“I was going to watch the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show tomorrow, but I just remembered that I like having self-esteem,” posted one of my Facebook friends on the eve of the annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. It earned 32 likes, and one commenter posted an image of cartoon owl guiltily eating cookies and subsequently vomiting a rainbow. Someone else added, “Soo you should come over n watch it while eating pizza.” I’ll admit that after scrolling past another engagement announcement and a festive Christmas tree picture, it made me smile because it was relatable. We’ve all seen the memes: a screen cap of <em>Here Comes Honey Boo Boo</em>’s Alana Thompson pinching her stomach with the caption, “How I feel after watching the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.”
Of course, the Facebook post was just a joke–a lighthearted comment that acknowledges the “angels” walking that famed runway are tall, sexy, and in great shape, whereas many of us at home are eating Chipotle. Even though I like my body most of the time and would consider myself satisfied with my eating and exercise habits, I’d still have major reservations about walking down a runway in lingerie while Taylor Swift serenades millions of viewers and me. The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show serves a variety of purposes; some argue it titillates men while objectifying women. It shows off Victoria’s Secret’s products in just enough time for clueless husbands and boyfriends to head out to the mall to buy some holiday lingerie and duck out into the parking lot clutching one of those pink, striped bags. For the wealthy, it’s a chance to see a million dollar bra bedazzled with diamonds and other gems. But what is the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show to women? Is it a source of aspiration, a celebration, or a catalyst for our body shame? Maybe it’s a bit of each, but we seem to be focusing on the body shame aspect, at least on our social media.
The weird thing about the Victoria’s Secret fashion show is its magnetic allure. I have no idea why I feel so compelled to watch it. That’s not a denigration of the models, premise, or musical guests, but if I really try to figure out what benefit there is to watching that show, I’m at a loss. Victoria’s Secret already has my business, so why exactly am I tuning in? It’s because I want to <em>see</em>. I want to indulge in voyeuristic comparison. I want to see what all the models are wearing; I want to see how they look in stockings that would make my thighs look like sausages and garter belts that would give me a muffin top. I want to see it all because watching that special is a covert way of letting my body shame win. The best part is, when it’s all over, I can be part of a community when I tweet about how my self-esteem has plummeted thanks to Karlie Kloss.
Why do we insist on doing this ourselves?
It’s heartbreaking that we bond most over our shared moments of low self-esteem, and it’s practically a rite of passage to post something body negative on social media. There’s a distinct difference between aspiring to a goal and letting someone else’s body make you feel worse about your own. No matter who you are or what you look like–and for most of us, it’s nothing like a Victoria’s Secret model–you should take ownership of how you feel about your own body. I’d like to think the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show could and should do more than inspire gloomy memes about how fat we all feel after it’s over. The models who are walking that runway work hard to get up there, and we sometimes (myself included) have a tendency to treat lanky women with good genes like inherent enemies whose mere existence conflicts with our own, but these women aren’t any less aware of their bodies than we are. That’s what we should be focusing on: Even though the VS models have legs for days, they still work just as hard to maintain their bodies, their health, and their confidence as the rest of us.
Maybe it’s because I spent most of my life being fat, but I’m still looking for any excuse to feel alienated because my body isn’t “perfect.” So this year when the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show ends, I’m going to make an effort to turn off the television comfortable with the understanding that just because I don’t look like those women on the screen, I don’t have to be ashamed of my body because of it. If you’re tuning in, I invite you to do the same. You’re not a Victoria’s Secret model, and that’s okay, because you’re still gorgeous (even if you forget sometimes).