[Gabriella Kountourides (above) is a 22-year-old zoology student at Leeds University, UK and one of three women behind an online petition that asks Victoria’s Secret to apologize for its ‘Perfect Body’ ad campaign. The petition has received more than 23,000 signatures and provoked a social media discussion around the hashtag #iamperfect. In the article below, a version of which first appeared on the fashion website Glammonitor, she explains why the issue is worth fighting for.]
Ask any woman how she feels when she looks in the mirror and you are likely to get the same answer: “Sometimes great, sometimes awful.”
It’s human nature to have doubts about oneself. This can surely only be exacerbated by the way women are portrayed in the media today. Almost without exception, one type of woman is represented as ‘the ideal’. She is usually tall, light-skinned, young, very skinny — and classically beautiful. Why are all the other women in the world invisible?
Remembering my school days, I recall the moment I noticed my body shape and, for the first time, having doubts about it. What I saw in the mirror didn’t reflect what I saw in shop windows. This was even worse for friends of mine, some of whom were diagnosed with eating disorders. It remains a very dark cloud on an otherwise happy childhood.
This feeling was perpetuated as I grew older: the same type of people were in movies, and anyone with the slightest ‘flaw’ was humiliated in the tabloids. Constant criticisms of women in the public eye: ‘She has put on weight.’ ‘She is anorexic.’ ‘Try her crash diet.’ We are constantly bombarded with double messages, fat-shaming larger women and then skinny-shaming the slim ones. Women can clearly do no right.
The diversity of women and their body shapes is breathtaking; the only ‘perfect’ is that belonging to the airbrush. Perfection is subjective. However, a new advert by Victoria’s Secret would have us believe otherwise.
There is a shopping centre near where I live, it’s the biggest in the area and attracts thousands of shoppers each day. At the exit there is a Victoria’s Secret store, and on October 19 I walked past it to leave, but this time something stopped me in my tracks. A picture of three women with identical body shapes and the words “The Perfect ‘Body'” displayed across them.
The image, advertising a bra range called ‘Body’, made me so angry that I posted immediately on the Leeds University feminist society Facebook page, asking if anyone else had seen this and wanted to do something about it. And two other students, Frances Black and Laura Ferris, felt exactly the same way.
What made us so cross was the juxtaposition of those three small words across three tall, skinny models with interchangeable bodies. The advert reinforces the idea to all its consumers what the company’s vision of ‘perfect’ is. It screamed out to passers-by that if they did not look like this, there was something wrong with them. So we sat down in the coffee shop at the university and wrote our petition.
Victoria’s Secret is one of the most popular stores in America (2013, BrandIndex), and their shops are global. Their target consumers are girls from teens to late twenties — our most insecure years. Young girls are bombarded with images of ‘perfection’ every day, but this went a step too far. It labeled them. This kind of messaging is damaging to girls (and boys as well), and a shop like Victoria’s Secret has a significant influence over how our society views women. This, to me, is an example of irresponsible advertising.
I am the proud step-sister of two wonderful younger girls, I lead summer camps for 12-year-old teenagers and, while I try to promote healthiness and body confidence, campaigns like this one destroy it with a single line. According to the Confidence Coalition, 90% of all women want to change something about themselves, and I strongly believe that it’s (because of) adverts like these.
Since we started the petition, it has gone global, with coverage on major media networks like the BBC, ABC and CTV, as well as almost all the UK newspapers, leading magazines and other global news organizations. It has to date almost 24,000 signatures. The response we have had has been overwhelming. We have been inundated with emails from girls recovering from eating disorders, mothers, and fathers, all supporting the campaign and saying how adverts like this are potentially damaging.
Victoria’s Secret has choices. We really hope that the company will listen. We ask for a simple change — to remove the wording “the perfect body” and show you care about the consumers you target.
If you agree with me, please support our petition here.
[Ed. Note: Victoria’s Secret has not responded to requests for comment on this subject and has not contacted the petition organizers.]