Its reason and purpose is unclear, but Victoria's Secret has created a list. The 2012 What Is Sexy? List awards distinctions like Sexiest Summer Style, Sexiest Summer Glow, and Sexiest Tweeter. You know, the stuff legends are made of. It's silly, sure, but it's also very telling. The company, whose customer is primarily young women, lists 18 categories. One grouping, Sexiest TV Cast, features brunettes: The cast of Pretty Little Liars. Everyone else on the list is blond. Well, Jessica Chastain and Emma Stone have been redheads. But still.
In 1997, Tyra Banks became the first-ever African-American model chosen for the cover of the Victoria's Secret catalog. Historically, Victoria's Secret has employed many models of color, from Karen Alexander and Naomi Campbell to Jourdan Dunn and "angels" Chanel Iman and Selita Ebanks. For the most part, although the "look" is generally the same (thin, leggy, busty, with long hair), the hair colors and skin tones do vary in the catalogs and on the runway in the infamous Victoria's Secret Fashion Show. But this list — possibly just a throw-away assignment for a copywriter to fill some void on the website — is mind-bogglingly narrow in scope. If not for Pretty Little Liars, there would be no brunettes named; if not for Beyoncé ("Sexiest Mom"), there would be no black people. Even the one "real" person on the list, "Sexiest Cyber Star" is golden-locked Elin Kling.
The Victoria's Secret customer — young women, skewing even younger ever since sub-brand Pink launched in 2004 — might not take a dumb What Is Sexy? list seriously. But there's no subtext, the message is crystal clear, extremely overt and reinforced by mainstream media: Being a thin white blonde woman is the best thing you can be. It's desirable to others and therefore you, yourself should desire it. Remember the statistics culled by the Dove Self Esteem Fund? They found that 71% of girls with low self-esteem feel that their appearance "doesn't measure up;" these girls feel not pretty enough, thin enough or stylish enough. And recall that there was once a survey in which 80% of adult women polled said images of women on TV and in movies, magazines, and ads make them feel insecure about their own appearance. This is but one list, but it adds to the flood of images and messages women receive on a daily basis.
Of course, it's no coincidence that the blonde celebrities named are the most popular actresses right now, the ones getting work, starring in fragrance and makeup ads, modeling clothes for brands and magazines. It's a circle, a self-fulfilling prophesy: We're told blond is the most beautiful, so we believe blond is the most beautiful, so we want to see blondes, so women dye their hair blond, so studios and networks hire blondes. What's sexier than a dominant homogeneous aesthetic ideal?