Victoria’s Secret has changed the message, but not the models, in a controversial fall ad campaign promoting “The Perfect Body”.
The U.S. lingerie retailer yesterday changed the text on its main webshop campaign image — showing 10 slim supermodels wearing the latest products in its ‘Body by Victoria’ bra collection — to read “A Body For Every Body”.
The company made no public comment about the change, which follows an online petition that criticized the company for spreading a “damaging message … about women’s bodies and how they should be judged.”
The petition was started by three UK university students 2½ weeks ago and has collected nearly 27,000 signatures. A Twitter campaign using the hashtag #iamperfect has generated thousands of comments from around the world, including support from public figures like Lady Gaga and Shonda Rhimes.
“I am delighted that Victoria’s Secret has changed their campaign to a more inclusive slogan, and believe it portrays a much more positive and healthy message to young girls, which is exactly what we wanted,” Gabriella Kountourides, one of the co-founders of the #iamperfect campaign, told Lingerie Talk today.
“While I am ecstatic that our campaign has worked, clearly they heard us, I am still disappointed that Victoria’s Secret has released no statement,” she added. “They still need to take responsibility for the message they sent. We would also like a pledge not to use such harmful advertising campaigns again. Although (this is) a fabulous landmark, our campaign is not over!”
Other fashion and beauty brands joined in the online debate about body-shaming and beauty standards, and American underwear label Dear Kate created an alternative version (above) of the Victoria’s Secret ad that has probably been seen by almost as many women as the original. The Dear Kate photo mimics the composition of the ‘Perfect Body’ photo which was itself inspired by an earlier photo (top) in the Dove Real Beauty campaign.
The text accompanying the photos on the Victoria’s Secret website makes no reference to the bodies of either its models or its customers. The word “perfect” is used only in the context of its bra’s qualities, mentioning “perfect fit”, “perfect comfort” and “perfect coverage”.
[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.]
With a growing controversy over its latest advertising campaign and whispers of a possible boycott of its upcoming TV show in London, Victoria’s Secret served up the ultimate distraction yesterday — not one, but two, jewel-encrusted Fantasy bras.
The U.S. lingerie giant has neither acknowledged nor responded to an online petition asking it to remove ads that show 10 slim models under the caption ‘The Perfect Body’. The petition has gathered almost 20,000 signatures and sparked a social media debate under the hashtag #iamperfect, with most people saying the ads are damaging to women and unrepresentative of the female body.
Avoiding the issue is going to become harder for America’s biggest lingerie company, however, as it undertakes a media campaign to promote this year’s Fantasy bras and the annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, which tapes next month in London and airs on Dec. 9.
The company will begin its media juggernaut for the new “Dream Angels Fantasy Bras” tomorrow morning on Good Morning America, where Brazilian models Adriana Lima and Allesandra Ambrosio will face the tough questions.
This year’s blinged-out bras are the 19th and 20th created by the company to promote its annual pre-Christmas TV show. Although often criticized for their unrealistic price tags (which have reached $15 million), the Fantasy bra is also the centrepiece of a marketing campaign that generates many times its value in free advertising around the world.
The 2014 edition marks the first time Victoria’s Secret has offered two Fantasy bras, which this year are priced at $2-million apiece and bear a strong resemblance to the bedlah costumes of Arabic belly dancers.
Both pieces were crafted by Swiss jewelry house Mouawad, which also created the $10-million bra worn by Candice Swanepoel in 2013. Last year’s version was reported to be the first one that Victoria’s Secret has ever sold to a customer, although the company also offered a $300 replica edition for the first time.
How big has the #iamperfect hashtag protest against Victoria’s Secret advertising become? Well, for starters, that’s Lady Gaga below, weighing in on the subject earlier today.
The social media campaign behind an online petition that asks the lingerie company to remove ads bearing the words “The Perfect Body” has exploded in the past two days, with thousands of people worldwide adding their voices.
Other companies unaffiliated with Victoria’s Secret have spoken out, too, and New York underwear brand Dear Kate went so far as to create the above visual rebuttal in a hastily assembled photoshoot early today.
According to the petition on Change.org, the Victoria’s Secret billboards “play on women’s insecurities, and send out a damaging message by positioning the words ‘The Perfect Body’ across models who have exactly the same, very slim body type.
“All this does is perpetuate low self-esteem among women who are made to feel that their bodies are inadequate and unattractive because they do not fit into a narrow standard of beauty. It contributes to a culture that encourages serious health problems such as negative body image and eating disorders.”
Below, we’ve assembled 25 tweets from the #iamperfect campaign that give a sense of what women are angry about and how they want Victoria’s Secret to respond. And yes, we’ve included some of the more … relevant … comments from people who oppose the campaign.
For more, read our earlier report: “Victoria’s Secret Ignores ‘Perfect Body’ Critics At Its Own Peril”
The worst thing about Victoria’s Secret‘s repugnant “Perfect Body” ad campaign isn’t that it’s hurtful to women, it’s that the giant lingerie retailer refuses to participate in the worldwide conversation it has started.
It’s been NINE DAYS since a trio of UK college students launched an online petition asking Victoria’s Secret to remove ads showing the words “The Perfect Body” superimposed over a lineup of 10 slender, lookalike supermodels.
