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What Is Victoria’s Secret Selling And Why Does It Work?

I walked in to Victoria’s Secret to buy some on-sale underwear and was struck by these giant posters of mostly naked supermodels with cheesy backgrounds and hair blowing in the wind of sexy.

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Well, we can rule out selling the love of my particular body.

All I kept thinking is: What is Victoria’s Secret trying to sell me?

If beautiful women wear these things, I should, too?

The belief that if I put on this bra and underwear, I’ll grow six inches and larger breasts?

Or if I put on this, my significant other will see me as a sexy supermodel?

Or if I put on this, my significant other really wants a supermodel so I better try?

The commercials and advertisements seem to be geared towards a macho fantasy world, but I’d be shocked if most of the Victoria’s Secret purchases are by men. And what do those guys, who were told by their girlfriends or wives to go there, think they’ll get out of buying something by Victoria’s Secret?

I have shopped there for a long time although for the last decade I have only gone in for specific items because they have the best selection and quality for the price when it comes to certain bra styles and underwear sales. As I thought back to college when I was not as discerning about my purchases, I realize now that I was buying the idea of sexy without understanding the lines between showing off the legs I have and showing off everything I have. I did not know the difference between having fun with a boyfriend and being what I thought he wanted me to be — a movie star, a p0rn star, a runway model.

But I was 20-years-old and naive as to who I could be and who I wanted to be. Between blogging and parenting and a lot of growing up, I am more sensitive to marketing and less susceptible to it. I can appreciate the beauty of a model without picturing myself as her or needing to be her. With knowledge of Photoshop, an understand of the marketing of “need” and confidence as to my place in the world, I can be funny or objective when it come to the Victoria Secret models instead of jealous or motivated.

However, I am surprised that this fantasy world still works is as an ad campaign to sell nice underwear. No lingerie is going to change my height, weight, cup-size, or sex life. Or anyone else’s. How have adult men and women not recognized this? How have we not taught our teenagers this?

And that, the issue of my children, is where I get upset at any of the possible meanings of the Victoria’s Secret approach. My children were not with me when I bought the underwear but the very concepts of sex and sexiness are everywhere including the shop windows. I don’t want my children to slowly buy into this fake sexy where crawling out of an ocean in a bra and underwear or donning angel wings is the ultimate standard. When they are old enough, I want them to experience true intimacy and a love for their bodies and the bodies of those they chose to date.

But I did buy underwear there. Over a decade later with all my knowledge and all my prowess, I continue to be a part of the problem. I am buying in with my wallet even if it’s not with my heart or body anymore.

Maybe I still don’t understand what Victoria’s Secret is selling.

UPDATE: I began putting this piece together awhile ago and haven’t shopped at Victoria’s Secret since — catching my hypocrisy is a great gift of blogging.

Alex Iwashyna

Alex Iwashyna went from a B.A. in philosophy to an M.D. to a SAHM, poet and writer by 30. She spends most of her writing time on LateEnough.com, a humor blog (except when it's serious) about her husband fighting zombies, awkward attempts at friendship, and dancing like everyone is watching. She also has a soft spot for culture, politics, and rude Southern people who offend her Yankee sensibilities. She parents an 2 elementary age children, 4 cats, and 1 puppy, who are all Southern but not rude. Yet.

46 thoughts on “What Is Victoria’s Secret Selling And Why Does It Work?

  1. I like to think they’re selling the idea that by wearing that underwear, you can FEEL as beautiful or sexy as those women appear. But seeing those images kind of makes me feel like I have no business in that store.

    I don’t want my girls to be negatively impacted by these types of images either. Models these days are so ridiculously photoshopped that I’m hoping more girls start to immediately realize that the image is not a realistic one.

  2. I think that VS is selling fear. They want you to know that if you don’t buy their products, you will not be sexy enough for your lover. And then you will be a loser…. all because you didn’t buy their bras & panties. That’s why VS adverts bludgeon us over the head with sexiness.

    That being said, I have shopped in VS over the years & I like the quality of their products. I just think that their advertising angle is desperate and stupid.

