Rather be a Victoria’s Secret Angel or You?

L.A. Loves Alex's Lemonade Culinary EventPlayboy wanted to know how average-looking Lena Dunham, the award-winning producer, director, writer and star of HBO’s Girls, would feel if she woke up in the body of a Victoria’s Secret Angel.

Not so great, said Dunham, who frequently appears nude on her show.

I don’t think I’d like it very much. There would be all kinds of weird challenges to deal with that I don’t have to deal with now. I don’t want to go through life wondering if people are talking to me because I have a big rack. Not being the babest person in the world creates a nice barrier. The people who talk to you are the people who are interested in you. It must be a big burden in some ways to look that way and be in public.

Looking like a Victoria’s Secret Angel instead of me. I can see the upside. Women are hugely judged by their looks so in an Angel-body I’d land at the top of the pack. How nice. And I could have any guy.

But studies show a downside. Plain women are more likely to get a job interview, for instance. Maybe they seem less sex objecty and more brainy. The beautiful are also believed to be more conforming and self-promoting.

Or, therapist, Mary Pipher wrote in her bestselling Reviving Ophelia that,

Girls who are too attractive are seen primarily as sex objects. Their appearance overdetermines their identity. They know that boys like to be seen with them, but they doubt that they are liked for reasons other than their packaging.

Michael Kimmel, a sociology professor who studies men, says some guys are more interested in bragging to other guys that they nailed a beautiful girl than in having sex with her. Other guys entirely miss seeing the girl because they’re obsessed with her body.

Meanwhile, girls who are too plain are ignored and miss a lot of experiences. Pipher continues:

The luckiest girls are neither too plain or too beautiful. They’ll be more likely to date boys who genuinely like them. They’ll have an identity based on other factors, such as sense of humor, intelligence or strength of character.

And then there’s this: A lot of guys thought Dunham’s response was B.S. But in a Slate comment thread one woman wrote,

You think you’d be happier if you were better-looking, but would you feel the same way if you were in prison? You don’t associate being attractive with any sort of threat, but for women it can be.

On a more mundane note, it’d also take a lot of time, work, starvation and calorie-counting to keep up that body when you could be doing other stuff. Healthy is good, “perfect” takes too much time and surgery.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych, women's psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State University. And I have blogged for Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos.

Posted on April 10, 2013, in body image, feminism, objectification, psychology, women and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 30 Comments.

  1. Well said. I will not tell you how I misread luckiest on first read ;)

  2. I don’t think I’d ever want to be quite that tall, as a woman.

    I’m sure being a VS Angel has it’s benefits, but I have become pretty satisfied with being a fairly attractive woman in the common-folk world.

  3. Insightful. You really add wisdom. Practical perspective is so helpful here.
    Specially since Reviving Ophelia is such a long (amazing) book and its been twelve years since it burst my world open. Had sorta forgotten.
    Waking up in those perfect heels.
    No, I don’t choose all the burdens of what I thought would be so cool.
    Instant new level of: Aha! I like me. : )

  4. Thanks. I feel better already for having been an okay looking healthy young woman and being a sturdy healthy older one. ;-)

  5. I’d love to be one of these Angels for a day, but as always looks like no extreme is good. Glad I am something in between! ;) Thank you for that post!!

  6. There are advantages and disadvantages to everything, right? We still judge women by looks first and brains / talent / other attributes after.

    This isn’t something I would ever have thought of, being one of those women who has been able to be invisible or acceptably attractive, which means no such burden (and I wouldn’t want it).

    However, it’s interesting how things change as we grow older, and are assumed to be less valuable, less able to learn, less sexual…

    I wonder what the responses would be if the question had to do with being 30 for a day versus 60… Or for that matter, 40 versus 50. These burdens await us all – the women more so than the men.

  7. It is interesting to hear this perspective from a woman whom people would consider “average”. There are a lot of good points made that shows that there are advantages and disadvantages to different looks but I think in the end it comes down to how the individual puts themselves out there. What I mean by this is that because if someone is hot, they will have different reactions from others compared to if someone is normal looking. Because of this the individual would interpret these reactions and go about their life based on the knowledge of others will react to what someone is doing.

  8. i would definately be me, and not a victoria secret angel because one thing is for sure not everything lasts forever no matter how many surgeries or diets people might be in . I really love how this blog has diffrent pionts of views it is very insightful.I agree being considered hot or being considered average looking might have advantages but it also has disadvantages . what this blog has made me realize, that there is a tie between being “hot” and “average” looking they both want something from each other at some point for example, the average looking girl wants to have the physical attributes of a hot girl while the hot girl may want genuine love something that the average looking girl might possess. this blog has definitely made me appreciate what i have and might not have .

  9. This is interesting and I would agree with your opinion. Sometimes women who are too attractive may be just seen as a sex object by men. On the other hand, plain women are not attractive in appearance, but they looks smarter and they may have more opportunities to promote or success in their work. Also, women who we think attractive is unreal, processed, and beautified more than we expected. Companies use technology to edit and create photos to make the women more beautiful and adorable. It is kind of idiot because these photos are “faked” but people tend to believe and many women desire to be them.

