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Trans activists aren’t buying Victoria’s Secret’s apology

Models Munroe Bergdorf and Maxim Magnus tell us what they think about CMO Ed Razek’s comments

Oh, Victoria’s Secret. This week, the annual fashion show slash supermodel beauty pageant happened in New York City. We could fill in some more details on that, but you know the drill by now. After all, the premise of the shows – which still rake in big, big numbers when they are aired around the world – hasn’t exactly changed: some very thin, very beautiful women walk down a runway in their underwear and angel wings.  

In anticipation of the big event, American Vogue’s Nicole Phelps sat down to speak with the chief marketing officer of Victoria’s Secret parent company L Brands, Ed Razek, and the executive vice president of public relations at VS, Monica Mitro. The whole interview, which was published on Thursday, is, honestly, a lot – Phelps questions the duo on everything from the #metoo era, to the threat posed by the diverse, inclusive message of Savage x Fenty, and whether people are actually still buying the brand’s super sexy push-up bras (sales figures seem to suggest: maybe not so much). Let’s just say Razek and Mitro’s responses leave something to be desired.

Naturally, one part of the conversation focuses on casting. Victoria’s Secret models aren’t models, they are Angels. And the Angels are infamous: super fit, super thin, super beautiful. Judging by the words of Razek, they also need one other important quality: to be cisgender. “Shouldn’t you have transsexuals in the show? No. No, I don’t think we should,” he told Phelps. “Well, why not? Because the show is a fantasy. It’s a 42-minute entertainment special. That’s what it is. It is the only one of its kind in the world, and any other fashion brand in the world would take it in a minute, including the competitors.”

Yup. While apparently VS has considered putting transgender (and plus size) models in its shows, Razek implies that would jar with the ‘fantasy’ nature of the brand. Naturally, his comments sparked outrage, and he was forced to backtrack, saying in a statement posted on Twitter that VS has invited trans models to castings but that they ultimately didn’t make the cut for reasons that were “never about gender”. Believable?

“To me his apology just sounds like back-pedaling and brand damage limitation,” says model, activist, and Dazed Beauty LGBTQ+ editor Munroe Bergdorf. “The damage has already been done and he has exposed himself and the brand for how they view women who do not fit a very exclusive and narrow-minded criteria when it comes to gender and body shape.”

To her, Razek’s original comments “speak volumes about how certain people within the industry still view trans women.” “This comment is rooted in transphobia and feeds into the narrative that trans women are not women,” she states. “If you want to sell a fantasy, then sell a fantasy. Fantasy can be whatever you want it to be and if that intentionally doesn't include trans women, then that's your prejudice talking. The reality is that trans women are desired by many, to suggest otherwise is shortsighted and without doubt transphobic.”

“The damage has already been done and he has exposed himself and the brand for how they view women who do not fit a very exclusive and narrow-minded criteria when it comes to gender and body shape” – Munroe Bergdorf

Fellow model and activist Maxim Magnus agrees.

“Razek’s specification that transgender individuals would not align with the Victoria’s Secret Show ‘fantasy’ is him essentially saying his brand is not available to us,” she told Dazed, noting too the hypocrisy in the brand’s claim that it empowers women, when really its “core aim is to indulge men.”

“For a show that proclaims female celebration, the fact that this brand hasn’t evolved to be more inclusive is a slap in the face to the millions of people that consider themselves to be women today,” Magnus says, adding that the positive commercial impact of VS becoming more inclusive is potentially enormous. (As proved by the popularity of Savage x Fenty).

And when trans rights are being threatened by governments around the world, it’s important that companies like VS, which have enormous platforms to help spread a positive message, make a stand to support trans rights. “At this moment in time, with parts of the world regressing in terms of political support of the trans community, we need brands like Victoria’s Secret to step into the 21st century and embrace all of the positive and empowering elements that widening your visions and ‘fantasies’ can bring,” she says.

So, will next year’s show see a change in the Angel line up? Maybe, but #transisbeautiful whether Victoria’s Secret thinks so or not.