    1. LOL sounds too dramatic.
      No it all depends on the views you have. Yes VS have lines that say sexy and hot and beautiful, but it all depends on what you think is sexy. no one is telling you that you are not sexy if you wear don’t wear VS. Heck you can go to Macy’s and find something that flatters you. The idea of VS is to sell undies and bras that flatter and make you feel beautiful. I don’t buy into all the lace and stuff they have. why? bc I don’t think it’s sexy. I find something in the store that I think is sexy; something that flatters my figure. I buy for myself, never a man. Buy for yourself and your confidence not a man or a lover. ha.

  3. The flipside to this is that those models are probably starving and saying “I wish I could just eat a big greasy cheeseburger like everyone else.”.

    Another reason why I enjoy being a man. Give me a 3 pack of Hahnes boxers and I’m good.

  4. Amen. Amen. and Amen. I couldn’t agree with you more. I too LOVED Victoria’s Secret in HIGH SCHOOL!! What the what?! It is ALL about that sexy image isn’t it? Good thing I was dating a boy I’d love for Lucy to date one like…too bad the underwear lasted until college though. I loathe their commercials because I have seen their affect on families on husbands that have REAL issues with porn addiction and when those commercials come on t.v. it’s like giving an addict a small taste of what they’ve worked so hard to overcome. And you are so right about it affecting our children. Do I really want my son to view women/girls like that? Eye candy and that’s it? What about Lucy? If her hip bones don’t show she needs to just hang it up?! I guess it should just encourage me to double my efforts in building up self-esteem in my daughter when I see one and making sure my son is exposed to proper images of women as well. Sad to say, but I have never really thought of this with VS before until now! (aside from the commercials and it being soft porn in my opinion)

  5. Once again, you hit the nail on the head, took the words out of my brain, etc etc [insert idiom here].

    I really appreciate your honesty and frankness and completely agree.

    I’ve often wondered why in the world they market themselves the way that they do (while I’m shoved a catalog into our recycling bin and shaking my fist at them for making it so hard to opt out of catalogs). I don’t *want* to look at women like that; I prefer the Dove campaigns with all the real women.

    I hardly shop in malls, period. I am overwhelmed by the crowds and the overt consumerism and marketing, honestly.

    1. So you are saying all those models are NOT real women? i don’t get you people. Of course they are. Don’t be prejudice because someone worked for an image they wanted or was born a certain way. Don’t compare yourself, be happy with yourself.
      Comparison robs people of happiness.
      Shop to enjoy yourself. and blow off the rest.

  6. i also started shopping at victoria’s in high school (when i at least had some approximation of the shape, if not the height, of those models–who, 20+ years ago, had more meat on their bones than they do now). and i also quit shopping there a few years ago. that my mother let me buy the stuff i did–ordered out of catalogs, with her credit card–is somewhere at the low end of things i will be doing differently with my children. the main thing that got me to stop shopping there was the catalogs; when one of my born-again relatives remarked that they were really just soft-core porn, i laughed out loud–but it got me thinking about the images, and the mentality behind them. to this day, i know that i buy things from catalogs because some part of my brain believes i could look like the models if i wore the same things. and when i was a young person, i was an underwear junkie: all my bras and panties matched, and i looked fabulous in them. it made me feel pretty, wearing pretty underwear. it doesn’t make me feel quite as pretty nowadays, alas, but i still like it…i just get my undies at target now, or the bounce website if i feel like wiping out my bank account. i’m not sure i know what victoria’s is selling either, but whatever it is, i don’t need it.

  7. What really kills me is the phrase “love my body” right next to the stick thin photoshopped women. It is like VS is getting on the “love the body you have” bandwagon and using that to make money while at the same time giving women a false sense of what their bodies should look like.

  8. Victoria’s Secret is selling a dream… To both men and women… To women: “Wear this and you’ll look just like this” To men: “Buy this for your wife and she’ll never know you’ll actually be fantasizing about THESE women”

    …wind of sexy… love it.

