When I was about thirteen I received some perfume from Victoria’s Secret. It was called dream angel. Of course I expected, with such a name, that it would smell like roses or vanilla, or some heavenly scent I had never encountered before.
It smelled like fingernail polish remover. I probably left it in the front of my counter to be the cool teenager I was trying to be, but I could never stomach it enough to wear it.
About eight years later I was sitting in front of my computer. It was a night in the Fall and my Facebook newsfeed was blowing up, as it tends to do, when there is some important sporting event or national crisis or holiday taking place. But the guys and girls weren’t posting about their favorite team or what they were eating for Thanksgiving. For guys, the statuses went something like this:
And the girls, like this:
…Never looking in the mirror again.
My Facebook friends were watching the Annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.
I’ve only seen a snippet of it, but the part I saw included an interview with one of the “angels” (what they call the lingerie models.) She spoke about dreams and following them and how any girl can be whatever she wants to be if she just believes, etc. and generally, this seemed to be a large part of the feel of the show. Building self-confidence. Empowering women. And while it may empower the models in some ways, we can’t help but notice that it does quite the opposite to most of the female viewers. Again, you need only look at the Facebook statuses. Most girls and women I know who see a Victoria’s Secret model think not, oh that’s so empowering, I feel better about myself, but instead, oh wow, I’m so ugly. She’s so hot. How can I ever look like her?
This is a pretty widely accepted fact, and I hope it is not news to anyone. It is how Victoria’s Secret sells. They make us want to look like their models and then they show us exactly how (although they sell us a little short without providing airbrushing or computer touch-ups or gene manipulations.) But by the end of it, we rarely feel much better about ourselves. Many humanitarians give answers to this problem. Often the answers involve some sort of reason for why the models aren’t really that great so that we can feel better about ourselves. These answers usually go something like this:
Those Victoria’s Secret models are too skinny. They are unhealthy. Real women have curves.
Those are TOTALLY fake.
You know, what, no one looks like that in real life. So who cares? There’s no point in envying, because it’s not real.
Well, they might be hot, but they’re dumb. It’s much more important to be smart.
While these statements may be well intentioned they usually don’t help much. Too often, the women who say them (or who listen eagerly to them) continue to buy push-up bras, continue to cake on makeup, and/or continue over dieting. These answers avoid the problem and by pointing fingers and making more judgments they promote more envy and insecurity among us and egg on the inner battle.
Some will answer the problem with the classic “every girl is beautiful” concept. Dove does this in many of their ads by taking “regular women” (makeup-less, different shapes and sizes) and having them model in underwear. But while many of us may feel comparatively better about ourselves because of this type of campaign, it doesn’t seem to be enough. We want to know why we’re beautiful. Deep down we all fear that one day we won’t be as pretty, or perhaps that we aren’t pretty, and then, well, it doesn’t matter how “beautiful” “every girl” may be—we don’t feel it and nobody treats us like we are. And we want to know we are beautiful even while standing next to a Victoria’s Secret model.
I am going to suggest that the answer to this problem lies in our recognition of the fact that we are sacred. There was a time when this was commonly accepted. There was a time when a man would kneel down and kiss every woman’s hand because she was a woman. But by the fault of both men and women we have created a culture in which women are either treated as men or as sex objects. Rarely something in between, and too often they are treated as both. Many women don’t like the idea of being labeled because of their womanhood. But the truth is, this labeling is the only way our daughters and sisters and mothers and friends—ourselves—will ever truly feel beautiful. We need to bring back the age-old concept of the woman as sacred. In Part Two, I will address how we go about doing this.