Victoria’s Secret’s growing Pink line is aimed at a younger audience than the main Victoria’s Secret brand. Over the past several years, the brand has expanded Pink a lot, so the line is now sold in dedicated Pink stores and showcased in a special segment of the annual nationally broadcast Victoria’s Secret fashion show. Business Insider reported earlier this month that a Limited Brands executive confirmed the “Bright Young Things” line was for even younger girls than the main Pink line, which targets college students:
“When somebody’s 15 or 16 years old, what do they want to be?” Chief Financial Officer Stuart Burgdoerfer said at a conference. “They want to be older, and they want to be cool like the girl in college, and that’s part of the magic of what we do at Pink.”
And an online petition asks the brand’s CEO to stop “portraying teens as sexual objects.”
The letter on ForceChange.org that you can sign reads:
Dear Ms. Lori Greeley, CEO of Victoria’s Secret,
You recently launched your new line of swimsuits and lingerie for Spring Break. This line is part of your Pink collection and is geared towards a younger teen audience. The advertisements on your website feature younger looking teen models who are scantily clad and provocatively posed and the slogan, ‘Bright Young Things.’ By choosing to target teenagers with your new line, you are condoning teen sexuality and portraying teens as sexual objects.
Your slogan refers to young women as ‘things,’ rather than many more appropriate alternatives. This slogan coupled with the provocative ads used to launch your new line indicates that you are using the sexual appeal and objectification of teens in order to sell products. Teen girls are already bombarded by images in the media, which focus on the importance of beauty and sexuality for women. Your recent advertisements reinforce the idea that young women are only valued for their beauty and bodies, rather than for their intelligence, creativity, or ideas. Further, by targeting such a young demographic, your company is sending the message that it is acceptable for teens to become sexual at an earlier age.
Please reconsider your ad campaign for your new Spring Break line and stop targeting teen girls for lingerie.
[Your Name Here]
But Victoria’s Secret is just one of many brands sexualizing girls under the age of 18.
Many fashion models start working before the age of 18 — some as young as 14. The problem has become so worrisome that designers at New York Fashion Week ask for ID to ensure the models they hire are at least 16 years old. Not even 18, but 16. Once cast for a show, a model might very well be asked to wear a sexy outfit or a sheer top without a bra, leaving her breasts on display. And sometimes, runway work gets even racier: for Marc Jacobs’s fall 2013 show, 18-year-old model Lily McMenamy walked the runway completely topless. If a model lies about her age — and some of them do — a designer could end up unwittingly casting an underage girl for a very adult job.
And still models who are 14 or 15 land major shows, fashion magazine editorials and campaigns. Just look at supermodel Lindsey Wixson, who started modeling at the age of 12, and ended up in a Miu Miu campaign when she was just 15. A press release about the ad perfectly embodied the fashion industry’s perplexing view of youth, calling Wixson the “embodiment of a free-spirit on the cusp of womanhood.” Womanhood? At 15?
Of course there is a difference between using young models to sell sexy clothes to adult women and using young models to sell sexy clothes to middle and high schoolers, as Victoria’s Secret is doing, but both practices are troubling. Brands only benefit from hooking very young customers, who will loyally buy a brand’s products throughout their lives, and Victoria’s Secret is hardly the only company who knows this. From a young age, women are taught by the media and fashion industries that they should buy all the right things to make them hot and sexy and young-looking forever. If they aren’t looking at “sexy” ads targeting them directly, they might be seeing sexualized teen pop stars or pregnant teenagers on MTV, or sexy billboard ads and fashion magazine images targeted to their big sisters.
Victoria’s Secret will have to — and should — respond in a significant way to dampen the very viral backlash against the “Bright Young Things” line. But everyone angry about that should also take some time to reflect on the messages young women get about commercialized sexiness from the media and fashion industries at large. Victoria’s Secret made a big mistake, but they aren’t the problem — they’re merely a symptom of it.