    I buy my undies at Wal-Mart and my bras at Target. I never understood how anybody could invest so much in undergarment that nobody sees. And even when somebody does happen to see them they’re coming off instantly!

    But beyond Vikky and her dream selling tactics – I seriously doubt that 100% of the people agree with how women are used in advertising. When “real women” are used aka, those who look like me with some loving around the mid waist people secretly think “Ugh, as if THAT will sell me on wearing those clothes”. When super divas perfectly airbrushed to appear like a bronze goddess are used people sigh “Who looks like that?”

    Maybe we need to go back to the days of Mad Men when all women had the drugged up look of a Stepford wife… Come to think of it, In today’s standards even Marilyn Monroe wouldn’t be considered sexy… We just don’t know what we want anymore. Women have been portrayed in so many ways maybe we need to ban her use in advertising! Wait a year until we miss seeing her then maybe we won’t complain so much… I don’t know (but for somebody who doesn’t know I sure used up a whole lotta words saying it! Sorry…)

    p.s. Memory fit? What the heck is that? Do I need my underwear to remember how they fit? How many gigabytes does that take? Do I need to plug my bra into my usb port? Does it come with an extension cord? I have so many unanswered questions…

  9. I’m addicted to VS, but it’s not my fault. They are an evil mind-controlling organization built on lace and the sacrifices of goats.

    I only JUST wrote about this last week: http://www.katoninetales.com/2012/05/shining-at-victorias-secret.html (I honestly don’t usually do the shameless self-whoring thing when I leave a comment, but this is kinda appropriate.)

    In seriousness though? I like VS’s absurd undies because they make me feel pretty. I’m single, so I completely just wear it for myself. The advertising is ridiculous, but I’m even willing to forgive that because I think we all are so aware of ad tricks now that they don’t work like they used to.

    1. Internet ettiquete is dumb on this count because I love when people leave links – I want to read other oeople’s ideas.
      I think that I know better but I don’t know that teenagers know better. And people’s ideas of love and sec and marriage are often so unrealistic that its not the bodies of these women that bother me (read my ‘women more beautiful than i’ (http://www.lateenough.com/2011/03/women-more-beautiful-than-i/) piece for those thoughts) but the idea of sexy which is the problem.

      1. I’ve been married twice, what’s “sec”? Oh…..never mind. My bad. They’re selling sex for men and self esteem for women. The ol’ “I feel sexy when I wear this” routine. The big giant posters can be intimidating. Especially awkward when you’re there with your new wife and an old girl friend (yeah…really!) is up there on the wall. Well, maybe not a girl friend. She was a girl and she was my friend but there was no sec.

  10. I agree with Leigh Ann– I like to believe that they are selling the feeling of being beautiful or sexy, but honestly, that’s not what comes across in many of their commercials. I haven’t shopped there in a decade, and this is part of the reason.

    The other part, of course, is that I found a place which sells items that fit me better and last longer. It’s a tad bit more expensive, but when I only have to shop once a year instead of twice, it makes all the difference. I also like how the other store doesn’t sell sexy, though. They are more in line with selling ‘feel good’.

      1. I do go to a local place, but for anyone who is a size 14 or above (or has a chest that thinks you are a 14 or above, like I do), I also recommend Lane Bryant. For years I was cramming myself into VS items that just didn’t work. You can get cute bras at Lane Bryant for just a bit more money that actually fit well AND look good!

  11. Overpriced lingerie and lost dreams – that’s what they’re selling.

    I just don’t see the value in Victoria’s Secret. I do like their 5 pairs for $25 on occasion but really I can get stuff elsewhere for cheaper.

    Maybe if I was still an 18 year old with perky boobs and a six pack? Who am I kidding…

  12. I haven’t bought anything from Victoria’s Secret in years, but not because I’m boycotting their fantasy advertising. I’m not as confident as you – I walk in to that store and I can’t help but focus on how much my body has changed since having kids.

  13. I’ve lucked out on this one. Somewhere along the line my teenage daughter read an article that reported that VS uses child labor to make their clothes, and she has viewed them with disdain ever since.

