Why I Stopped Shopping at Victoria's Secret

It’s that day of the year again.

The day where a bunch of women strut down a diamond runway in their skivvies with giant wings attached to their backs.

That’s right – it’s time for The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.

I’m writing this Tuesday night (while the show is airing, though I’m not watching it), but I’ll be posting this tomorrow morning (or, if you're reading this, today).

Anyway!

If you don’t know what The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is, then I’m not sure whether to applaud you or ask whether you live under a rock.  It’s basically one of the biggest and most anticipated runway shows, and it airs on television to showcase all things Victoria’s Secret (AKA bras, panties, and very stereotypically sexy ladies).

Let me begin by saying that I actually worked at Victoria’s Secret for several years in high school and college (as a sales associate and Bra Expert – yes, Bra Expert is a real title).  I also use to watch the VS Fashion Show – I looked forward to it.  I loved the extravagant wings and I’d always loved Vicky’s lingerie (I spent every paycheck I ever made in that store while employed there).  I own every color of PINK (a section of Victoria's Secret that's caters to younger women/girls) sweatpants and my underwear drawer is full of VS goodies (I literally have over 200 pairs of skivvies…TMI?  Sorry, not sorry.).

But the longer I worked there, and the older I got, the more I realized that Victoria’s Secret has some serious issues.

First and foremost, they cater only to the most generic sizes.  AA to DD – nothing bigger in cup sizes, and nothing bigger than a 40 (which is NOT big – this is the measurement under the bust).  As far as panties go, XS to XL…that’s it.  And in terms of fancy lingerie – the bustiers and corsets and sexy little ensembles – there are even fewer size options.  As a 34A, I could never find a sexy lingerie set that fit my itty bitty boobies.  They started at 34B.  This always bothered me – why shouldn’t gals with little breasts have lingerie options too?

And I can’t tell you how many times I had to tell women – very normal sized women – that we didn’t have a bra big enough for them.  Or that we didn’t carry pajamas in an XXL (or even an XL most of the time).  The size limitations frustrated me – I hated having to turn women away.  I know what an amazing difference a good bra or cute panties can make in a woman’s life.  I also know that sounds silly, but I’m being 100% serious.  I watched women light up when they finally found a bra that fit – that felt good and made them feel confident.   It was so amazing to help give women that little boost of happiness.  But it absolutely sucked having to deny other women that joy.

Several years later and much more of a feminist, I look back on my time at Vicky’s and am even more upset.  I haven’t been in a Victoria’s Secret in about half a year, but last time I stepped inside I took notice of all the pictures.  Images of long, lean, busty but skinny models with flowing hair and flat stomachs (no different than when I'd worked there several years prior).  I checked on the sizes in stock.  Same lack of diversity.  And I looked at the women wandering around and realized that most of them would not find their size in this store.

Then I consider the VS Fashion Show, a tribute to society’s “perfect” woman.  That tanned, toned beauty who fits into everything flawlessly.  Every single model has long, flowing hair.  Each has a perfect, glistening white smile.  Each is at least 5’8 and has a tiny waist, but still somehow manages to have voluptuous boobs.  These are the Angels, and they’re a physical representation of the ideal VS woman (and, for many people, the ideal woman in general).

I get it, they're all very pretty.  But they all look EXACTLY the same!  There is such an extreme lack of diversity, and that's problematic. 

I get it, they're all very pretty.  But they all look EXACTLY the same!  There is such an extreme lack of diversity, and that's problematic. 

This is absurd (obviously).  We all know that beauty and sexiness is so much more than any specific physical attributes.  But Victoria’s Secret seems loath to accept that.  And that’s depressing.  Because here is a retail behemoth that could make some serious change in the worlds of fashion and sex.  Why in the hell doesn’t Vicky’s diversify their fashion show?  Why don’t they sell larger (and smaller) sizes? 

I get so peeved every time I see the line up of VS models.  NONE of them have short hair.  In fact, the one year that Karlie Kloss rocked the runway with an adorable bob, people (read: men) freaked out and complained that she didn’t look as “sexy.”  She immediately got extensions.  There are also no women larger than a size 2 (I’m guessing here, but they all look teeny).  Underwear is not just for slender, long-haired ladies.  It’s for everyone for goodness sakes.  We all have bits and pieces to put in undergarments and we all deserve to feel sexy doing so (and not feel ashamed when we don’t fit into one store’s idea of beauty).

Yes, I do still own a lot of VS merchandise.  And I understand why people shop there - their stuff is cute and some of it is really well made.  However, I'm doing my best to limit my shopping at Victoria's Secret, and I certainly don’t watch the runway show.  I don’t want to encourage or contribute to a brand that is so blatantly exclusive and so predicable in promoting ridiculous, unhealthy stereotypes.

I also don't want to support a brand that blatantly supports (though I don’t think intentionally…at least I hope not) rape culture.  Vicky’s constantly has panties with messages like, ‘sure thing,’ and ‘ready for anything’ in their PINK line.  Um, okay.  Cool message VS.  Especially when this particular section of Victoria’s Secret (the PINK section) caters to adolescent/teenage girls. 

