‘I’m a plus size model and I can’t wait to dance on Victoria’s Secrets’ grave’

Size 16 underwear model Jessica Vander Leahy says she won’t morn the now dead Victoria’s Secret show.

On Thursday, after months of speculation, the CEO of L Brands—the parent company of Victoria’s Secret—Stuart B. Burgdoerfer announced network television wasn’t the “right fit” for the annual runway show. The news also came amid ongoing backlash the brand faced about the lack of body diversity on their runway.

Well, isn’t that the BEST news?

I mean, for decades we’ve watched on as underwear-clad models paraded down a catwalk in high heels and wings but it was not the show of skin that was the offensive part. No, no. It was the deliberate and cruel way the once iconic lingerie giant Victoria’s Secret systematically forced a narrow ideal of beauty down the throats of onlookers.

Historically, the show, which established itself as a pre-holiday tradition in 1995, was once magnetic and powerful. It launched the careers of many models we know as household names today, including Gisele Bundchen, Miranda Kerr, Adriana Lima, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. But we also know something else these days. That is: FASHION SHOULD BE FOR EVERYONE. Not just the ultra-thin (and mostly, white passing).

As the great teacher Maya Angelou said, ‘When you know better, you do better’, right? Welp, not for VS. For years, the (mostly male) honchos over there have been ignoring obvious evidence that consumers wanted them to move in a more modern direction when it came to being visibly diverse.

I mean, this disconnect became drastically clear when in 2018 the company’s chief marketing officer, a dude named Ed Razek, made some seriously off-colour comments about VS’ apathetic approach to casting transgender and plus size models. His justification? “Because the show is a fantasy,” he told Vogue. And no fantasy would involve trans people and curvy women or…?

Yup, the guy just didn’t get where fashion was going and basically outed the company for actively trying to push the same exclusive beauty standards that they’d been touting since the ’90s.

Moreover, in the past few weeks, alleged connections between company executives and the late, disgraced pedophile Jeffrey Epstein have emerged which is obviously a HUGE red flag.

And the negative numbers back up the bleak brand sentiment. According to Business Insider, an appetite for the brand’s glorified body shaming extravaganza has gone way down with only 3.3 million people tuning in to watch the show in 2018, “down from 9.7 million viewers in 2013”, it reported.

In August the WSJ reported L Brands Inc.’s revenue “fell in its latest quarter as sales at the retailer’s embattled flagship Victoria’s Secret chain declined further. … Victoria’s Secret sales fell 7% to $1.61 billion from a year earlier, below the $1.67 billion analysts were expecting.”


With profits tanking the marketers at VS have clearly tried to rebrand and get more inclusive in recent campaigns.

In August, Victoria’s Secret for the very first time cast an openly transgender woman, Brazilian model Valentina Sampaio, for a catalogue shoot. The company also this year hired its first plus-size model to front a campaign in size 14 babe, Ali Tate Cutler.

But while I applaud these moves, is it too little too late?

It’s clear VS no longer carries the uber cool drawcard it once had. Even the supermodels who have the show to thank for their name recognition—women like Karlie Kloss—have refused to do the gig on the grounds of feminism.

“The reason I decided to stop working with Victoria’s Secret was I didn’t feel it was an image that was truly reflective of who I am and the kind of message I want to send to young women around the world about what it means to be beautiful,” Kloss told British Vogue. “I think that was a pivotal moment in me stepping into my power as a feminist…”

But, for anyone paying attention, it’s become quite clear that Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty show is what a lingerie show should look like these days. Exhibiting at NYFW @badgalriri nails her underwear presentations because she creates a celebration of interesting bodies. Her’s is an inclusive show that is as empowering as it is aspirational.

Not stuck on one body type, Rihanna casts bigger models, smaller models, shorter models, taller models, fierce women, and fairy-like figures. Unlike VS where flowing white-girl hair is the look du jour, the Fenty muses rock long locks if they’ve got them, while others show off their glorious and natural hair. There’s boobs—huge and teeny—and there’s no fear of honouring thick, cellulite covered thighs.

One power woman who contributed hugely to Rihanna’s success is her dance collaborator, Parris Goebel. The New Zealand choreographer helped Fenty reboot sexy with the show’s dance number curated through a female gaze—nothing to sneeze at when you consider the history of other lingerie shows.

“Me being surrounded by all those women, it was just so easy for me,” Parris previously told whimn.com.au about the gig. “The energy in the room was just electric and just all these beautiful different body shapes and skin tones and ethnicities, it was just so inspiring for me…I just followed my heart and followed what my soul wanted to do creatively.”

That explains why when I first saw the Fenty show I thought, ‘Well this is all so refreshing!’

And it’s not just Fenty. While VS has been flailing, other progressive labels in the lingerie trade have also thrived on their inclusivity including Lonely Lingerie, Thirdlove, Aerie, to name a few.

Considering all their competitor’s success you would have thought a massive VS shake up was coming much sooner—but nope.

Last year I wrote an opinion piece where I said, “I wish I could just say the Victoria’s Secret spectacle was inconsequential – not watch the show and be done with it – but it’s a multi-million dollar PR stunt that infiltrates every screen I see, with the hashtag #TrainLikeAnAngel trending on social media.”

This year, my real wish has come true and the angels have been set free. Byeeeeeeeee Victoria’s Secret show. Hopefully you’re gone for good. And I don’t know what kind of sensible person will truly miss you.

This article originally appeared on Whimn and is republished here with permission.