    I haven’t had the heart to tell her that there are very few lines that don’t use child labor, but for the moment I’ll let her wallow in her VS hating self-righteousness if it keeps her from hooking into their fantasy.

  14. I find the “I Love My Body” next to the models interesting. I’d like to say “who wouldn’t love their body if they were an underwear model” but I was stick thin in high school (pimply, non existent boobs, bad hair, braces too) and I hated my body. I got ridiculed for being so thin – funny cuz I was the size of models (though I didn’t look like a model, let’s make that perfectly clear).

    I have to admit that I feel sexier in sexy underwear. The ugly giant underwear and ugly nursing bras I wore not too many weeks ago did not help me love my post baby body (round 2). And while the body doesn’t look that much better, being back in cute undies and buying cuter bras makes me feel better. I’m OK with companies selling and targeting a product that will make women feel better about themselves – whether it’s clothes, underwear, make-up, etc. We deserve to feel good.

    However I’d rather that more ads show less skinny women. A size 8 would be nice. I know a lot of size 8s that are very cute and sexy. Then the phrase “I love my body” could mean “I do to” to the real women walking by.

  15. As our mothers told us, make sure to wear clean underwear in case you’re in an accident. She didn’t say, make sure to wear sexy underwear in case you get into an accident.
    If they are comfortable, they wash and dry well and you feel good wearing them….wear them!

  16. Fantastic post! Well said. And, BRAVO on your decision to stop shopping there! I finally realized that we vote with our dollars every day. VS hasn’t gotten my “vote” for the last few years.

    Now, to figure out how to teach my daughter not to buy the message they’re selling. No easy task in a world chock FULL of that message.

    1. As the father of three daughters and the husband of a beautiful curvy woman, I’m often flabbergasted at why my women seem fascinated by fashions that aren’t catered to them or advertised counter to their values.

      Im a raving idiot when it comes to clothes and accessories. I’m also failry stupid at understanding the psyche of females when they process what to wear and how it makes them feel.

      I do know this. I love my wife and my teenage daughter regardless of their looks. I think if more men in our society would stop emphasizing looks, superficiality, and comparing what they have at home to what they don;t have, then women would have the emotional safety net to countact their feelings.

      I don’t see anything sexy in that Vic’s Secret’s ad. You commentary and the subsequent comments are what I find beautiful.

  17. I thought I was the only one without angel wings at the beach. ;)
    We just recently got Victoria’s Secret in Canada and I went in to check it out- it is so massive I couldn’t find anything and the perfume smell was overwhelming. So I’m done there too, before I started.

  18. Ugh. I agree with every word. I still buy bras there occasionally because I haven’t found as good of quality elsewhere (anyone have a alternative? Anyone??) but I’d really, really love to stop.

  19. (Apologies if this is a duplicate). I said something along these lines. In college, I used to enjoy making the VC clerks squirm by pretending not to know the company didn’t make anything in my cup or band size.

  20. Ok so I like VS. Not their advertising (um…who REALLY has that long of a torso? that is THAT perfect? With MASSIVE bewbs on top? Naturally?), but their bras are for people like me…big bewbs. And I really like how nice the salesgirls are about measuring me. My ta tas are my fave part of my body (even if they are a bit saggier than they used to be), and I LOVE splurging on a bra that makes me feel perky and sexy.

    That said, their entire marketing campaign annoys me. It borders on p0rn for sure. I mean, they have their runway on network TV. During prime time each year. How is that ok?

  21. Yes! You’ve captured this perfectly. I shopped at Victoria’s Secret in high school and college when I was still buying into the idea of sexy and still had the body to go with the idea. After marriage and a baby, “sexy” isn’t the first word I would use to describe myself. Now I usually do my undergarment shopping at Target or Dillard’s. So I’ve either risen above the blatant displays and messages of sex delivered by Victoria’s Secret, or I’ve just become old and cheap. It’s a toss up.

