There is no doubt: The models Victoria’s Secret uses to sell its wares are uncommonly skinny. The company’s celebrated “angels” are often accused of hawking unhealthy body image hang-ups along with lingerie.
“Of course, no one expects a brand like Victoria’s Secret to advertise its wares on ordinary women,” Sarah Vine wrote in the Daily Mail last year during a Victoria’s Secret “Perfect Body” campaign that drew much ire. “But there is a line between aspiration and thinspiration, and this campaign clearly oversteps the mark.”
Into this breach stepped Lane Bryant this week. The “plus size” retailer introduced an “I’m No Angel” campaign for its Cacique intimate apparel collection featuring women of diverse shapes and sizes — a not-so-subtle swipe at Victoria’s Secret.
“The women who wear Cacique know that sexy comes in many shapes and sizes,” the company’s Web site reads. “They’re no angels — and they own it. Join the women who are redefining sexy by posting your personal statement of confidence using the hashtag #ImNoAngel.”
But in fighting back against fat-shaming — the cultural practice of judging women’s worth by their weight — is Lane Bryant skinny-shaming?
“We couldn’t help but wonder if they were poking a little too hard at the Victoria’s Secret models,” Sarah Wasilak of PopSugar wrote. “Yes, the VS Angels are slender, but each of them boasts her own unique body type, as do the gorgeous women in Lane Bryant’s ad. While we certainly agree that sexy is, without a doubt, a term with a broad definition, we feel as though this particular angle might come off as bullying.”
Indeed, some argue that skinny-shaming and fat-shaming are two sides of the same despicable coin. In an essay for the Daily Beast in 2013, Emma Woolf, a recovering anorexic and memoirist, wrote how she always felt uncomfortable when an overweight woman in her workplace attempted to push food on her, commenting that she was “skin and bone.”
“The fact that I was deeply anorexic at the time is irrelevant,” Woolf wrote. “The fact that she was overweight is also irrelevant. She was drawing attention to my size in a way that would have been unacceptable had I done the same to her.”
“Thin-shaming and fat-shaming are not separate, opposing issues—they are stratifications of the same issue: Patriarchal culture’s need to demoralize, distract, and pit women against one another,” Lindy West wrote in Jezebel in 2013. “To keep women shackled by shame and hunger. To keep us obsessing over our flaws rather than our power and potential. To get our money.”
Lane Bryant is certainly guilty of wanting to make a profit. And it’s not alone in its critique of the fashion world’s ideal woman — France, Spain, Italy and Israel have regulated ad campaigns and catwalks to keep unhealthily thin models out.
But is the company also guilty of skinny-shaming? The company’s press release, it turns out, did not reference the size of anyone’s body — beyond, of course, pointing out that it is “the nation’s leader in fashion for women sizes 14 to 28.”
“Our ‘#ImNoAngel’ campaign is designed to empower ALL women to love every part of herself,” Lane Bryant chief executive Linda Heasley said in the statement. “Lane Bryant firmly believes that she is sexy and we want to encourage her to confidently show it, in her own way.”
Corporate rhetoric, however, doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story.
“Our campaign is designed to empower all women to love every part of herself,” one commenter wrote about “I’m No Angel” on a Fox News affiliate’s Web site. “Unless she’s skinny. Then we have to shame her for being skinny in order to empower other women.”