Please see my response to the backlash against the backlash here: Click!
[Quick update/clarification: Victoria’s Secret is pointing out that the Bright Young Things line is not explicitly for teens, it’s just part of their PINK brand. Nonetheless, their CFO has stated that they are marketing toward 15 and 16 year old girls (see below) within the brand for college girls. Also, though many are calling that parents just not buy from VS for their teen daughters, I think what’s essential is to have conversations with girls about issues such as this because whether they wear the underwear or not, they will be exposed to the advertising, peer influence, and media portrayal of young women as sexy young things.]
Victoria’s Secret has a pretty poor track record when it comes to body image, race, and hyper-sexuality. For example, read about consumerism and body image in the fashion show or criticisms of their racist fantasy line. Now, the company has introduced a marketing strategy geared for 15 and 16 year-old girls under the assumption that they want to look like college girls. According to Chief Financial Officer Stuart Burgdoerfer, “When somebody’s 15 or 16 years old, what do they want to be? 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” (Business Insider). Magic? Right. As discussed in the Today Show report: Too Young? Victoria’s Secret Rolls Out Lingerie for Teens, the company actively seeks the business of younger and younger women through the use of celebrities such as Justin Beiber, and the younger target of the Pink line. Nonetheless, a lot of parents are wary about their young daughters walking around with “WILD” printed on their asses.
In Cinderella Ate My Daughter and on her blog, Peggy Orenstein writes about age compression: “Here’s how that works: products are initially pitched to older kids; younger ones who want to be ‘cool’ like their older brothers and sister latch onto them making them instantly anathema to the original demographic. Since for girls being cool means looking ‘hot’ we’ve seen a downward drift of things like spa birthday parties (now the rage among pre-schoolers) and cosmetic use.” Very clearly, the Bright Young Things line follows this same logic and furthers a trend of sexualizing girls younger and younger. What is further problematic is the use of the noun “things.” Victoria’s Secret already has the “Sexy Little Things” and “Pretty Little Things” lines, which follow a slippery logic of sexualization and the fantasy of women as sex objects, but it’s not clear if the things are the garments or the women wearing them. Very tricky. With Bright Young Things, however, the adjective “young” gives away what “things” refers to. I don’t think people often refer to clothing as “young” (“youthful,” sure) and so it seems more likely that the things in question are the girls who are the target for the line. The logic of sexualization, under the guise of “coolness” is pretty damn clear. With the caption on the image above, you see that they refer to the clothing as “brighter than ever,” which seems like an attempt to be ambiguous like in Sexy Little Things. If you ask me, however, it’s wholly unconvincing.
So, as consumers what can we do? There’s a petition against the line. There’s also the option not to buy from this line for oneself or for young girls in one’s life. I firmly believe in also having discussions with the girls we love about body image, beauty, and media literacy. This isn’t about teaching girls that sex or sexiness are bad, either. I think it’s important that girls are able to understand their bodies, beauty, and sexuality in their own terms before Victoria’s Secret starts bombarding them with mailers full of airbrushed models.
Also, below is Victoria’s Secret model Cameron Russell’s TED talk about body image and modeling, which I think provides a powerful insider’s analysis of the fashion industry, how images are both fabricated and powerful, and how beauty is privileged. She shows a comparison between photos from her life and fashion photos from the same time, sometimes the same day. You can see how even as a young girl she was hyper-sexualized, but also the way that the photos don’t mirror reality in the slightest.