Such an inappropriate message to put on underwear marketed to young girls.

Such an inappropriate message to put on underwear marketed to young girls.

Look, I appreciate sexy underthings as much as the next girl.  I really, really love them actually.  I’m all about expressing one’s sexuality and being sexual and all that good, sexual stuff (that's a lot of 'sexuals').  But I don’t want to wear a g-string that says “sure thing,” on it.  And I certainly don’t want my 13-year-old cousin buying those.  It may seem overly dramatic to some that I’m upset over a pair of underwear with a ‘flirty’ message scrawled across the crotch.  But rape and rape culture is not something to take lightly, nor is it something I want to support – no matter how small or seemingly silly the perpetrator is.

Besides, there are so many awesome lingerie/underwear brands to buy from whose products are made for women of all shapes, sizes, and styles.  And they support feminism/consent/self-love.

Check out one or all of these awesome/feminist/inclusive brands:

Naja – This amazing brand of gorgeous, super soft, wonderfully made bras and panties is sure to make you feel comfy and pretty.  Naja has certain sizes listed, but if you don’t see your size they will absolutely make it happen!  Plus, this woman empowering brand “helps educate single mothers so that they can learn marketable skills.”  They go on to employ these ladies – awesome right?  Their undergarments are totally affordable, and they have an adorable line of ‘Cheeky Knickers,’ which have all sorts of fun and funny graphics (I want the sundae panties).  http://instagram.com/najagal

So super cute!

So super cute!

Feminist Style – These panties are all about feminism.  With grrrl-power statements like ‘let’s talk about sex,’ and ‘only yes means yes,’ these skivvies are a welcome change.  Plus they have a wide range of sizes and the underwear are super duper cute.  Their message is“Let’s shift our culture from sexually objectifying women to encouraging communication and consent!”  Amen!    https://www.facebook.com/FeministStyle

Sexy and empowering!

Sexy and empowering!

Dear Kate – Dear Kate is another incredible underwear brand.  These undergarments are extra special in that they have a “silky-soft, patent-pending fabric,” and each pair is “wicking, stain releasing, and leak-resistant,” meaning you can toss out your old period panties and have stylish undies all month long.  And their newest line is called the “League of Ladies,” and each pair of panties features a badass gal (like Harriet Tubman, Frida Kahlo, or Amelia Earhart).  The women behind this brand are adamant about providing comfort and style to ladies of all styles and shapes.   http://instagram.com/dearkates

This picture was a response from the ladies of Dear Kate to an add from Victoria's Secret.  The VS add showed an array of tall, skinny, boobalicious, long haired, predominantly white models in their underwear, with the words 'The Perfect Body' written across them.  The Dear Kate team decided to create this gorgeous and amazing photo in response.

This picture was a response from the ladies of Dear Kate to an add from Victoria's Secret.  The VS add showed an array of tall, skinny, boobalicious, long haired, predominantly white models in their underwear, with the words 'The Perfect Body' written across them.  The Dear Kate team decided to create this gorgeous and amazing photo in response.

So ladies (and men), I urge you to turn off the VS fashion show.  I encourage you to buy your lingerie from brands who really, truly support women and women’s rights.  Put your boobs and bum in products that empower women of every kind and support grrrl power!

XOXO!

The Teenage Diaries - Navigating Femininity

I've been thinking a lot recently about my experience as a teenage girl.  After stumbling upon Petra Collins collection of photos called "The Teenage Gaze" - check them out here - and talking to two of the wonderful young girls I carpool, my mind's been filled with memories, stories, and imagery centered on the teenage years.  Nothing can compare to being a teenager - it was one of the most colorful, vivid, confusing, wonderful, tear inducing times of my life.

When I think of my time as a teenager, I remember having to start navigating femininity, and the sudden – and confusing - importance that girls/boys/society began to place on stereotypical ideas of being female.  I already wrote a little bit about undergoing the transition from girl to woman, but I want to get a little more specific with my experiences, the problems I see, and how to fix these issues.

Almost everyone I know – guys/girls – has suffered through the infamous “puberty movie.”  I remember it clearly, though bits and pieces stand out more clearly than others.  I must have been about 12, right on the cusp of teenage changes, and had been hearing stories about the dreaded video for several months prior to the actual viewing.  I remember that the boys and girls were separated, the boys shuffled off into the gym, the ladies corralled in a classroom.  We sat with our legs crossed – I was wearing a dress and recall being uncomfortable sitting on the ground - in front of an old-school television, waiting nervously as one of the teachers plunked in a VHS.  Cheesy graphics and bubbly font explained pimples and told us we’d develop hair in weird places.  There were tips on starting to shave and buying a bra.  An overly excited lady popped on screen and talked about tampons and pads, and how “No one has to know you’re on your period!”  Then the video clicked off, and our teachers passed out a miniature box of feminine products and a pamphlet on puberty. 

