If you’re young, blonde and white, consider yourself lucky: you’ve won the trifecta of sexiness. If you’re none of those things, give up already.
At least that seems to be the message in Victoria’s Secret‘s annual “What Is Sexy?” list, which features a bevy of slinky blonde Hollywood up-and-comers — and almost no one else.
According to the lingerie retailer’s definition, sexiness today covers the vast human spectrum that ranges from Blake all the way to Britney, from Amber to Stacy, from Ashley to Annalynne. Let’s face it, if you’re on Leonardo DiCaprio‘s speed-dial, you’re probably on this list too.
Think I’m exaggerating? Here are the facts:
Of the 17 individuals on the 2012 “What Is Sexy?” list, 15 are either full-time or sometime blondes. (Only redhead Jessica Chastain and brunette Olivia Wilde offset the monochrome parade.)
Only one person in the homogenous group is non-white: the mixed-race icon Beyoncé. There are no African-American women, no Latinas, no Rihanna.
Thus, you won’t find Eva Longoria, Jennifer Lopez or Selena Gomez in this lineup. Same goes for Jennifer Hudson, Paula Patton, Kerry Washington, Gabrielle Union or anyone else from America’s nearly 20-million-strong community of black women. Instead, ethnic diversity is represented by such figures as German ice-blonde Diane Kruger and platinum-blonde Swedish blogger Elin Kling.
With a couple of exceptions, the women on the list are all single and without children. There are no gay women, only one person shorter than 5’4″ (Kristen Bell) and no full-figured, plus-sized or even genuinely buxom women. The “sexiest curves”, according to Victoria’s Secret, this year belong to svelte actress Amber Heard.
The average age of women on the list is 28, although that figure drops if you include the cast members of Pretty Little Liars (who were named “Sexiest TV Cast”). Only five women on the 2012 list are over 30 years old, the eldest being Charlize Theron at 36.
That may explain why Eva Mendes, Penelope Cruz, Kate Beckinsale, Jennifer Aniston, Denise Richards or Aishwarya Rai didn’t make the cut this year — ALL of those celebrated beauties are older than EVERYONE in the Victoria’s Secret universe of sexiness.
To be sure, all of the women on the 2012 “What Is Sexy?” list are physically attractive, and many are genuinely accomplished. But it’s hard not to see this as a shallow — and woefully unimaginative — lineup that exposes a kind of bigotry at the heart of Victoria’s Secret‘s cynical marketing.
The razor-thin demographic segment represented by the women on this list is conveniently similar to the one occupied by the leggy blonde Angels who model for Victoria’s Secret (there’s an eerie moment in the video below when Candice Swanepoel holds up a photo of lookalike Jennifer Lawrence), but it bears no resemblance to the remaining 99.99% of the female population.
When Victoria’s Secret asks the rhetorical question “what is sexy?”, the answer is obvious — and outrageous. It’s: “People like us. Not people like you.”
The “What Is Sexy?” campaign has changed drastically since Victoria’s Secret introduced it seven years ago.
When the company announced its first “What Is Sexy?” list in 2006, they seemed to take the question seriously. It wasn’t enough to merely declare the “sexiest man alive” (as People did), or the “sexiest woman alive” (as Esquire did), or list the world’s top 100 hotties (as Maxim and all the other lads’ mags did).
Instead, Victoria’s Secret set out to define “sexy” for the modern age by providing a set of familiar cultural reference points. After all, sexiness may be a timeless quality, but it’s also fluid, subjective and heavily influenced by changes in both fashion trends and celebrity popularity.
Thus, in its broad first campaign, the company covered a lot of bases. It bestowed the “sexy” crown on both male and female winners in four categories (music, acting, sports, TV), identified the sexiest U.S. and foreign cities, and chose the sexiest food (chocolate), music video, movie (Unfaithful) and even car.
It was an odd list (where else could you find both Shakira and Jay Leno as co-winners in the same contest?), but you could tell they put some thought into it. Back then, “sexiness” wasn’t just a collection of smooth body parts; it was a reflection of character, style, humor, presentation and self-confidence.
The list was also a strategic marketing coup for Victoria’s Secret. People talked about it, debated the choices, secretly compared themselves to those who made the list. More than any other corporate brand in America, Victoria’s Secret — which, it should be remembered, sells underwear — became the presumptive authority on the subject of “sexy”.
Since the first “What Is Sexy?” list appeared, that question has been at the core of all of the company’s relentless marketing, to the point where the brand and the question gradually morphed into one self-referencing, self-promoting concept. What is sexy? Victoria’s Secret is sexy.
In its first few years, Victoria’s Secret had fun with the question and its annual list. Plenty of men were included, along with sexy athletes, couples and parents. David Beckham was named sexiest dad in 2007, a year before wife Victoria was chosen sexiest mom.
And there were some off-the-wall selections that showed the company was being creative with its choices: Matthew McConaughey was named “best beach body” in 2007, Stephen Colbert earned “sexiest funny guy” in 2009 and Padma Lakshmi was named sexiest chef in 2010. Even Ellen De Generes made the list in the same year as Christina Hendricks and ScarJo.
The most ambitious attempt to create a lasting blueprint that would define sexiness for the ages came in 2009, when Victoria’s Secret presented twin lists that matched current celebrities with icons from the past. Brigitte Bardot and Angelina Jolie were twin winners in the “sexiest lips” category, while Kate Winslet was paired with Marilyn Monroe for “sexiest actress”. Most fun were the oddball pairings that triggered countless debates: Cary Grant/Kelly Ripa for “sexiest smile” and Jim Morrison/Beyoncé for “sexiest musician”.
Since 2009, however, the “What Is Sexy?” list has become little more than a scorecard of who’s-hot-now among the red carpet crowd.
The company no longer includes men on the list, or athletes or anyone who doesn’t appeal directly to the 90210 audience. Instead, “what’s sexy today” are established, currently popular female stars who validate the mainstream tastes of Victoria’s Secret‘s youthful customer base — role models whose generic looks can be achieved with a bottle of hair color and some lacey underthings.
But not every Hollywood bombshell passes that test, which is why you won’t find Nicki Minaj or anyone like her here. She’s too short, she’s the wrong color and, let’s face it, she doesn’t need a push-up bra.