  10. I would definitely want to stay myself. If you go to the mall and pass by Victoria Secret you will see all these Victoria Secret angels plastered on the walls. They are completely being objectified. Men just gawk at the boobs and butts and women view them as ways of presenting lingerie. Although it is true that people with angel like bodies can get any man they desire, they will only be wanted for their body and no other attributes about them will be noticed. Also to keep up an angle like image, one would basically have to take up the life of a model, denying themselves delicious foods or other enjoyable things and that just wouldn’t be worth it.

  11. It’s sad how an extraordinairily hot girl needs to prove to the world that she actually can be smart, and even more sad that an ”average” looking girl needs to put in so much effort just to be viewed as beautiful.

    I think the sadest thing in all this is the fact that Lena Dunham actually gets this question from the reporter. Dunham is a producer, director, writer, and actress, and time and time again the look of her body is the topic being discussed the most in the media.

    In our patriarchal society the one thing the reporter thinks all people want to know is if it wouldn’t be preferable for Lena Dunham to have a ”hotter” body, since she has so many nude scenes in Girls. I like the series Girls and Lena Dunham very much. It’s not her fault that the reporter asks her this question, but I must say I am a bit disappointed in Dunham’s way of answering it. I would have hoped that she would have been a bit braver and answered: “I AM the babest person in the world, why do you ask me this question!”

  12. Well I wouldn’t want to be anybody else after reading this. I rather be myself and bury myself in the crowd of people.
    To be constantly judged on my body if I was a Victoria’s Secret Angel. I know for sure already that growing up as a girl in today’s society, you already have plenty of other things to worry about. Your hair, your eyes, your forehead, your size, and your appearance in all.
    Even if you change yourself to look like a VS angel it would never be enough because there would always be someone that looks better than you.

    On a side note I like the usage of quotes from different sources. It brought it together. :)

  13. Right now, given the choice to choose, I would be myself. I’m pretty satisfied with being not beautiful and not plain. If I had the choice to choose a couple years (when I was a teen) back I might have wanted to be a VS angel. When you see them, they seem content with modeling around- after all they wanted to be in the industry, but I didn’t know what they go through to stay thin and pretty; couldn’t guess that from looking at them. Now I do see that models are constantly judge and their main job objective is too look good. Glad I dont have that stress and that its not my job. I would’ve been fired a long time ago. And someone commented that looks dont last forever and I totally agree with that

  14. I initially read the Lena Dunham interview (which this blog post begins with) and thought, Wow another reason to love this modern day female role model. What I realize after reading this post, however, is that the comment was said so much more about the position Women are in, rather than just being a statement on self worth. It is bad enough that our little girls are growing up with pressure to maintain a thigh gap, concave stomach, D cup breasts, and flawless skin, but now they have to host all those things without being too pretty? It’s a whole new form of control from the patriarchal society.

    What I take away from this whole post, is that the media will always find new ways to shame women. Does that mean we should just give in and stop fighting? Heck No! Kudos to women like Lena who just go with what they’ve got, and shrug off the societal expectations. I hope more public figures can follow in her footsteps.

    • Amy (Hojung) Park

      Why do women have to worry about how they would be judged to others? And quiet often, the judgments are so dichotomous that they do not reflect women’s real characteristics and aspects. For example, women look like Victoria Secret angels will be mostly judged by their looks and women who look like “plain” will be more considered as smart or have more job skills. How ugly stereotyping it is!

      I, personally, totally agree with your opinion that the media will always find new ways to objectify women because they sell. Well, media actually sells everything whatever they sell. I hope that young girls can learn from their experiences and parents that they don’t have to objectify themselves to be judged as popular or attractive and how to be just themselves without categorizing themselves into ugly stereotypes.

  15. When I told my friend that I really want to want to watch HBO’s Girls, she told me “don’t if you don’t want to see a white naked girl running around.” My reaction to this was like everybody else’s. I vowed completely disgusted that I would never watch that show. After reading Lena Dunham’s comment above, I have nothing but respect and admiration for her. We as human beings tend to be shallow and judge people based on their looks. I personally am not an attractive girl and have been on several occasions in a position where people don’t bother talking or befriending me. It was especially difficult growing up because people would directly pass rude comments about my looks. My mother’s “friends” would also tell her how I was not beautiful like her. These painful experiences made me focus a lot on my outer appearance in high school. I started experimenting with makeups and dieting just so that others could find me attractive or pretty. I agree with Michael Kimmel theory that “guys are more interested in bragging to other guys that they nailed a beautiful girl than in having sex with her.” I have seen many boys and men back in Asia who date easily available good looking girls and have fun with them but, when it comes to marriage, they wed the dignified women that their mothers select for them. In short, supporting Mary Pipher’s statement, girls who are too attractive are indeed seen primarily as sex objects. They are mostly misused by men and as a result can be associated to numerous threats like rape, Mms scandals etc. Being attractive and beautiful on the outside comes with a price, being a Victoria’s Secret Angel comes with a heavy price.