The ads show up on billboards and mall displays in both the UK and U.S. and promote a new bra style in the company’s Body by Victoria collection. The text on the ads refers specifically to the bra’s name, but the unavoidable double meaning has enflamed women everywhere.
The petition has so far gathered more than 15,000 signatures and sparked a social media squall around the hashtag #IAmPerfect, with most commenters slamming Victoria’s Secret for “body-shaming” anyone who doesn’t resemble the company’s Amazonian Angels.
The company’s response? Not a single word.
The campaign has received blanket media coverage in recent days and the online debate has metastasized wildly, bringing overlapping issues like body image, idealized beauty standards, fat shaming, racial diversity, photoshopped ads and other subjects into the conversation. (Predictably, it has also triggered a backlash from virulent, chauvinistic trolls too.)
If the company’s initial offence in creating the ‘Perfect Body’ ads was unintended (let’s give them the benefit of the doubt), its continuing silence on the issue is both perverse and inexplicably dumb. Especially since defusing the situation would have been so easy. Any PR intern could crank out a boilerplate corporate mea culpa and quell the controversy, like this:
“Victoria’s Secret has always supported women of all kinds and rejects any suggestion that one individual’s body shape or size is more worthy than any other. Our advertising is meant to promote healthy lifestyles and happy women regardless of their appearance. We sincerely apologize for any unintended offense caused by our recent campaign.”
It took me 20 seconds to write that — see how easy it is?
Instead, Victoria’s Secret clings to a public relations strategy that looks like it was borrowed from Hong Kong’s political leaders, who resolutely ignore protesters week after week in the delusional hope that one day they’ll just exhaust themselves, shut up and go home.
What makes this whole episode even more incomprehensible is the fact that body-positive messaging has become the default language of fashion marketing today. Brands have become cheerleaders for their customers and are quick to spread feel-good messages about personal empowerment, self-acceptance and positive self-image, whether it reflects an authentic corporate value system or just an effort to pacify customers for profit.
Victoria’s Secret‘s silence suggests it is digging in for a kind of trench warfare with its critics. Apparently, the opinions of those who are hostile toward its shallow, “thinspirational” marketing are irrelevant to a company that boasts having “the sexiest fans on Facebook.”
It pursues this course, though, at its own peril.
These days, companies that disregard the growing power of consumer activism made possible by social media risk being shunned, boycotted or worse. Smart, socially responsible companies react swiftly and with conviction to legitimate public concerns; those that try to ride out PR storms will feel an impact on their bottom line.
Last week, for example, Wal-Mart was outed online after its website was shown to be offering “Fat Girl Costumes” for Hallowe’en. Wal-Mart responded almost instantly, removing the offending items and offering a credible apology that probably appeased its critics.
But when your customers complain and you ignore them, it shows a fundamental lack of respect and a profound disconnect with the realities of commerce. Witness, for example, the recent outcry against a New Zealand fashion company whose CEO told critics to “get a life” when they complained about skinny mannequins in shop windows. “Clothes look better on skinny people,” she blithely retorted. How many current and future customers did they lose that day?
In some ways, we shouldn’t be surprised by Victoria’s Secret‘s non-reaction to its latest public relations disaster.
In recent years the company has endured a long, repetitive list of PR messes that show it is out of touch with contemporary values. In almost every instance, it has let controversies drag on (sometimes for weeks or months) before ultimately issuing an unconvincing press statement while refusing to discuss the matter further.
When parents complained in 2013 about the ‘Bright Young Things’ promotion that appeared to target teen girls, Victoria’s Secret let the issue reach crisis proportions before issuing a too-late-to-matter clarification. When women launched a petition asking the company to sell bras for mastectomy survivors, it collected more than 100,000 signatures before Victoria’s Secret responded — and said no. (There’s something both stupid and cruel about that.)
For most other tempests — whether they involve photoshopped ads, sexualized slogans on its underwear, lack of diversity in its models, or complaints about ethical sourcing and fair labour practices — Victoria’s Secret has nothing to say.
What can possibly explain such an ostrich-like approach to customer relations, especially in an age where crisis communications is a college credit and most corporations are quick to extinguish potentially damaging firestorms?
The obvious, and cynical, answer is that Victoria’s Secret only reacts when its stock price does (and it opened about $1 down today).
But there’s something deeper, and more worrisome, here. Although Victoria’s Secret supports many worthy charitable causes, it really doesn’t have a social activist bone in its Sexy Little Body™. And despite its enormous cultural influence in the lives of women around the world, including young girls, when it comes to speaking up for women it is stubbornly mute.
Sadly, that is its default position. Women’s ongoing struggle for equality, advancement, acceptance and acknowledgment is someone else’s battle to fight; they just sell bras.
So let me amend my opening sentence.
It’s not their silence that is so appalling, it’s what it implies — a shocking lack of empathy and a corporate ethos that perpetuates the stale chauvinist maxim that women should be seen and not heard. That they should avoid public debate and not trouble their pretty little heads with important issues of substance that involve the rights and values of the community they live in.
In other words, like Victoria’s Secret itself, they should just shut up and let their boobs do the talking.
[NOTE: We contacted Victoria’s Secret and invited them to comment on this issue. They did not reply.]