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Why Look to Victoria's Secret for Progressive Body Politics?

Jamie McCarthey/Getty Images Entertainment

Victoria’s Secret is having a bad month. Earlier this month, the lingerie company launched a “Perfect Body” campaign, a tagline that ran alongside a photo of ten archetypally tall, thin models. The predictable outrage ensued, and went as far as a petition for the slogan to be changed. Victoria’s Secret did, in fact, change the phrase to “A Body for Every Body.” Which, alongside the original photo, feels pretty meaningless.

Now Victoria’s Secret is under fire, once again, for something that feels like the tail end of a poorly-executed response. Last Friday, the lingerie company posted a video to their Instagram account of one of their models, Sara Sampaio, comparing herself to another Victoria’s Secret model, Candice, and explaining how her own bone structure makes it impossible for her figure to ever resemble Candice’s “amazing” body. The video is short, and ends with Sampaio looking resigned but mildly despondent.

Don’t stress about what someone else has—love what u got! @sarasampaio #VSFashionShow #KnowYourBody #ModelTalk

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It’s undeniable that the “Know Your Body” video falls flat. The whole endorsement of “knowing your body” feels like a condescending way of reminding women that they’ll never be perfect, while still maintaining that perfection is worth striving for. There’s still something to measure up to in this short video; there’s no suggestion that the unattainable measurements are the problem in and of themselves.

But the most significant problem with this whole outrage chain is that its just misdirected energy. This is a company that cashes in on many women’s insecurities and desires for unattainable standards of beauty. They have a poor track record dealing with similar controversies, and their entire premise is to sell women a sexualized vision of themselves. Why should we look to them for body sensitivity? That disregards the company’s entire purpose as a retailer.
Companies should be held accountable whenever they use offensive or insensitive campaigns to turn a profit. But obsessing over those companies least likely to change their methods just seems like a waste of time.