It is a commonly perpetuated myth (or reality?) that models starve themselves. It's why we (the collective whole of not-quite-as-genetically-blessed non-models), put up with them. Because even though they're beautiful and well-paid, they can't eat a burger and we can.
Rare is the day when a model actually admits to the rigorous routine that looking so good (and posing in the skimpiest of outfits) requires, but this week, Victoria's Secret Angel Adriana Lima revealed to the Telegraph that she doesn't eat solid foods for nine days before the highly popular, televised Victoria's Secret catwalk show (she'll subsist on powdered egg protein shakes and a gallon of water a day), until 12 hours before the show, when she'll cut out all liquids, too - "Sometimes you can lose up to eight pounds just from that," she explained.
She's not exactly sitting on the couch and starving, either - her personal workout schedule is equally intense. She's been exercising once a day since August and twice a day for the three weeks before the show tapes today, with her workouts including everything from boxing to weight lifting to jumping rope.
Considered the sexiest, most beautiful and most physically blessed women in the world, being a Victoria's Secret Angel is what every model (and many other women) longs to achieve and every man aspires to bed. In fact, the Angel line-up, which has included such heavenly bodies as Heidi Klum, Tyra Banks, Gisele, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Miranda Kerr, Lara Stone, Alessandra Ambrosio and Lima, among others, are often considered more attractive (by heterosexual men, at least) than their catwalk-stalking only counterparts. It's precisely because Victoria's Secret models have those same endless limbs and tiny frames but also the sought-after womanly 'curves' – pert breasts and bottoms, lean muscles and perfectly proportioned hips.
It's not only being world-famous and lusted after that makes being a Victoria's Secret Angel a blissful gig. The contracts are lucrative - millions of pounds worth - and Brazilian Lima is a comfortable millionairess from this job alone. No wonder she credits becoming an Angel with being a "dream come true."
While her admissions about what it really takes to look so good in lingerie seem initially shocking, are they really that extreme? How many anonymous women are quietly starving themselves every day, or exercising compulsively, or trying out juice fasts without the reward of becoming an international sex symbol with a multi-million pound contract?
Adriana Lima with her Victoria's Secret colleagues at Fashion's Night Out. Photo: Getty Images
How many mothers (Lima has a three-year-old daughter) diet compulsively to shed their post-baby pounds? All of these struggles are part of what living in our media-saturated, 'post-feminist,' not-quite-equal society entails if you're a woman.
Some feminist authors have argued that women in our society must 'perform' the labour of femininity – being a 'successful' woman means that you are feminine, fit, attractive, sexual and domestic all at once. It's no wonder that the Victoria's Secret Angel has become the ultimate symbol of triumphant femininity in our society: Not only are they sexy, skinny and womanly, they willingly walk around semi-nude (when they do wear clothes, or accessories, they are as much the stuff of sexual fantasy as the bra and knickers), as if ready and willing to pounce into bed at the first signal.
Also, knowing that some of these models are mothers (Doutzen Kroes and Miranda Kerr also have babies and will be walking alongside Lima today), imbues them with maternal, nurturing and domestic qualities as well – the complete package that our society pressurises women to achieve. There is no doubt something fetishistic about the New York Post's report that Kerr will return to the catwalk 'bustier' than ever thanks to the fact she's still breastfeeding.
The show's chief stylist this year, British fashion editor Sophia Neophitou, compares Lima and the other models to athletes, saying the training schedule is like that of a long-distance runner and explaining that Victoria's Secret modelling is harder than other kinds - "because no one can just chuck an outfit on you and hide your lumps and bumps." And there's no doubt that in this line of modelling, as in sports, being at the top of your game means training even harder and working even more (again, Kerr is fabulous proof of this as she quickly went from delivering her first child to posing in a swimsuit on the catwalk looking more stunning than ever). But unlike athletes, Victoria's Secret models make millions for one specific reason: they look hot in underwear. Not quite the same thing as being an Olympian.
I respect Lima's work ethic and commitment to her job, even if what she's doing sounds pretty unhealthy and probably shouldn't be advertised considering how many people are going to start copying her regime. The problem with Victoria's Secret models is that many girls want to be them (Don't believe me? Google it.), and will do anything it takes to look like them, whether they are aspiring models or just regular girls who want to feel sexier. While some of these Angels, like Tyra Banks and Heidi Klum, have used their careers to catapult them into success as businesswomen, most are still known for their bodies and perfect pouts.
The real issue is that the Victoria's Secret Angel is exactly what her namesake suggests - an otherworldly creature, not a real person. Real women don't give birth and then pose in a bikini a month later, a lot of real women feel uncomfortable in their lingerie in the dark, let alone in front of millions and most real mothers would collapse from exhaustion if they had to run after a three-year-old all day (or work all day and then run after the toddler at night) and were on a severely caloric-restrictive diet, let alone no solids – this isn't the kind of regimen that people can manage without teams to help and assist. Yes, these women are beautiful and exotic and look amazing wearing diamond-encrusted bras and fairy wings, but let's leave them in the realm of fantasy.
The harsh reality of her brutal regime makes Lima's admission as depressing as it is refreshing (to finally hear the truth). I sort-of hoped these women were as genetically blessed as they would have us believe. All they need is a couple of Pilates classes a week, a diet of whatever they wanted (in moderation) and poof!, they'd look like goddesses. Lima isn't exactly a fallen Angel, but one who sounds like she might have trouble standing up.