Home / Victoria’s Secret’s ‘What Is Sexy’ List Is An Indefensible Affront to All Women
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It’s hard to comprehend what’s going on at Victoria’s Secret these days.

After dumping its swimwear line and its apparel offerings and its popular mail-order catalogue last year, the lingerie superbrand now looks like it’s trying to get rid of its customers too.

The latest strategic blunder is the 2017 edition of its cringe-inducing ‘What Is Sexy’ list, a breathtakingly boneheaded attempt to assert its expert credentials in the area of sex appeal. They wish.

This is more than just another clumsy marketing fail from America’s leading lingerie retailer; it’s an indefensible affront to all women, regardless of their size, race, shape, age or politics. The kind of thing that makes even long-time customers question their allegiance to the brand and its reliably cheap undies.

But were you expecting anything different?

We’ve been writing about the ‘What Is Sexy’ list for years and one thing about it never changes — it’s a superficial roundup of celebrities who are mostly white, skinny and blonde. While the worldwide fashion industry has embraced diversity in recent years, Victoria’s Secret stubbornly ignores and resists it. The brand that made billions by convincing women they could become “bombshells” with the right push-up bra is defiantly — and perhaps fatally — stuck in its own past.

So, to enumerate: the 2017 ‘What Is Sexy’ list, as if it matters, names 18 women plus one man (James Corden), a TV show (The Royals) and “sexiest city” Palm Springs (because VS had a booth at Coachella, duh). Many of those named have appeared on previous lists, and 10 of the 18 are blondes. It’s almost exclusively made up of U.S. celebrities, although Victoria’s Secret adds some international flavour with a few Americanized foreigners like Margot Robbie and Priyanka Chopra and Corden.

And although it’s meant to reveal the “what” of sexiness, the list makes no effort to define that vague and subjective quality — it’s just names and meaningless labels, like “Sexiest Festival Style” and “Forever Sexy.”

And pity poor Catt Sadler, the E! News host who gets stuck with the label of “Sexiest Snapper”. Victoria’s Secret probably thought it would be cool to acknowledge her Snapchat activity, oblivious to the fact that “snapper” is a well-known euphemism for “vagina”. No doubt Sadler’s office mates are having fun with that today.

Although the ‘What Is Sexy’ list included no black women, black supermodel Jasmine Tookes (right) was tasked with handing out trophies to some winners in L.A. on Thursday.

The annual ‘What Is Sexy’ list never answers its own question, but it says a lot about the corporate mindset of the company that dreams up this thing every year. And what’s most revealing is what — and who — is not on the list. Diversity is clearly not part of the Victoria’s Secret vocabulary.

There are no black women and no Latinas*. Let that sink in for a minute.

There are no plus-size or even remotely curvy women, no voices from the body positivity movement, and no women who don’t have a squad of stylists and beauty professionals to keep them polished, glowing and red-carpet-worthy.

There is no gay representation, no transgender person or others from outside the gender binary, no Asia Kate Dillon.

There is no one over the age of 36 except for the gimmicky inclusion of Corden (38) and Sadler (42).

There are no women from the STEM professions and no one from academia — although, laughably, Chrissy Teigen is named the world’s “Sexiest Author” because she wrote a cookbook. (Hey, it could be worse — last year, Chrissy’s DOG was on this list. Seriously.)

There are no doctors, lawyers, judges, medical researchers, astronauts, military personnel, farmers or fashion designers**.

And, in these times fraught with upheaval everywhere you look, there’s no one from politics or progressive activism, no one who’s known more for their voice than their body parts. (In fairness, celebrities like Lady Gaga and Nikki Reed have strong activist credentials, though Victoria’s Secret does not acknowledge that aspect of their “sexiness”.)

The only real surprise on this year’s list is that Ivanka Trump wasn’t included — not because she earned it, but since she’s famous, white and blonde the odds were in her favor.

RELATED: Is This What ‘Sexy’ Really Looks Like?

Victoria’s Secret has been accused repeatedly of being “tone deaf” to the momentous changes in consumer culture and public values that have tested the fashion industry in this millennium. But that implies they’re just clueless and ignorant — a mistake that overlooks the intentional, strategic purpose of deplorable marketing fluff like the ‘What Is Sexy’ list.

Victoria’s Secret has two objectives in releasing this annual assault on women:

  • to align itself with the hot A-list celebs whose fans (mostly young women) are the ones Victoria’s Secret wants to sell bras to;
  • and to get free publicity and endorsements from famous people without actually paying for it (the ‘winners’ on the list get a cheesy Angel wings trophy). The 18 people named to this year’s list have a combined reach on Instagram of 218 million followers, so if they all post about their “award” it turns into a marketing coup for the brand. How deeply, depressingly cynical.

This is the 12th year the company has released one of these miserable lists, and each year it pisses more people off.

Victoria’s Secret is a brand in the throes of a full-blown corporate crisis. It does not know how to speak to women without insulting vast numbers of them. It has lost much of whatever credibility it once had and it does not know how to change course.

Want proof? Although its ‘What Is Sexy’ list includes no black women, on Thursday the company sent top black fashion model Jasmine Tookes (above photo), one of its supermodel Angels, to hand out its ‘Sexy’ trophies to some of the winners.

Let THAT sink in, too.

* Although there are no Latinas on the list, model Rocky Barnes earned a nod in the fan-voting section. She is part-Mexican.

** TV personality and actress Lauren Conrad is named “Sexiest Mogul” because she has a signature fashion line, although she achieved her celebrity status during her years on The Hills.

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