As a 20-something millennial, I have grown up with Victoria’s Secret (VS). Since childhood, I walked past the store in the mall, read the catalog and longed for the day I could buy my first push-up bra.
By the time I was in my early teens, the brand had convinced me of a “perfect” body type. For example, I believed I should have a small waist, large boobs and mile-long legs. Obviously, anything else would be “wrong.”
However, these body expectations were entirely unrealistic. Moreover, it turns out that not even Victoria’s Secret models themselves could live up to this standard.
‘I Am Now A Size 34B, Which Is Healthy For Me’
Former Victoria Secret model Bridget Malcolm recently shared a TikTok video of her trying on a bra she wore at the 2016 VS Fashion Show. The white, lacy number is a size 30A. Malcolm frowned at the camera as she hiked the bra up around her ribs.
“I am now a size 34B, which is healthy for me,” she says. “I was rejected from the show in 2017 by Ed Razek [former VS CMO]. He said my body did not look good enough. I wore a size 30B at that point.”
Then, the video cuts to a young Malcolm in a lacy bra and pink VS robe. With her blonde hair curled and white smile beaming, it’s hard to imagine anything could be wrong.
But Malcolm recalls a much different experience. “The sadness behind my eyes from the 2016 show breaks my heart,” she says. “Victoria’s Secret, your performative allyship is a joke.”
Malcolm isn’t the first one to call out the 44-year-old lingerie retailer, either.
“Join me, and let’s help change the minds of Victoria’s Secret to be more diverse and inclusive of body shapes and sizes on their runways,” Lawley wrote. “As women, I want us all to join together and say, I AM enough. I AM beautiful. I AM unique, and I WANT to see my body shape represented in your shows, or I vow to never buy your product again!”
Lawley told Forbes that singer and fashion mogul Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty fashion show inspired her to action. “The Savage x Fenty show was such a breath of fresh air,” the model said. “How much of a good impact could it have on young girls if Victoria’s Secret did the same?”
Lawley, whom VS dubbed a “plus-size” model, has a daughter. She wrote that she “refuses to let her grow up with those limited ideals” and the “ridiculous idea that a bra size is more important than her physical and emotional health.”
That was in 2018. Since then, the online community has added 10,204 signatures – just under 5,000 short of their 15,000 signature goal. But that doesn’t mean no progress has been made.
Canceled Shows And Fired Execs
Over the last several years, Victoria’s Secret has caught a lot of flack. 2019 and 2020 were perhaps the worst years for the company yet.
In August 2019, more than 100 models signed an open petition to Victoria’s Secret CEO John Mehas via The Model Alliance. The petition mentions sexual assault, rape and sex trafficking of both current and aspiring models.
It then demands that people like Mehas and other perpetrators be held accountable. “We are calling on Victoria’s Secret to take meaningful action to protect its talent and those who aspire to work with the company,” the petition reads.
Long-time chief marketing officer Ed Razek, whom Malcolm mentions in her TikTok video, stepped down that same month following a controversial Vogue interview. Three months later, parent company L Brands pulled the plug on the VS Fashion Show.
Finally, in February of 2020, Razek’s sleazy partner-in-crime and L Brands CEO, Leslie Wexner, faced a similar fate. Due to Wexner’s ties with serial rapist Jeffrey Epstein, investors forced the 83-year-old to step down.
Redefining Victoria’s Secret
Under almost entirely new and women-ran leadership, Victoria’s Secret has been cooking up some major brand changes. One big alteration is the VS Collective, which the company announced in June of this year.
“We are proud to announce an exciting new partnership platform designed to shape the future of Victoria’s Secret,” the brand wrote. These “extraordinary partners,” the brand said, will help the company create new products, content and programs.
The difference is readily apparent. The days of winged and lingerie-clad Angels are long gone. Women known for their professional achievements – not their breast size – make up the VS Collective.
VS Collective founders include Megan Rapinoe, LGBTQ+ advocate and soccer star; Eileen Gu, freestyle skier and Olympian; Paloma Elsesser, inclusivity advocate and biracial model; and Amanda de Cadenet, journalist and founder of Girlgaze.
The company plans to expand its product line to include maternity and mastectomy wear as well as greater size inclusivity.
“When the world was changing, we were too slow to respond,” new chief executive Martin Waters told the New York Times. “We needed to stop being about what men want and to be about what women want.
So, if VS is trying so hard to change, why are models like Malcolm speaking out now?
‘I’m Strong Enough For Any Backlash, I Wasn’t Before This’
While a step in the right direction, revamping the VS brand does not negate the experiences of models who suffered under the brand’s previous regime. Malcolm responded to those asking why she was speaking out now on TikTok rather than before.
“Let me take you on a journey through time and space,” the model says. “By the age of 18, I lived in three countries.” She goes on to say a much older man had groomed her. She had also been sexually assaulted several times. Her agents even told her to do cocaine to lose weight. And this was all before the age of 18.
“I developed PTSD,” she continues, “anorexia, anxiety and depression. I couldn’t socialize without drinking and was developing quite the reliance on Xanax and Ambien in order to get me through the night. On my 26th birthday, I had a nervous breakdown and couldn’t leave my house for a year.”
Today, she is two years sober, four years in recovery from an eating disorder and is happy and strong. She explains that she couldn’t talk about her experiences before she reached where she is today, and that’s why she’s speaking out now.
“I’m solid in recovery, and I’m strong enough for any backlash. I wasn’t before this,” Malcolm concludes.
My Q and A is open to anyone who wants to ask me anything. But this is why I haven’t spoken up before now.? original sound – Bridget Malcolm
The Process Of Moving Forward
In a statement to Insider, Victoria’s Secret responded to Malcolm’s comments.
“There is a new leadership team at Victoria’s Secret who is fully committed to the continued transformation of the brand with a focus on creating an inclusive environment for our associates, customers and partners to celebrate, uplift and champion all women.”
Still, is it “too little too late” for VS to change, as suggested in Malcolm’s TikTok video caption? It looks like we’ll have to wait and see.
A quick peek at the brand’s website reveals a site still dominated by toned, stretch mark-free models. And while the range of body types seems more inclusive, full representation hasn’t yet been achieved.
Until then, we must continue to hold these brands accountable and fight for body positivity in its entirety — not as a shallow performance of morality. This includes listening to and supporting victims of the brand’s prior abuse as they gain the strength to come forward — be it tomorrow, next month or five years from now.