  16. I agree with this. The girl who is too pretty usually does not have good relationship. The percentage is pretty low. Usually, guys will attract by their appearance instead of their inide. So for those pretty girls, they would rather choose some plain and nice guys. I guess that’s why people always surprised by seeing a pretty girl with a plain guy on the street.

  17. Elizabeth McMurray

    I agree with Lena Dunham. If given the choice, I would rather stay me than become a Victoria’s Secret Angel. Given all the “time, work, starvation and calorie-counting” you mention that it would take to be a Victoria’s Secret Angel is enough to make me want to stay me. Adriana Lima, a Victoria’s Secret Angel, said in an interview with Telegraph that for nine days before a fashion show she consumes nothing but protein shakes. No solid foods. That would give me a headache! She also works out twice a day. That seems like a lot of work to become a sex object.

  18. I’d rather be myself. Everyone is beautiful. I don’t think VS models are way prettier than everyone else. They used to be average people once upon a time. Everyone has things about themselves that they do not like and would change including the VS models. Being yourself is all that matters. Beauty does fade. Beauty is also in the eyes of the beholder. Everyone should embrace how beautiful they are. Don’t let anyone tell you different. I’m smart, beautiful, strong, and healthy and so is everyone else. Be yourself.

  19. Guilherme Paludeti

    Many interesting points were made in this blog,I never though that being to beautiful for a woman could be a bad thing but it makes sense because they will always be judged on looks and solely for looks wherever they go,and men do not hold back in their opinion on women. One thing I disagree with in the other hand is that “perfect takes to much time and surgery,” this statement is saying extremely beautiful women have surgery to enhance their appearance where as i feel only women with insecurities have surgery,a truly beautiful women needs nothing done. I truly never though about the cons of being a beautiful woman, I guess it’s not all fun and games.

  20. I would want to stay being me rather than a Victoria’s Secret Angel. Staying pretty and skinny is hard. When I read articles of interviews with the models, some of them starve themselves before their fashion show and I think that’s just crazy. They’re already fit yet they still want to be even more fit by starving. Today’s society for girls I feel are based on looks. If someone is better looking than another, they will get more attention and will be treated differently. I’m glad to be average because I don’t want to be treated like anything more or too little, just neutral. The models may be admired now but once they get old, they can’t fix that, it’s an unstable job to have. I agree that being labeled as good looking has its advantages but the disadvantages is that it does give a lot of pressure to keep up and etc.

  21. I guess there are ups and downs to everything. I see that it might not always be great to be beautiful like the example about being in jail and being very beautiful could be really bad for that woman but I also think that it would be great being a VS angel. I guess for me it would be great to be in the middle because women have the opportunity to be beautiful and at the same time they can also be smart. If you are gorgeous but can also be an efficient worker then what the heck right. If I had to chose though I would stay the way I am because I don’t think I cant handle being a VS angel since it is a lot of work staying fit. I have been trying to lose weight in a long time and I don’t see any difference so imagine what they have to do to stay fit. The main point here would be to learn to love yourself! Love your body and nothing else should matter!!

  22. Jenna Francisco

    I’d rather be average and taken seriously rather than be the most beautiful woman and only be seen as that. It makes sense how you said that the plain women are less likely to be seen as sex objects and more brainy because I guess when you’re beautiful, it’s the only thing people truly focus on and people are blinded by the other traits that you have.

    I remember overhearing on the radio though that some of the VS models live a sad life since they continuously get yelled at to change underwear for shoots and also in the radio, it said that some of them have not very good relationships with their fathers so that they don’t mind having the world see them in scantily clad clothing.

    But, similar to loliloli7714, it probably would be nice to be a VS angel because almost everyone is aiming for perfection, especially since summer’s coming up (the summer bod). But I’m satisfied with just being myself and I’d rather not have the world focus on just how I look.

  23. I’m positive that VS angel imagine has plenty of benefits. However I personally would never want to look like one. I look at myself as being averagely attractive and I still worry that people will only like me for my looks or that they will assume I am less intelligent. To even maintain that body type would be a great amount of work and dedication to working on keeping the shape and size. I would not enjoy the amount of stress I would most likely feel from the pressure to count calories and make sure I went to the gym. I don’t see the VS models and think their bodies are the definition of perfection or attraction. I would honestly be much happier If i was to wake up with the body type of an athletic woman.

  24. Its interesting that one person observed that in certian situations- being “pretty” or by being too attractive can be a dangerous thing- where in our world is it bad for a man to be “too attractive”? I understand that rules change once we involve prison- but talk about a extreme double standard in gender equality.

    When thinking about the downside of being too attractive, I cant hold too much sympathy for the above average looking ones because its a lot easier to make a “beautiful” woman average looking; than one who is average into above average looking.

    The reach to be “picture perfect” and “modelesque” has long dominated female agenda- pick up any “female oriented” mag and you will see so-called “everyday” women in advertisements airbrushed to the hilt…. all of this imagery is driving a shift in how women are starting to set their beauty benchmarks. Its setting a scary precedent about how “real” women should be- and for the record- I am betting VS women dont eat, exercise or live like the average “real” woman.

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