Following a wave of public criticism for their 'The Perfect 'Body'' campaign, which featured those words splashed across ten very slim supermodels in underwear, Victoria's Secret have changed the wording of their online adverts to 'A Body For Every Body'. No members of the press were informed, nor I or the two friends with whom I started the original petition that called for the ads to be changed and apologised for. A quick snoop around their store in Leeds also revealed that any signs bearing the words 'The Perfect 'Body'' had been taken now. It is a proud victory for all those involved in the campaign, but only a partial victory.
Of course the irony of the words 'A Body For Every Body' will not be lost on those who agreed that the campaign's original flaw was the lack of diversity among the models used. We can see that 'every body' is not being represented by that now-infamous photograph. However, it is a wonderful victory, and although not perfect, the message those words send out is a far cry from the toxic, damaging nature of the previous.
In an ideal world the new ads would feature models that represent the wide spectrum of women's bodies - fat, thin, short, tall, young, old. With disabilities, with disfigurements, with scarring, with burns. Not to mention more racial diversity. However, this is not the world we live in, and the word change is still a significant step in the right direction. The words promote a healthier, more inclusive message than their predecessors, which were the icing on the cake of a long, sordid history of body-shaming women in the media. They were like a parody of everything this type of marketing represents: the impossible to attain ideal, the illusion of happiness and self-worth in the form of bodily 'perfection'. Ten airbrushed supermodels that all look the same (with beautiful bodies - we never said they weren't) smiling at us, laughing at us in one big exclusive gang, telling us 'you can never look like this, but you will never be happy and worthy unless you do'. It's torturous. It's bullying. It's so cruel.
Perhaps you're not convinced, and think that this is just over-the-top political correctness gone mad. Perhaps you think that companies who want to make money shouldn't be expected to teach us what is real and healthy. But I would implore anyone who disagrees with our campaign to think about the way that this impacts people. We have received countless messages from women and men all around the world telling us how much they are hurt by images like these in the media. We've heard stories of life-long body-shame and constant feelings of inadequacy. As one commenter put it, 'it is campaigns like this one that make me second guess how I feel about my appearance: it is almost as though I momentarily reduce all my worth to what I see reflected in the mirror and decide that it is not beautiful [...] because it does not resemble to what other people say I should look like.'
We have received messages from girls and women with eating disorders saying that marketing like this fuels their eating disorders, and sometimes was the cause. Of course we realise that many factors contribute to an eating disorder other than the media, however the volume of support we have received from sufferers of the mental illness reveal the real, undeniable damage these ads do. Some studies show that 80% of ten year old girls are afraid of being fat. Approximately 90% of women are unhappy with their bodies and resort to dieting because of this. Up to 12% of teenage boys are using unproven supplements or steroids. 35% of "normal dieters" progress to pathological dieting, of which 20-25% develop partial or full-syndrome eating disorders... and eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Ads like these are making people physically and mentally sick. People are getting ill from marketing like this, and it's a serious health problem.
People of all genders deserve to love their bodies, no matter what their body type. This is not about shaming thin women or the models, but about rejecting the notion that one body type is perfect. An important conversation has been restarted around the world about body-image and the media. This is a conversation that has been going on for a long time, and it is one that includes both men and women. How many men have looked at airbrushed ads of men with chiseled abs and felt inadequate? The conversation does not stop here, and we need to demand more from our advertisers if we want to live in a healthier society. This wording change marks a significant milestone: Victoria's Secret, statistically one of the most popular brands in America, and one with a terrible track record for responding to criticism, listened to the public and made a positive change. Hopefully this will serve as an example to advertisers around the world that this kind of marketing is unacceptable.
But Victoria's Secret is not off the hook yet. They need to apologise for the damage that this ad has done, and pledge that they will not use such harmful marketing in the future. It is not enough to just silently change the words and move on as if nothing has happened. Until then, it's only a partial victory.