On Monday, Lane Bryant revealed a new body positive campaign featuring models Ashley Graham, Candice Huffine, and more using the hashtag #ImNoAngel. The advertisements are being used to promote Lane Bryant’s Cacique bra collection. The campaign challenges beauty standards, perhaps most notably by denouncing the term “Angel,” which has become synonymous with Victoria’s Secrets famously slim print and runway models. As a woman who spent most of her life being fat and who still bears the stretchmarks, loose skin, and cellulite that have inspired their share of body shame since losing weight, I strive to be as body positive as possible. Even though I waver in my own efforts to embrace my body unconditionally, I think every woman deserves to feel confident and sexy in her own body. Despite supporting beauty in its many shapes and sizes, sometimes these body positive initiatives miss the mark for me, and Lane Bryant’s #ImNoAngel campaign is the newest addition to that list.
Maybe I’m on the Internet too much (not maybe; I am), but has anyone else noticed that there are certain causes that women are invariably criticized for questioning? I imagine that the nature of what those exact issues are varies based on your geographic area, your political leanings, your religion, or your social circles, but the two big things I wring my hands over having divergent opinions about are feminism and body positivity. Perhaps it’s because I work out a lot of my views on these matters through both reading and writing things online, but asking questions or criticizing anything deemed “feminist” or “body positive” usually results with the dissenter feeling like Tyrion Lannister on trial. That might be an exaggeration, but I know I’m not alone in feeling like David facing the Goliath of Things Modern Women Should Support Universally.
I’m sure some of you ladies out there would agree that when you ask questions about even a small aspect of something that’s overwhelmingly positive and empowering to women, the response can get nasty pretty quickly. So if you take issue with anything you read here today, all I ask is that you keep in mind that we’re on the same page. My criticism of this one body positive campaign does not make me anti-body positive. It also doesn’t make me a fat shamer or any other kind of icky thing that a woman becomes when she tries to make sense of our culture using her own lens.
So, this Lane Bryant #ImNoAngel campaign. I think it’s problematic for a lot of reasons. First of all, I don’t like how Lane Bryant is taking a subtle dig at Victoria’s Secret, partially to get more publicity. “Look! These beautiful women have different body types and are therefore unwelcome in Victoria’s Secret cheesy, exclusionist runway show. They’re no Angels! Get it? Media outlets, will you pick this you up now? We mentioned Victoria’s Secret! See! That’s Bryant with a ‘t’.” Yes, brava, Lane Bryant. For this progressive campaign, you’ve successfully put together a group of models who would be beautiful at any size, but because most of them have a little more meat on their bones, they likely would not be scouted to be the face of Victoria’s Secret new bra that adds 15 cup sizes and costs $60.
I’m disappointed that Lane Bryant – a major name in the plus size industry – would try to piggyback their campaign on Victoria’s Secret’s notoriety. I mean, would we even be talking about this advertisement if it didn’t take a little jab with the #ImNoAngel angle? That feels disingenuous to me. If Lane Bryant truly wanted to denounce VS, why use their language? Why define women of every size by the “angel” terminology that excludes them? By proclaiming, “I’m no Angel,” women are still holding themselves to the Victoria’s Secret standard as if it’s a legitimate unit of measurement. You’re not an Angel? Cool, me either. Luckily for both us, “Angelhood” isn’t a real thing to which we should aspire. #ImNoAngel has this subtle way of shifting the blame from Victoria’s Secret’s company culture to its models, who are blameless in this. The Angels are thin, and perhaps they are presented as the “ideal” by the company, but that isn’t Adriana Lima or Candice Swanepoel’s fault. They don’t make the casting decisions. All the Angels are guilty of is wanting to work for a high-profile brand.
Maybe the #ImNoAngel bit is an attempt to reclaim the term for all sizes, not just those who fit Victoria’s Secret standards. Well, reclaiming “Angel,” feels a lot different than taking back the term “fat” or “plus size.” I don’t think we should care about whether or not someone fits the mold of a Victoria’s Secret Angel, because “Angel” isn’t a term that’s routinely alienating women on a daily basis. Even if Lane Bryant is supporting the world’s many non-Angels, in doing so they’re maintaining the same troubling standard, just repurposing it so that it works in their favor. I don’t think we should ever celebrate people for not being things. I mean, not to get too crazy here, but the fact that #ImNoRobertDurst doesn’t exactly shed light on who I am as a person. The same applies to #ImNoAngel. Okay, so we’ve got women with different proportions who aren’t Victoria’s Secret Angels. Is that really how we want to celebrate every woman who doesn’t fit the VS mold? Why can’t we add more to this conversation instead of simply negating the the construct that already exists? I think #ImNoAngel really stinks in that regard, but #ImNoLaneBryantMarketingStrategist.
