Pssst, Victoria’s Secret: That’s Not What Breasts Are For
I’ve never actually watched a Victoria’s Secret (VS) “fashion” show. However, even without exposing myself to the show, as a teen I was heavily influenced by the brand’s marketing to the point where I can embarrassingly remember crying in at least one VS changing room. With a 29 inch rib cage and what must of been a “-A” cup, even the smallest bra didn’t fit. My flat chest was a failure in a world of images dominated by bra cups full to the brim.
It has taken years for me to get over the feelings of deficiency the contrast of VS imagery and my itty-bitty titty reality had inculcated into my mind. Even during my healthy pregnancy with no complications, I still questioned my body, and scrutinized my barely swollen breasts as liabilities in regard to my ability to breastfeed. Until I was informed that breast size is irrelevant to breastfeeding and milk supply, I genuinely thought that it was possible I wouldn’t be able to adequately nurse my child.
Even now, one of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t take pictures of my engorged breasts in when I began to lactate 72 hours after giving birth. To me, this is particularly pathetic, because if four years of women’s studies classes hadn’t been enough to dislodge the fallacious preeminence of breast size as a measure of my general beauty and worth from my mind, successfully creating a human being with my body would, right? Well, no. The classes, discussions, perfect pregnancy and natural childbirth were not enough.
For me, it has been the proper use of my breasts as the single source of my daughter’s sustenance for 6 months, and comfort and security for her entire life that has finally brought the entirety of the problem with VS as a brand, and its preposterous network televised smorgasbord of lingerie paired with head dresses, wings and stilettoes, into clear view. It may have taken the life changing events of becoming a mother and feeding my child with my body to shake the lie loose, but the fact that I was ever able to come to the true purpose of my breasts is a testament to the kernel of awareness I must have had all along. I say this because many women are never able to view their breasts as what they are: the source of unmatched nutrition, physical and emotional well-being for an infant and its mother in her postpartum year via breastfeeding.
VS is not the only brand to blame, of course, for women and men being manipulated into viewing breasts as sexualized ornaments hanging from women’s bodies. The sexualization of the female body pre-dates the only 40 year old company. But, I don’t know what other brand has wrung the niche of women’s corporal exploitation so flagrantly, and with the enthusiastic approval of women and girls who facilitate the brand with their purchases, participation in and viewership of its annual tits and ass parade.
This piece is not going to talk about VS marketing at pornographic, although some of it by my definition is. And, this piece will also leave the race/body-size/cultural appropriation issues alone, however, VS is wrought with such problems. The focal point of this piece is the dangerous misinformation of what breasts are for that is propagated by VS in every way.
If you’re unaware, VS, a brand that revolves around breasts, does not sell nursing apparel. Not a bra, not a camisole, nothing. Apparently, at one point they did release a very un-sexy nursing bra. Click the link to the aforementioned bra, here, and you get a blank page. That webpage is almost as blank as my face at the thought of a bra company that claims on it’s Linkedin page that “THE CUSTOMER RULES”, yet doesn’t sell nursing bras. Let’s go over this.
Who has breasts: women. What is VS’ primary market: women. Bras do what: hold breasts, women’s breasts. What do the majority, if not all, of women’s breasts do when they’ve had a baby: lactate. What do at least some of those lactating women do: breastfeed. And, at what point in a woman’s life would she possibly be desperate and extremely grateful for a proper bra she can easily find while her breasts are at their most voluminous, sensitive, and productive: while postpartum and/or breastfeeding.
It’s not that complicated. A bra company should sell nursing bras, particularly a company that asserts its customer “RULES”, right before explaining that: “Everything we do must begin and end with an insatiable drive to anticipate and fulfill our customers’ desires.” It seems as though the “insatiable” drive of VS as a brand has been sated by merely capitalizing on the exclusive hyper-sexualization of women’s breasts.
And, what does this mean? What does it mean, when a lingerie company can’t seem to successfully acknowledge what breasts are actually for, which is to nourish small children? Put another way: what does it mean when a business is willing to ignore a market that will only increase if it is properly supplied with the materials it needs? For a lingerie company to neglect an entire category of bras is bad business, poor planning and discriminatory. It’s fine for a company to have a vision, and VS obviously has one. But, VS has grown beyond just the original VS version of “sexy” to include the more casual “PINK” collection, so it can’t be said that the brand is not flexible. I guess, though, that the younger target demographic of consumers for PINK rank high enough on the barometer of sexiness to be worthy of VS’ attention and inclusion.
By not acknowledging the biological purpose of breasts, breastfeeding, and spending millions of dollars on the various facets of its business to propagate the perception of breasts as purely visual objects to be enjoyed sexually by men, is as anti-woman as it gets. It is degrading and backward thinking. It does nothing to promote the inclusion of the entirety of the average woman’s experience, which at some point will involve motherhood and (hopefully) breastfeeding. By dissecting women’s lived experiences from their visually consumable exterior, VS dehumanizes its prized customer, even if “dehumanization of women” is not written on the brand’s Linkedin page.