Victoria's Secret's transphobic and fatphobic stance isn't keeping up with the fashion industry's progress
My relationship with my weight has come to dictate a lot in my life, especially when it comes to fashion. More than once, I’ve gone shopping—online or in a store—and questioned who was making the decisions in the clothing industry. Why? I’ve lamented to myself. Why—knowing that 68% of American women are a size 14 or larger—why won’t clothing companies make cute and accessible fashion for us fat girls?
In 2015, the plus-sized fashion industry claimed a market worth $21.5 billion, and is expected to grow to just under $26 billion by 2020. Obviously, we big girls are craving fashion tailored to us, and we are willing to pay for that representation. Any smart business person would acknowledge this fact, embrace a fresh demographic, and capitalize off the easy money. Really, it would be a mistake for any trendsetting company to ignore such a huge market, ignore the societal shift of more brands catering to plus-size women, and run the risk of becoming irrelevant. That’s partially why recent remarks by Ed Razek—the chief marketing officer for Victoria’s Secret parent company L. Brands—are so confusing and out of touch.
In a November interview with Vogue, the Victoria’s Secret CMO attempted to justify the brand’s failure to cast transgender and plus-sized models for their fashion shows and campaigns. During the interview, Razek said of their lack of representation:
Not only are Razek’s comments completely wrong, they are irresponsible.
For too long, brands in the fashion industry, including Victoria’s Secret, have set the standard for what is considered beautiful. But the thin white cis female body is not the only one worthy of validation or representation.
With the wave of body positivity that our society has more recently embraced, bodies that were once considered shameful or unworthy are now celebrated for their unique beauty. Models like Tess Holliday, Liris Crosse, and Alysse Dalessandro have made names for themselves in the plus-size modeling industry, finding crossover success as well. Holliday was even featured on the cover of Cosmopolitan‘s October issue—a first for a fat model.
Trans models have also made an impact on the world of fashion. Models Valentina Sampaio, Leyna Bloom, and Isis King have worked tirelessly to show that trans bodies are not only beautiful, but deserving of a spot in the fashion industry. Recently, Sampaio made history by becoming the first out trans model to appear on a Vogue cover when Vogue Paris featured her for its March 2017 issue.
The success of these models prove two things. One, beauty standards are finally starting to evolve past what the mainstream fashion industry has told us was ideal. And two, Razek’s words are profoundly wrong and show just how comically out of touch he and many in the industry are.
Not every brand has so completely neglected the diversity of their customers. Rihanna’s recent launches of Fenty Beauty cosmetics and Savage x Fenty lingerie are shining examples of what happens when a company pays attention to what society wants. Rihanna developed an innovative line of cosmetics featuring one of the broadest shade ranges for concealer products in the industry—and the brand actually uses models who reflect this.
During this year’s New York Fashion Week, Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty lingerie show featured a total of 14 plus-sized models, including two models who were incredibly pregnant. It should be noted that this show had more plus-sized models than any other show in the event’s history. Large bodies—whether fat or pregnant—are often hidden and considered undesirable on a runway. Fenty chose to highlight them.
Fenty hasn’t ignored the talent of transgender women either. In November 2017, Rihanna addressed the call for more trans models to be invited to castings. Via a Twitter DM, she explained her stance for inclusivity and against tokenism:
“I’ve had the pleasure of working with many gifted trans women throughout the years, but I don’t go around doing trans castings! Just like I don’t do straight non trans women castings! I respect all women, and whether they’re trans or not is none of my business! I don’t think it’s fair that a trans woman, or man, be used as a convenient marketing tool! Too often I see companies doing this to trans and black women alike! There’s always just that one spot in the campaign for the token ‘we look mad diverse’ girl/guy! It’s sad!”
Rihanna also hinted at her disapproval of Razek’s statements by liking an Instagram post that praised Savage x Fenty’s focus on body diversity. The singer’s push to include beauty of every kind in her brands isn’t just the right thing to do—it’s smart business. In October 2017, Fenty Beauty reported a whopping $72 million in sales in only one month. It’s success earned it a spot on TIME‘s 25 Best Inventions of 2017. The accolades didn’t end there—only a year after the launch of the Fenty brand, Rihanna’s innovative company was named one of TIME‘s 50 Genius Companies of 2018.
Still, money and success doesn’t always trump bigotry. There are still naysayers in the fashion industry who argue the inclusion of fat and trans models normalizes unhealthy or abnormal “lifestyles”—and, to that, I say good. These bodies are normal. My body is normal. The bodies of our trans sisters are normal. Why should they be excluded and shamed? Society has long told women that we shouldn’t love ourselves; that we should be ashamed of the skin we walk in. Rebelling against that mindset isn’t going to automatically change a patriarchal society, but it is going to change the lives of millions suffering from low esteem and negative self image.
Being reminded that we should and can love ourselves—that we are beautiful in our own vibrant and individual ways—shouldn’t have to be a revolutionary act. But right now, it is. Until more beauty and fashion brands understand this, we will continue to push for inclusivity and representation. Fat bodies are beautiful, Black and brown bodies are beautiful, and trans bodies are beautiful. It’s too bad Victoria’s Secret missed the movement.