  22. Years and years ago (including 6 consecutive years of nursing my three daughters) I dated a guy. He was about 10 years older than me. We were out to dinner one night with a large group, a guy at the table, after being introduced to me, complimented the guy I was dating, saying that I was attractive. He responded by saying, “Yup, and only five grand away from a decent rack.” Everyone at the table heard, my shame overflowed and it was inadequacy, not anger that I felt. All these years later, I know that he was wrong, but these sorts of things (whether it’s VS ads or commercials for Doritos) when I see a busty model I feel that same shame.
    It is loathsome. Not me. And yet…

    1. Oh sweetie, you are so lovely and brave to share. While I haven’t had that particular comment lobbed my way, I have had those comment that even though my head knows the remark is wrong and the person is being a jerk not me, I still carry it with me. And of course, there’s the shame of still feeling shame. Ugh, it’s frustrating.

    2. I would have kicked his BUTT!! There is nothing more shameful than a sick ugly inside guy like that! whenever someone says something like “you could be prettier if this…” just blow em off. they are obviously not worth any of your time whatsoever. I was once told “you look really cute, it’s a waste you don’t have blue eyes”. You know what? (Insert curse word here) You! Take me as I am or leave me. All I know is that somewhere down the road he won’t be getting any. Sickos like that have problems. It’s okay to wish and stuff but no one needs to say it out loud.

      and whatever you do, girly don’t compare yourself to models! did you know some of the VS models have A cups. who cares? Get fitted (trust me it helps) and get a bra that makes you feel great. Who says As can’t be sexy? I have A’s and I get compliments even though they are small. Confidence and some good clothing is all you need :) you are beautiful

  23. I agree…I can’t buy anything wearable there’ they don’t even carry my size…Lane Bryant on the other hand does

  24. Well, I do use one of their perfumes. Everything else is from Target. With me being a size 12 and evidence that I enjoy lasagna about my midsection, I don’t feel like shopping there, like I don’t fit in.

  25. Since the late 90’s- Victoria Secret has marketed and sold “cute” and called it “sexy”. I’ve never understood why women can’t recognize this distinction … From a maturity aspect it’s kind of creepy and from male perspective – it’s a real mood-killer.

  26. Woah people chill. If you don’t like VS don’t shop there. I’m 18 and I personally do not feel any pressure to be beautiful from that store. I’ve had an eating disorder so I can say where my motivation came from and it was NOT from VS. It was from my family. Family plays a big factor in self image and so do peers. Magazines and VS did not impact me at all. I shop there to FEEL beautiful. When I find something that flatters me I feel fabulous and that is diff from comparing yourself. Of course no one looks like a VS model, but don’t let that get to you. People should shop to flatter their figure, the models are there to portray the items in the best possible way not to get you to look like them. Maybe people need to start learning to be confident and love their body rather than pointing fingers at people and blaming others. and fyi the VS models are hardly Photoshopped body wise. It’s real. I can say that I have not been impacted by the media at all body wise. My family and friends are the ones who sway my confidence. When you shop you have to keep in mind that you are beautiful and should be finding stuff that looks good on you AND NOT COMPARING YOURSELF. Don’t compare yourself just focus on what you came in the store for. Don’t hate on VS! I love that store. I’m not a skinny stick, I have some rolls, but I have learned to accept myself and that I need to be a healthier person. I like the bright colors VS and VS PINK sell :) It makes me happy to see such bright colors whenever I change haha Call me naive but I love to feel beautiful and confident and when I get the right clothes and other clothes I feel on top of the world.

    Explain to your kids not to compare themselves instead of avoiding the store overall!

  27. STOP OVER ANALYZING THE MESSAGE OF EVERYTHING it takes the enjoyment out of everything. Sometimes it’s necessary to analyze things but I say VS is just a fun store to find stuff that flatters your figure not a store that promotes eating disorders or mental illnesses. Geez.
    So you are saying all those models are NOT real women? i don’t get you people. Of course they are. Don’t be prejudice because someone worked for an image they wanted or was born a certain way. Don’t compare yourself, be happy with yourself.
    Comparison robs people of happiness.
    Shop to enjoy yourself. and blow off the rest.

    I have ROLLS and I DO NOT compare myself to the models. I shop there to flatter my figure with their unique styles.

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