What to make of the New York Timesâ€™ exposÃ© of Victoriaâ€™s Secret at the weekend?
Meredith, by email
You mean the article claiming that senior executives at the company talked about women in a degrading way, and at least one â€“ the former chief marketing officer Ed Razek â€“ harassed the models and demanded sexual favours from them? (He denies the allegations.) What, a tacky lingerie company that puts women in geisha outfits â€“ and, if theyâ€™re black, leopard print with tribal marks â€“ to sell bras turns out to be less than ethical? That instead of â€œcelebratingâ€ women, as it claimed, it saw them as mere commodities to be exploited? Colour me astonished.
Regular readers of this column will know I am no fan of Victoriaâ€™s Secret. Indeed, slating its absurd â€œfashionâ€ shows and the embarrassing amount of coverage this soft-porn garbage got in the press was for a long time one of my favourite near-annual traditions. That show was held up by the tabloids and fashion press alike as the apex of liberated femininity in a sparkly bra, and anyone who groused about it was dismissed as an ugly feminazi who clearly didnâ€™t have good enough tits. Well, looks like we ugly feminazis won (donâ€™t we always?) because the show was kiboshed two years ago. Lord knows where the showâ€™s fans, such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Justin Bieber and, er, Jeffrey Epstein were able to go to leer at women in lingerie after that. Fingers really crossed for those guys.
The New York Timesâ€™ exposÃ© is brilliant, and highly recommended. What I donâ€™t get, however, is why it has taken this long â€“ until 2020! â€“ for the wheels to come off Victoriaâ€™s Secret, with its parent companyâ€™s shares falling more than 75% since 2015. Indeed, I believe a certain scholar (me) said seven whole years ago that Victoriaâ€™s Secret sells â€œan insultingly retrograde vision of femininityâ€, and at the time this seemed like such a statement of the obvious that I was embarrassed to type it. Well, letâ€™s just file the long-awaited demolition of Victoriaâ€™s Secretâ€™s reputation as yet another entry in the category â€œHadley Was Right All Alongâ€, in between the awfulness of Harvey Weinstein and the genius of Keanu Reeves.
Things really started to go south for the company in 2018 when Vogue interviewed Razek, and he made the shocking revelation that Victoriaâ€™s Secret has, yes, an insultingly retrograde vision of femininity: â€œItâ€™s like, why donâ€™t you do [bra size] 50? Why donâ€™t you do 60? Shouldnâ€™t you have transsexuals in the show? No. No, I donâ€™t think we should. Well, why no? Because the show is a fantasy,â€ Razek said, as his publicist presumably plunged head-first on to her desk.
Almost all the criticism of what he said focused on his exclusion of transgender models â€“ and, indeed, Razek later apologised solely for his remark about trans people â€“ but his dismissal of bigger women was as worthy of condemnation. Maybe fat-phobia is still taken as a given in the fashion world. Well, it shouldnâ€™t be.
Sweetly, some of the Victoriaâ€™s Secret models stepped forward at the time to condemn Razekâ€™s comments, and good for them. But, really, why did they think they were hired by Victoriaâ€™s Secret to walk around in their underpants â€“ because of their personalities? Did they think it was just a coincidence they all basically look identical? And did the public really need Razek to tell them that Victoriaâ€™s Secret is an offensive organisation with an offensive view of women? Yes, what he said was horrifically cruel about trans women â€“ and, again, fat women â€“ but this company has always been offensive about all women. (After all, I havenâ€™t seen too many fortysomething mothers-of-three in the Victoriaâ€™s Secret catalogue. Sadly, Razek is no longer with the company, so I guess Iâ€™ll never learn his thoughts on whether I count as anyoneâ€™s fantasy.)
Victoriaâ€™s Secret was predicated on telling women that the ultimate fantasy is Gigi Hadid in lingerie and a pair of tacky angel wings. It is the modern eraâ€™s Playboy mansion, and it was always obvious that it had the morals to match, so if you didnâ€™t realise this before, Iâ€™d suggest getting your eyes and your brain tested. But now you do know and you can join the rest of us in protesting against Victoriaâ€™s Secret in the most effective way possible: by not giving it a dime and depleting its finances ever further.
Post your questions to Hadley Freeman, Ask Hadley, The Guardian, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Email email@example.com