I can't decide how I feel. I just read this NYT article about the casting process of Victoria's Secret "angels". The girls who get selected are "rarer by far than superstar athletes". Only about 100 people in the world can do what they do. Angela Lindvall once shed 20 pounds, skipped rope and ate nothing but spinach, chard and kale in order to fit in. The sales figures are high, because so many women buy into the image of the seductive angel, even if they might know that buying a new super-boosted bra does not quite make them look like Gisele. All of this is disturbing, right? It makes pretty much all of us non-angles feel inadequate, and it gives the wrong message to girls growing up (the message being, that as long as you have a small and firm ass, long limbs, shiny hair and the face of perfection, everything will be okay in the world, and you get to wear a heavy set of wings on tv). So why don't I just feel outraged and angry? What's there to question about the way I feel?
One reason is that I don't want to waste my time even allowing my anger to surface. The whole concept of the angel is so ridiculous that it is not worth it. (Yet here I am, writing about it.) Secondly, I think I feel more sad than angry. Sad for Angela Lindvall, who probably has a great life, great children and all that, but I feel sad because she felt the need to only eat spinach, chard and kale, even if those are some of my favourite veggies. I remember feeling bad for an old friend of mine, Olivia, who shared a model flat with me for some time over ten years ago. Her skin was soft and smooth, her hair dark and curly, her eyes dark brown and innocent, her figure out of this world, and she once went on an apple-a-day diet in order to do a swimsuit catalogue shoot. She was hungry and miserable, she cried a lot, but she booked the job. She never became a Victoria's Secret angel though. She became a successful boxer instead. She kicked ass, quite literally, and I hope that she never looked back on that apple diet.
You know what? I changed my mind. I do feel angry. I feel uncomfortable every time I see a Victoria's Secret commercial on tv. I feel angry and uncomfortable, because I don't like to see nearly naked teenagers oiled up, pushed up, prancing around in high heels. There is something deeply disturbing about the image of these angels, and that something is, I think, the lack of power. I don't think the angel is powerful. Her body is beautiful but only out there to be looked at. The angels writhe, but they don't act. There are some odd, fine lines between fantasy, pornography, and nightmare in the imagery of the commercials. And I do think the imagery makes women feel bad about themselves. No matter how much girl power and confidence there is around the world, we all know what it feels like to not be as pretty as the most popular girl in class. That feeling is the essence to how girls eventually become women, and why so many men (and some women, too) complain about women being weak, easily influenced and way too prone to question their self-worth, and in doing so, strengthen the message of the inadequacy of women. There is never room for the woman to just be.
But let's go back to that lack of power. No matter how energetically Heidi Klum might have stomped the runway in the past in her diamond-encrusted undies, I never saw any true power in her, not before she put some clothes on and became a business woman. And I question myself again. Why did she need to put the clothes on to seem powerful to me? Was there something essentially demeaning about her body being on display? Does it go back to the "pretty girls can't be smart"-crap? Why am I prone to thinking that a woman covered in baby oil and wearing a push-up bra and heels couldn't be powerful?
Or maybe it just comes down to what happens backstage. That I know that there is very little power a model feels when she works a shoot or the runway, that it is all play-pretend. That the models have people shouting at them to look sexier, that they are, indeed, covered with baby oil and body make-up. That there is a wind machine, that the shoot is taking forever, and the girls are hoping to hear "cut", so that they can take five minutes to snack on fruit or a slice of cold pizza that some young assistant brought to the shoot. That the night before the shoot they probably stood in front of the mirror, naked, and wondered if their body was pretty enough to be on display. And that in order to be a Victoria's Secret angel, they live in constant fear of the measuring tape. There is no power in that.
Sweater: men's H&M
Blouse: second hand, Hietsu flea market
Corduroys: J. Crew