Lingerie giant Victoria’s Secret is undergoing a mammoth rebranding. The retailer is discarding its iconic Angels for a new collective of brand ambassadors, including USWNT and OL Reign star Megan Rapinoe. The public outcry on Twitter was, unfortunately, to be expected. A “woke” tirade against femininity? Who will think of the straight men?
Online trolls aside, it’s important to think about why Rapinoe (or more specifically, her body) is such a problem. When she posed naked for ESPN The Magazine with Sue Bird in 2018, it was well received within the sports community. The images captured Rapinoe and Bird in all their muscular glory, celebrating the strength and agility of women’s bodies and what they allow us to achieve, physically. That, to me, is pretty beautiful.
Outside of sports, however, athletic bodies aren’t necessarily as revered. More than this, society fears masculine women. Especially when those women are gay. And if, as The Blaze‘s Jessica O’Donnell says, “no one wants to look like Megan Rapinoe,” a thin, white, able-bodied woman, then what hope have female athletes who don’t fit even one of those boxes?
Much of the vitriol spewed in the direction of woman athletes, and LGBTQ ones in particular, comes from the fact that they do not exist for visual consumption by men. It’s not a hard thing to figure out. Our view of acceptable (and more importantly, profitable) bodies is so unbelievably narrow, and excludes the vast majority. It’s borne of cis-heteronormativity, fatphobia, and white supremacy.
Rapinoe modelling for VS does nothing to “ban” femininity or prevent women from looking and dressing how they want. The new campaign seeks to expand, rather than erase, our ideas of femininity, and what it means to inhabit a body as a woman.
Victoria’s Secret finally updating their marketing is certainly not the answer to a wider cultural and political anxiety about women’s bodies. The issue is far more insidious, and capitalism only exacerbates it. But it does, once again, reveal the double standards held against both men and women. Try being a male underwear model if you’re not unbelievably ripped.
Whilst it does bring me a little satisfaction to see straight men throwing their toys out of the pram, mostly it just saddens me that we are still this far behind.