wearing lingerie with an all pink background with an instrumental
version of Kimbras song Settle Down playing. The song is about her being
so in love with a man that she is pleading to get married and have his child.
Aside from the song choice, the video pans to fragmented parts of the
women on the screen. By doing this they are reduced to breasts, legs and
hair. They are posed in ways that are meant to attract male attention to
their bodies even though they are selling to women. Beauty Redefined
acknowledges, The male gaze is demonstrated in media when women are
positioned as objects for male enjoyment, through: The look of the camera
panning up and down female bodies and zooming in on specific parts...And
the appearance of the women themselves clearly dressed or posed to
attract stares (Beauty Redefined, Cosmo Magazine: The Best Seller that
Sells Women Short). This ad has the appearance of seeing the women
through a mans eyes. This connotes that this is the look men are attracted
to. Though the ad flashes the slogan Love Your Body, it comes right before
All New Body by Victorias Secret. Jhally asserts, the objectperforms
seemingly magical feats of enhancement and transformation, bringing
instant happiness and gratification (Jhally, 252). They are trying to


improve the perceptions of womens bodies but it could be implied that if the
consumer buys this product they will look as sexy as the women in the ad.
On a similar theme of the male perception of the commercial, the
Whats Sexy Now ad depicts a model in a bra, underwear and heels firmly
planted and glaring at the camera. Contrary to Erving Goffmans theories on
how the media depicts women, she is grounded and not in a subordinate
position. She seems to have an air of power around her even though she is
scantily dressed. There is a bed behind her and she seems to be daring the
viewer to make a move. However, the fact that there is bed behind her gives
the impression that she is not wearing the product merely for her own
enjoyment but also to give pleasure to another, presumably a heterosexual
male. Sut Jhally asserts, the end result is that the commodity is part of an
increasingly eroticized world (253). In addition to that observation the
phrase whats sexy now is VS telling the consumer how to look. They are
determining the market and thus the consumer could feel compelled to
conform in order to achieve the brands vision.
In the last ad, I wanted to show a contrast between the overtly
sexualized Victorias Secret lingerie and the seemingly playful and fun Pink
line of clothing and lingerie. The ad features three youthful looking models
smiling for the camera, but also somewhat shielding themselves from the
lens. Two have their backs to the camera with their skirts somewhat up
showing the brand name Pink clearly visible on the back of their underwear.
Goffman notes that women are increasingly becoming infantilized in ads


mimicking childlike behaviors. These models are shown as cute and a little
bashful which is a stark contrast to the Body by Victoria ad.
Because Victorias Secret only sells womens clothing, the selected ads
only feature women. Though the models clearly live a glamorous life, they
are shown in scenes with neutral backgrounds (as opposed to a high class
hotels or estates) presumably so that women of all classes could imagine
themselves in the clothing. Though it is not explicit, Victorias Secret
clientele does not seem to have a specific social class standing. By doing
this, their commodity appeals to a very wide range of women that buy into
the illusion of the product.
Laura Mulvey discusses the concept of the male gaze in her article
Visual Cinema and Narrative Pleasure. That is to say, the male gaze is
seen when the audience is in the perspective of a heterosexual male.
Mulvey elaborates saying, In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure
in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female (837). In
Victorias Secret advertisements especially, the look and actions of the
women modeling are depicted from the viewpoint of a heterosexual male. It
has been said that, VS is not shy about using text that invites the male gaze
and the internalized male gaze as normal and most desirable (Lexie Kite
From Objectification to Self-Subjectification: Victorias Secret as a Do-ItYourself Guide 21). The models are there to please him and if women find
pleasure in it they only do so because they believe that they will give the
man in their life pleasure from looking at them. Sut Jhaly highlights, in


advertising, gender (especially for women) is defined almost exclusively

along the lines of sexuality (Jhaly 253).
Though this is true, a counter viewpoint could be that the women in
the ads are taking control and no longer succumbing to the views of society.
They are openly displaying themselves for their own pleasure because they
love their bodies. Though there is some room for this debate, the same ads
have underlying stereotypes that still oppress women. With VS, the models
are either portrayed as overly sexual or cute and innocent. There is no in
between. One could even argue that VS messages are constraining,
enslaving and even murderous conditions [that] come to be experienced as
liberating, transforming [and] life-giving (Kite 3). In addition to those points,
it is worth noting that many of the VS ads show the models as what Rosalind
Gill terms midriff figures. She explains the midriff as, a young, attractive,
heterosexual woman who knowingly and deliberately plays with her sexual
power and is always up for it (that is, sex) (Gill, Empowerment/Sexism:
Figuring Female Sexual Agency in Contemporary Advertising 41). They still
pigeonhole women into these roles. Though the Love Your Body ad is on
the premise of women loving how they look, by looking at the comments of
the video many do not feel satisfied and they do not believe that buying the
product will improve their self-esteem. To ad insult to injury, the models
featured do not have relatable body types. They are all similarly thin with
sizable breasts and thin waists. They promote loving ones body but they
already have what is seen as the ideal body type.

In relation to me, I believe the ads tell me this is how I need to look to

be accepted. Though I dont personally feel this way, the messages are
strong. Though many women know these looks are unattainable, an article
on VS marketing claims, this realization will not stop them from striving to
fulfill this constructed beauties as these standards is reinforced through basic
daily interactions (An Analysis of Victorias Secret Lingerie Marketing). This
is reinforced through Jhallys analysis, the commodities are part of a
supernatural magical world where anything is possible with the purchase of a
product (Jhally, 252). VS relies on women believing in their product so they
try to sell the ideology as a way to drawn women in.
Though I do not buy Victorias Secret to look like a supermodel, I
completely agree with how the marketing plays off of the emotions and
sentiments of women to make a profit. I originally thought that Victorias
Secret was a good way for women to break out of the traditional demure role
they normally played in society, but I am shocked to see the gender
stereotypes identified in class broadcasted in all of their ads. What most
alarms me however is that the lingerie ads imply that a man will soon be
seeing it. There is a new Pink campaign that has pick-up lines on its
underwear and the tag line is tease him, please him, leave him speechless.
Even though the line is geared toward younger consumers it is still seen
through the male gaze. Since I have already bought Victorias Secret
products in the past I will probably still wear them, however with their
newest lines and campaigns I will definitely not be giving them my money. If I


chose to buy from their brand it will probably be articles that do not have the
name brazenly across the front or back of the item.
Body by Victoria -- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DSP22fr_3M&feature=player_detailpage
Whats Sexy Now --



Works Cited
Beauty Redefined. Cosmo Magazine: The Best Seller That Sells Women
Short. http://www.beautyredefined.net/victorias-little-secret/
Gill, Rosalind. "Empowerment/Sexism: Figuring Female Sexual Agency in
Contemporary Advertising." Feminism & Psychology 18.35 (2008): 3755.
Jhally, Sut. Image-Based Culture: Advertising and Popular Culture. The
World, Washington Times Corporation, 1990.
Kite, Lexie. From Objectification to Self-Subjectification: Victorias Secret as
a Do-It-Yourself Guide University of Utah, 2011.
Mulvey, Laura. "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema", 1975.