On Tuesday, 10.3 million people were united in a common cause, wrapped in attention around one very important event. Were 10.3 million in the streets in an #Occupy or Tea Party show of people power? Were they watching Obama give a speech about the progress of a 10-year debacle in Afghanistan? Were they participating in a national debate about the financial crisis and its effect on the average family?
No. They were watching this:
I hadn’t actually realized that this event was taking place until I logged into Twitter and saw the following tweet posted by my young cousin:
Though the young women who tweeted this are clearly being sarcastic, what caught my eye is that they are very much paying attention. And how can anyone (but particularly young women) pay attention to this and not be affected by it!?
In the words of Victoria’s Secret Casting Director John Pfeiffer, “There is a very clear Victoria’s Secret woman. They all have the self-confidence, expressiveness, joy, and womanliness.” Wait . . . what? Womanliness? What women does he know!? Well, it’s clear what women he knows.
But that show is in no way reflective of the “womanliness” I know and value. The women in my life don’t look like the women in this parade. The women in this parade project, by in large, unhealthy body standards, and they project onto women everywhere a tiny box of beauty into which the show says, “You must fit.”
To quote my friend Yasmine, ” I feel for all the women watching who now question their beauty, and all the men who now have unrealistic expectations of what a woman should look like.” Her concerns are very much my own, and they are two-fold.
First, this show does not happen in isolation. It happens within the wider context of a media assault on women and their bodies.
Second, this show does not just affect women. I appreciated what my friend Dolan, who watched the show, pointed out: “[Note] the camera shots of the men in the audience (celebrities) looking up and staring at the women on the runway. Some nice messaging that if as a women you look like this men will admire you. Very rarely they showed women in the audience looking at the models.”
He points out something vital to remember: the effect programming like this has on the male gaze. I, for one, have had to actively struggle to understand the way in which I have been affected by the constant portrayal of women as sexual objects in our culture. I have had to work to unlearn much of what I was taught about beauty to see beauty in a more inclusive way. I have had to unlearn what I was taught about healthy sex and sexual desire to understand sex in a sex-positive light. And I have had to do all this as I work to humanize the women in my life who are dehumanized into nothing more than a sexual object by our media on a daily basis.
To show men in the audience staring at the women on display send a clear message about power. Men control the gaze, and women are the object of the gaze. It’s notable that the only woman with any real voice in the entire production was Nicki Minaj (who I generally consider a fairly-empowered and powerful woman). But look at the lyrics to the song, “Super Bass,” that she performed.
He ain’t even gotta try to put the mac on
He just gotta give me that look, when he give me that look
Then the panties comin’ off, off, uhh
Gaze, again, controlled by the man, and the woman submits to him sexually.
And there’s a tremendous profit in that gaze. In he week prior to the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, the brand sold approximately 10.6 million units. In the week of the show, the brand has sold 16.6 million units. That’s a 50% increase!
Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking this is an innocent affair. It’s about profit, and making women believe that wearing certain things will make them more desirable is profitable.
I recognize, though, that not everyone (and particularly not all women) agree with my take on the event, as voiced by my friend Ashton, “I don’t think seeing skinny, beautiful women in skimpy clothes should make women with different body shapes feel bad about themselves. Women should be confident and comfortable enough in their own skin to not be bothered by the VS fashion show.”
However, I very much relate to my friend Yasmine’s response, “I don’t think that beautiful women in skimpy clothes SHOULD make women feel insecure… but I think it often does. Even the most secure women will sometimes be a little rattled.
In the midst of this, people (but particularly women) are thirsting for a different portrayal of beauty, as noted by the folks at Glamour magazine when they included this image in the September 2009 print issue:
Perhaps it’s time for those controlling the images we see to realize that there can also be profit in curves.
But I suppose that would involve putting women in control of the media’s gaze . . . and we can’t afford that.