Moving beyond the #ImNoAngel stuff, can I let you guys in on a little secret that might be polarizing? I’ve never blamed Victoria’s Secret for not equally representing women with proportions like mine, past or present. Maybe it is unfair that VS doesn’t showcase every height, weight, boob size, hip width, or BMI, but I understand that like any other company, Victoria’s Secret has its own brand identity, and even though it might be limiting or unfair, it’s pretty much been the same for as long as I can remember. VS typically casts tall, thin models whose breasts haven’t been enhanced. That excludes a lot of women — fat and otherwise — but that’s Victoria’s Secret’s prerogative.
I intimately understand how frustrating and hopeless it feels being an overweight woman who’s underrepresented and slighted at just about every turn — and that’s never more apparent than when it comes to fashion and lingerie – but should does that make it fair to hold these companies like Victoria’s Secret accountable for the deeply-engrained flaws of our culture? I don’t think so. Maybe through the years I’ve gotten good at separating my capitalistic sensibilities from my life experiences as a fat woman, but I’m not (and have never been) angry that certain companies choose not to offer larger sizes or feature models with waistlines more representative of the general population. Obviously it would be ideal if every clothing store used models with every shape and sold clothes of every size, but I’m a realist, and I know that logistically that’s probably never going to happen.
I love that thicker models are starting to get more of the campaigns they deserve, appearing in magazines like Sports Illustrated. I wish that there were more stylish clothing options for sizes 12 and beyond. But that doesn’t mean I see any sense in going to the mall, playing a game of eeney meeney miney moe with all the retailers who have decided not to diversify their models or sizes. That’s a losing game, and that’s not how I think we should approach body positivity. My body positivity is the kind that doesn’t require affirmation from Victoria’s Secret, Lululemon, or Abercrombie & Fitch. I don’t want retailers to make changes because their practices were criticized enough that they were obligated to do so as a public relations move; I want Victoria’s Secret and others to change because they want to, because it makes sense to them to do so, and because they believe it’s right. Nevertheless, that opinion puts me in the minority.
The #ImNoAngel campaign has become the Internet’s darling, spawning several other articles besides this one. Unfortunately, a lot of them are using phrases like, “Lane Bryant’s new ad campaign is redefining sexy!” Ugh. This always happens when body positivity gains a little momentum; people react as though being body positive is some progressive, newfangled idea that sounds pretty neato. Believe it or not, the concept that fatter bodies can be – gulp – worthy of ogling isn’t new. See the medieval art of Peter Paul Rubens:
From here, the conversation usually devolves into a debate about whether using thicker women in ads glorifies obesity (lol), but let’s not go down that ridiculous rabbit hole today. The point I’m taking my sweet time in making is that many of the articles, blog posts, and tweets that support Lane Bryant prove just how much further body positivity still has to go. The notion that an average size or fat woman — who jiggles and eats complex carbs and doesn’t do Crossfit — can be sexy isn’t new, and we need to stop acting like it’s some grand, forward-thinking overture every time a company does something mainstream enough for us to comfortably talk about supporting body positivity. Sexy does not have a defined set of qualifiers, especially when it comes to size. Not to steal the Internet or Lane Bryant’s thunder, but this #ImNoAngel campaign is not the first time double-digit-sized women have been sexy. It’s great that Lane Bryant is elevating different body types to coveted the sex appeal pedestal, but this isn’t groundbreaking stuff; if we’re serious about being open-minded about size acceptance, we need to stop being so surprised by it.
Ultimately, Lane Bryant’s new campaign isn’t bad. How could it be? Lane Bryant is giving women with different, less-glorified proportions a powerful platform to be seen and hopefully inspire change. Any time someone is talking about positivity, it’s a good thing. But I won’t sit here and pretend that #ImNoAngel is perfect or that it’s wholly representative of what I envision body positivity to be. It’s not. #ImNoAngel relies on press from swiping at Victoria’s Secret, the alleged oppressor in this situation, and it measures women using the same standards that got us to this place in the first place. More importantly, the response to #ImNoAngel shows that even though we’re taking steps in the right direction, we still have a long way to go.