So Many Smiling White Women: A Look at the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show

Lily Aldrige, Karlie Kloss, Adriana Lima, Candice Swanepoel, Bahati Prinsloo, Alessandra Ambrosio

Above: from the 2013 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show

The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is arguably the fashion show of the year. Think about it–even superstars like Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel does not get the incredible amount of press coverage that this single fashion show does. Even the hype surrounding the show has been heard for months before hand with sensationalist headlines on fashion websites everywhere, this year focused on the will-she-or-won’t-she appearance of “Angel” Miranda Kerr in the show.

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It’s interesting, because the VS show is focused entirely on, and seemingly defined by, the women in a way you don’t really see in any other fashion show. The reason for this is obvious in many ways, but it is also curious because you can probably name at least three of the models who walked the show, whereas you might be stumped to name the actual designer behind the looks shown, not to mention the designer(s) don’t walk out and give a bow at the end after the models do the finale–it really is just about the models.


Above: Sad models= status quo. This is Edie Campbell in the Spring 2014 RTW Calvin Klein show.

The annual show of Angels is further an enigma because unlike other fashion shows, it is billed as a fun event (rather like a pageant), with zany themes and costumes, and the models actually smile and look like they are enjoying themselves. Other fashion shows clearly discourage such displays of apparent happiness, and models sent down the catwalk of the regular NYFW are seen scowling or with no expression at all (like Edie Campbell above)–not that that is a problem. With the Victoria’s Secret show, you have a happy Taylor Swift singing, theatrics, confetti, etc.

This all seems like good stuff, but here comes the feminist critique– and to be clear, this is not against the models themselves–here at The Closet Feminist we’re actually huge fans of Victoria’s Secret Angels like Cameron Russell. The critique here is based on the institution of this particular fashion show. Here’s a list of things to consider.

1. Have you noticed that the show is (unsurprisingly) overwhelmingly represented by white models? So many Smiling White Women.

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Above: Karlie Kloss doing her thing. Side note–have you noticed that Karlie Kloss is the darling of the supermodel world like Jennifer Lawrence is of Hollywood at the moment? Have you noticed that they both have blonde hair and blue eyes? Do you think this is a coincidence–because we think not. 

2. While the show may be one of the highest-paying events of a model’s career, the money does not come without heartache–Jezebel described the casting process for the show as “hell on earth

3. Given this, it is not a far stretch to suggest that this show is not the progressive, girly paradise it wants to portray. Sure, it could be considered a celebration of (white, thin, able-bodied, cisgendered) girl power, but take it all with a grain of salt.


Above: Model Lindsay Ellingson having fun?

4. If this show is a commercial representation of sexy and fun, who is being shown as sexy and fun? Not women of colour, plus-size women, women with short hair, not folks who appear to be anything other than the very epitome of cisgendered, feminine beauty.

5. Did you know that Liu Wen is the first Asian model to walk the VS show? She made her first appearance in 2009. 2009, people.


Above: As far as we can tell, Sui He pictured above was the only model of Asian descent to walk the show. Liu Wen was not present.

6. There’s currently a petition circulating to get Victoria’s Secret to hire Carmen Carrera, a transgender model which would be a good step towards diversity.

7. Has the VS show ever hired a Native American model? Or do they just get white models to dress up in offensive costumes portraying their ignorant understanding of Native American identity?



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