Victoria's Secret's Angels are highlighting the world's obsession with female beauty

The fascination with the Victoria’s Secret’s so-called Angels tells the world that how a woman looks is the only thing that matters, writes Joyce Fegan
Victoria's Secret's Angels are highlighting the world's obsession with female beauty

There are 15 women on the planet that the world has declared as perfect.

And they aren’t perfect because of their academic achievements or scientific discoveries, their artistic offerings or altruistic endeavors. They’re perfect because they all have a body fat below 18%, waists measuring 24-inches and the distance between the top of their skulls and the sole of their feet is about 6-foot in length.

They train like angels, eat like angels and act like angels. When all of that is said and done they are officially “promoted to angel status” and “earn their wings”.

They are the Victoria’s Secret Angels. Some fast for days in advance of the annual Victoria Secret’s New York fashion show, others live off protein for months on end in the long run-up the event and many train twice a day in order to carve their torsos into social acceptance. Oh to be an angel.

When I was growing up (I’m only 30), my hard-as-nails and equally as hardworking grandmother called me an angel — regularly. So too did a doting an aunt and so too did my parents.

But it wasn’t because I’d achieved a socially acceptable percentage of body fat. Nor was I branded an angel because I’d trained hard in the gym, and not once but twice that day.

It was usually because I’d been kind, or gotten all my spellings right, or gave a kiss or a cuddle without being prompted to.

Nowadays, you’ve “been good” if you forwent carbohydrates for the day, but before you were good because you didn’t steal, tell a lie, or break a window with the hockey ball.

So when my social media timelines and the various news sites I check daily started filling up with postings about the “Angels” this week, something inside me began to twist. But it was a Facebook post that really did it.

It was written by a guy I used to know who now works in media in New York. He had posted a photo of his press pass to the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show 2015, on Tuesday. To paraphrase: he likened his excitement to that of a child’s of Christmas Eve waiting for Santa. This man is well into his 30s.

So far his post has garnered 173 likes and 39 comments. The comments were from just as many women, if not more, than men. People commented about how envious they were — one commentator (male) said attending the show was on his bucket list.

I don’t know about you but I am a woman, who likes to wear make-up and spend some occasional dosh on trendy clothes, but there are things like visiting the Galapagos Islands, walking the Great Wall of China and seeing the Northern Lights on my personal bucket list.

I’ve no interest in watching women walk for a few metres in their bra and knickers. And what’s more, I’ve no interest in celebrating any human being, male or female, for the size of their waist, the curve of their arm or the definition of their abdomen. Show me a good deed or hard-fought-for achievement any day.

I’ve nothing against fashion shows or fashion brands or fancy lingerie per se but I do have something against lauding women for their appearance alone.

Last week, we celebrated the people (boys) behind Web Summit and called for more female entrepreneurs (10,000) to attend the event. Today the Abbey Theatre (after forgetting to include female directors and playwrights in their 2016 programme) will host a Waking the Nation debate.

In the next general election, each political party must meet the 30% gender quota. But sure, what matter? Once you only eat protein, come in at a certain weight on the scales and have clearly defined abs — you could be an angel and nothing else matters really.

It wasn’t the colourful fashion show that got my back up, nor was it that Facebook post, it was actually the sheer hysteria and international fandom that this one event was attracting.

All of this boils down to one clear message for me: we celebrate women and laud praise upon them when they eat from certain food groups, train hard and look a certain way.

In 2015, beautiful still seems to be the most important and most powerful thing a woman can be. In 2015, we still live in a world where a woman’s biggest form of currency is her appearance. And in 2015, to back this up with figures, Victoria’s Secret will churn in about $6bn (€5.6bn) in sales, if the previous years are anything to go by.

If that doesn’t prove that women are at their most economically powerful while in their underwear, then I don’t know what does. Oh and in 2012, 9.3m people tuned in to watch a handful of women walk a few metres in their bras and knickers.

Compare than 9.3m to the number of views a TED talk on this very topic attracted. Psychologist and body image researcher at Northwestern University, Renee Engeln, gave a moving TED talk in 2013, about the epidemic of beauty sickness. It’s superb. It’s mindset-changing. But so far, the TED talk has only pulled in 157,000 hits on YouTube.

Her basic argument, and mine, is that bras and knickers and make-up and beauty are all fine, in their place.

But beauty sickness happens, as the hysteria around the Victoria’s Secrets points to, when women spend so much time not worrying about their education or careers, or family or relationships but instead on the state of their abs or their arms.

When I have children I hope to also call them angels, like my grandmother called me, but in the truest sense of the word: for being a person of exemplary conduct or virtue.

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