They then proceeded to ask some of us when we’d started our periods and what the experience had been like.  Timidly, girl after girl admitted to having started hers, each sounding increasingly embarrassed and grossed out about the blood seeping between her legs.  As the uncomfortable decision continued, I began to navigate a strange mixture of emotions.  I hadn’t begun menstruating, which, in some ways, was a relief since it sounded terrible and disgusting.  But, on the other hand, starting your period equaled “becoming a woman,” so did that mean something was wrong with me?  

Suffice to say, I didn’t know what to feel as I exited the classroom.  And things only continued to get more confusing.  When the boys and girls were reunited, things seemed different…awkward.  My guy friends looked at me funny; some of them made jokes and I couldn’t figure out whether to be upset or laugh.  I became much more aware of the differences between guys and girls.  And perhaps more significantly, I became acutely aware of the differences between myself and other girls.

In the following days, weeks, and months, I observed more and more of my peers carrying colorful tampons in their purses.  Almost all of my friends were buying bras, and I couldn’t help but notice how their clothes began to fit them differently.  Meanwhile, if you blurred out my face, I could have easily been mistaken for a boy in a skirt.  I begged my mom to let me get a bra and begin shaving my legs.

Even though my mom let me get a training bra (she said no to the shaving), I still felt unsure and perplexed about going from girl to adult.  I wanted to experience the whole “becoming a woman” thing, but couldn’t help feeling that I was lagging behind.  But on the other hand…becoming a woman sounded pretty damn unappealing and limiting.

That ridiculous video and all the hype surrounding it taught me a whole bunch of bullshit about femininity and puberty:

1.    Boobs, curves, and bleeding mean that you are becoming a woman

2.    Undergoing these changes – and only these changes – means you are normal

3.    Being normal – AKA fitting into stereotypes- is desirable

4.    But heaven forbid your hips get too big or you become undesirable

5.    If you grow hair on your legs, shave it!  No one likes a girl with excess hair.

6.    If you start your period, shove a piece of cotton up your juicebox and don’t talk about it with anyone, ever.  That’s just gross.

7.    You’re either a girl or a boy; that’s it.

8.    If you’re a girl, you like boys.  If you’re a boy, you like girls.  End of discussion.

Those are the lessons I took from a shitty, thirty-minute movie, the subsequent responses by my peers (and myself), and the mainstream thought process in society.  There’s nothing unique about this experience.  All around the US, pre-pubescent teens were shown similar videos - I desperately hope they’ve changed since my time in middle school.  I grew up in a society with an incredibly narrow definition of femininity and womanhood.  Certainly there were and are a multitude of women who think differently (my mother, many of my friends, my cousins), but unfortunately, mainstream thinking still has some catching up to do. 

It’s taken me 24 years to start understanding just how f-ed up stereotypical ideas and notions of femininity are.  As a teenager, our views of ourselves, and society, begin to form – those years are a prime time for developing ideas/insecurities/opinions/etc.  And whether your chest begins to swell or stays the same, whether you begin to get more attention or seem to go unnoticed, the effects imprint themselves on you.  In my case, I became self-conscious about my very un-womanlike figure, my inability to fulfill the standards and stereotypes presented to me, and a fear of what womanhood would be like should I ever actually reach it.  Feelings of undesirability, unattractiveness, and shame planted themselves in my deepest, darkest corners, and to this day I struggle to uproot the seeds planted during my teenage years.

My suggestion?  Instead of filling young girls heads with a singular idea of womanhood and what it means to be a girl, why the heck can’t we embrace and espouse the fact that going from girl to woman is an extraordinary process, one that doesn’t have to center around developing breasts or beginning to like boys.  Not everyone likes boys for god’s sake!  And not every little girl wants to be a girl!  There are so many nuances to femininity and sexuality that aren’t addressed!

And why not?  Are we afraid to tell young girls and boys that it’s okay to be different?  Are we afraid to accept that not everyone fits a certain mold of “girl” or “boy?”  This fear is founded in ignorance and hurts our community of young people every single day.

We also need to insist that, no matter what each individual’s experience is growing up, becoming a woman doesn’t have to be negative.  Stop telling girls they have to shave in order to be appealing.  Stop acting like menstruation is something to hide; that tampons should be bought stealthily in the self-checkout line.  In some cultures, when a girl begins her period, her female family members and friends throw her a huge party.  How awesome is that??  I one hundred percent plan on celebrating my daughter’s period – whether it’s when she’s 10 or 18 – with red and pink balloons, a cake shaped like a vagina, and a reminder that she’s an amazing human being, no matter her size, sexuality, or anything else.

We’ve made great strides over the years in promoting self-expression, acceptance, and love.  But it’s time go from striding to sprinting.  Let’s start making videos that are honest and encouraging.  Let’s start talking about this.  Let’s start making sure that teens – and adults – know that femininity has millions of ever-fluctuating definitions – all of which are right.