Saturday, November 15, 2014

Victoria Secret’s Selling Discontent by the Pound

Victoria Secret’s new campaign ad (NY Daily News) continues the completely myopic fashion industry addiction to selling thin women as the ideal. Of course, one could ask the question of whether this strategy is myopic at all. And I think the answer is quite the opposite. Cultural theorists, politicians, non-profits and pundits have long derided the industry for selling an impossible ideal to young girls and women, thus helping to foster the rampant eating disorders and low self-esteem currently blanketing the country. So why haven’t they addressed the issue in more than the occasional “plus sized” ads? For the simple reason that discontent is at the heart of American consumer culture. The fashion industry, together with the health and beauty, weight loss, pharmaceutical and cosmetics companies, sells not only lifestyles but the idea that they can transform you into a better version of yourself. In fact, Victoria Secret’s old tagline was “it’s you, only better.”

What’s so bad about that, one might ask, given that everyone wants to present the best version of themselves? Fair enough, except that the foundational premise upon which transformation advertising works is that there is something wrong with you to begin with. Your breasts are too small or too big, your eyes a little too far apart, your skin less perfect than an airbrushed magazine cover, you weigh 8 pounds too much (this is the common number they use on magazine covers, as it is enough to make you feel bad but not too much that you find the possibility of losing it futile), your love life unsatisfactory, your confidence too low and your significant other below par and, most common of all, you are starting to look old. It is a simple message to pass along to a culture that is always aspiring for more. But what are the short and long-term ramifications?

It appears that it results in the aforementioned eating disorders and low self-esteem. But beyond that is a relative inability to feel content with your life, even when it appears to be going well. And this is a troubling message to give anyone, particularly when those shortcomings relate to something as natural as your looks and body shape. When a company then goes out of its way to perpetuate this message by selling the ideal body as so thin, maybe it is time for women to stand up and stop buying from the company, showing them that they demand more realistic and “human” models and campaigns to sell them clothes that will make them feel good about themselves, rather than constantly striving for the impossible ideal (that doesn’t seem idyllic at all, by the way, to any natural form of attractiveness)?

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