Last year Victoria’s Secret basically confirmed out loud what the company has implicitly advertised for years: that they don’t want to diversify their runway shows and catalogues with “real women,” including plus-size models or trans women, no matter how mad people get. “It’s like, why doesn’t your show do this? Shouldn’t you have transsexuals in the show?,” chief marketing officer of L Brands, Ed Razek told Vogue. “No. No, I don’t think we should.”
This was not surprising given the fact that Victoria’s Secret was invented for and still largely caters to men. It’s because of this that the brand has been hemorrhaging customers and Razek’s comments were a PR disaster: the CEO resigned and a model recently claimed the show was canceled as the company works on its “branding.” And how is Victoria’s Secret trying to come back from this disaster? By hiring its first openly trans model Valentina Sampaio. Sampaio posted to her Instagram that she was working on a campaign for Victoria’s Secret Pink brand, confirmed by CNN.
That’s great for Sampaio, but it’s still worth asking if Victoria’s Secret is really a worthwhile battleground for issues of representation when it comes to what women actually look like. Victoria’s Secret can cast women of all shapes and sizes but just as Sampaio is still a conventionally hot white woman, I doubt Victoria’s Secret will stray from that conventionalism. The Victoria’s Secret fashion show is designed to sell lingerie, with ratings steadily dropping. Diverse casting in fashion at large is nice, sure, but it seems impossible to do anything actually progressive in the shadow of Victoria’s Secret’s horrific long-held values or the fact that it’s just another business desperately trying to turn a profit. Sampaio’s casting might just be too little, too late.