I was thrilled to hear that Victoria’s Secret is discontinuing its annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, as well as the Angels, the team of supermodels that showed off its negligible garments.
The reason given for the decision is that the industry and society at large has moved on and the brand is looking to become “the world’s leading advocate for women”.
Instead of the svelte, bra-and-pantie-clad Angels, it has appointed a new team of spokespeople, who will “build new, deeper relationships with all women through a series of collaborations, business partnerships and cause-related initiatives”.
VS is also establishing the $5 million (R70 million) Victoria’s Secret Global Fund for Women’s Cancers, which will award grants and improve access to treatment and early detection methods, while educating and empowering women to take control of their own health.
The new VS Collective team includes journalist and equality advocate Amanda de Cadenet, footballer and LGBTQIA+ advocate Megan Rapinoe and plus-size model Paloma Elsesser. They will “work to create new associate programmes, revolutionary product collections, compelling and inspiring content, and rally support for causes vital to women”. There will be a podcast.
This is all a great step forward for gender equality.
Still, I would have expected myself to be disappointed at the demise of the world’s most iconic lingerie models. I am a cis-hetero male. I have worked in the glamour industry directing bikini and, indeed, lingerie shoots. I am attracted to women. In fact, for many years I worked on a bikini mag for men’s enjoyment – an industry premised on the objectification of women.
So you would think I would feel some sense of loss at this fundamental change in how lingerie is marketed and the removal of half-naked supermodels from the media mainstream.
In the end, when I heard the news the main emotion I felt was relief. Thank God, I thought. Now I no longer have to pretend to be interested in women’s lingerie!
Because, while I can never deny that I’m interested in women, that I find many of them fascinating and even visually appealing, their underwear is really none of my business.
The supposition behind marketing women’s lingerie for the male gaze would appear to be that men buy lingerie for their partners. But everyone knows that buying clothes for other people is complicated and usually a bad idea in terms of sizes, style and fit.
Personally, I have never bought underwear for another person, least of all a partner, and I do not know anyone else who has. Perhaps in another time and place this has happened, though.
We must assume that lingerie was being marketed to women for them to buy for themselves on the understanding their partner would find it attractive. The marketing was for the male gaze, but once removed.
Undergarments are really functional pieces of clothing 99% of the time. The other 1% of the time, there may be some component of sexual titillation.
Some men may find underwear a turn on. I do not and I find it a great relief to no longer have to pretend that I do. My years in the glamour game taught me that sexy is an attitude, a confidence thing and no glut nor shortage of clothing will change that.
I’m not trying to paint myself as a woke revisionist or a politically correct gender ally. I am as depraved as the next person.
While I’m not turned on by the sight of lingerie, I did once experience a surprising thrill when a lady friend of mine began using crutches. Also knock-knees – dibanisile madolo. They slay me! And those funny jeans one girl used to wear with kind of criss-cross patterns on them. I can’t explain it, but they were sexy to me.
That of course is the point. What I find attractive in the people I’m attracted to is between me and them.
It’s rather arrogant for a brand to presume to know what I find attractive. Or even to try to tell me what I find sexy. I’ll know it when I see it, but for goodness’ sake, don’t try to dictate my own tastes to me.
Fortunately, underwear now seems to be removing itself from that space. Sexiness should not just be determined by the amount of skin exposed, or whether a garment is genital adjacent.
Sexy can be an odd way of pronouncing a word, a fragrance, an inadvertent slip when going down the stairs, the way someone’s eyebrows go when they’re singing along to a Doja Cat song…
We never know when sexy will ambush us. So now that the VC Angels have bitten the dust, along with my erstwhile bikini magazine, we are free to have sexy find us in surprising places we least expect. Let’s think of it as the liberation of sexy!
When sexy no longer has to mean “women in underwear”… Well, just imagine the possibilities!
• I recently published my fourth novel, The Trustees. Free pdf copies are available from email@example.com