An Insecure Journey to “Beauty” 

Victoria's Secret Angel

Victoria’s Secret Angel

By Sarah Merrick

Each year around the holidays 9 million viewers and I tune into the one-hour insecurity ride that is the “Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.”

Weeks later I’m still dazed by self-doubt. Is that how boys think I should look?

Apparently.

The Super Bowl soon follows with guys drooling over the large breasts, tiny waist, and flowing blonde hair of a model savoring a Carl’s Jr. burger. (Likely the only meal she’s had in days.) Her name in 2016 was Charlotte McKinney — and the ad was voted one of the Super Bowl’s best.

The message: I’m not hot enough. And I shouldn’t eat burgers.

Except that I’m also faced with this double bind: women should be super-skinny, yet have a healthy appetite. Or risk seeming self-obsessed.

So you show up on a date and eat normally. That’s hot! But if you eat normally, you lose that “perfect” figure.

Even Megan Fox — known for her sex appeal — once admitted,

In terms of how I look, I’m completely, hysterically insecure.

A woman who symbolizes “sexy” feels insecure?

We are never good enough.

We were born too late. Back in the Renaissance, full figures were celebrated in artwork.

Until recently I had never questioned why I felt so insecure about my looks. I have finally come to realize that an insane society (at least where women an food are concerned) shapes these thoughts.

But now I’ve come to believe that if you think you must follow crazy beauty ideals, and if those ideals determine your self-worth, well, prepare for a lot of pain.

Beauty should come from how good we feel.

A week after the Victoria’s Secret show a friend asked if I thought she was beautiful and skinny, because looking like an Angel was her goal.

Maybe she doesn’t know that Angels live on a diet of kale and dehydration.

As I stood there with my friend I knew that I was not alone on this insane journey. And I knew that this was a journey that women must take back as their own.

This was written by one of my students.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social 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. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on November 23, 2016, in body image and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 35 Comments.

  1. Lots of thoughts on this:
    1)Confidence is the sexiest thing a woman or man can wear.
    2) Models get paid tens of thousands to look like they do because it’s rare
    3) The people doing the judging are often no prizes themselves. It’s sad when I see 25 year old fat shlubs living in their mom’s basement saying that some actress or model has lost their beauty after having a baby or puttin on 10 pounds. And the judged person takes it to heart!
    4) The beauty industry makes lots of money by first tearing down their clients, then offering to sell them something that will build them back up.
    5)Models age out around 20-22. We live to be 70ish here in the US. That’s a long time to be beating ourselves up for not looking 22.
    6)I’ve been doing boudoir and just regular portraits for a long time. Only 2 women that I’ve done photos with have been happy and confident with their external appearance. I’ve had so many refuse to be photographed because they’re not 22 year old models. It makes me sad to see so many folks so down on themselves. That’s no way to go through life.
    7) Very few models in magazines look like their photos! Many of the photos are retouched by professionals for up to 40 hour (!!!) to get the photos you see.
    8) Too many people (mostly women it seems) say things to themselves that they’d punch someone else for saying. Would you say those things to a stranger, let alone a friend, or your best friend?
    9) I saw a study once about what made men fall in love with women. The number one thing that did so was that she loved him. Not her boobs or butt, not her figure or hair… that she was attracted to him.

    I think your student has it right: Don’t make yourselves crazy trying to attain the impossible.

    • When I was her age I suffered from this a bit myself.

      And then I found out that the models starve themselves – completely unhealthy. And that a lot of models were 14 years old, made up to look much older.

      I also found out that beauty norms vary from place to place. For instance, in some parts of the world like west Africa obesity is believed beautiful.

      But the best thing I discovered is what you point out: confidence is more beautiful than anything.

  2. I really enjoyed this post because of how true and relevant it is to contemporary society. When I saw the Victoria’s Secret Fashion show this year I thought the exact thing, that it is a bad example for women all across the country to see these models on stage weighing under 100 lbs and presented as the cream of the crop. In my opinion that is not beauty because it is not real, bodies like that are manufactured and we only see one side of it while ignoring the anorexia, eating disorders and the ugliness behind that industry. There have been countless exposures of models coming forth about how much they had to pretty much starve themselves in order to meet a certain weight requirement and look a certain way to keep their modeling careers. This is not beauty it is sad because they are the gold standard for a lot of women and make them feel insecure when in all reality they are not even real themselves. As stated in the article, true beauty comes from how one feels about themselves not about how you look, looks aren’t forever, but one’s perception of themselves is.

  3. I have a few thoughts on this one. It was such a great read. Over the last few years, I have had two kids. My body has been a roller coaster and I can attest to how I felt and how people treated me during each of those sizes. When I was pregnant with my first, I gained a good deal of weight. Something like 40 lbs. I’m only 5’2 so it was pretty noticeable. During that time, I felt terrible about my self-image. After I had my child and was attempting to lose weight, I still hated how I looked. I understood that I had dome something amazing, I had given birth! However, the face in the mirror could only point out every flaw. During that time, I HATED seeing Victoria Secret models. I scoffed at their looks, their regime and how absolutely unrealistic it is and how absolutely infuriating it is for men to idolize or fantasize about those figures. However, I began to lose the weight. I got back down to my pre-pregnancy size and then got smaller. I felt that men were a bit nicer or noticed me more at that size, women sort of became a little more crude. I constantly had to hear, “oh, you don’t eat anything. etc etc” It was a separate issue of body shaming that I wasn’t used to. People would criticize how I got to that size and would make comments about how I must not eat. I ate! I was just chasing a busy toddler around. It was interesting to be on the other side of the fence. About a year later, I got pregnant with my second child. I didn’t gain nearly as much but it is taking much longer to lose the weight. I notice and recognize the same patterns and feelings however. Some days I resent those women and other days, I realize how much body shaming they must go through as well. I mean, by all means, I would rather be on that end of the spectrum and I’m sure the adoration by many helps, but it’s not without it’s criticisms.

  4. Many women struggle with insecurities regarding self-image. There are many different things one can blame for these insecurities, however I would vote that television and social media play a huge role in the insecurities of women. Television tells us we should be thin, sexy, beautiful and healthy while being strong, independent and confident. What television doesn’t tell us, is in order to fulfill the “dream look”, one must eat healthy, remain on a strict diet and constantly workout. Beauty is definitely something that comes from within, because there are many beautiful woman who have the ideal body, but have a nasty attitude and are extremely unhappy. I would rather be happy and secure than unhappy and insecure due to not fitting the image society say I should be. The definition of beauty is altered by one’s own opinion, however this opinion is definitely altered by the influences of television and social media.

  5. After reading this article I could only feel my self realize the pain that each girl and women go through to make themselves feel good. Some may not realize but trying to look good for others does no good for them inside. It’s all about being happy within to except what you look like on the outside. Watching the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is not only torture but false. These women struggle to keep their figure and are force to stay on diets. That’s their job. Unfortunately, society is one to blame for this false advertising. Not all men want a tall skinny woman. Just how men come in different shapes and sizes, so do women. It’s time that society change the habit of admiring the tall lanky model type as something to admire.

    I personally fall in love with women with curves. Although I am no-where near being a lesbian, not that I don’t agree with that lifestyle, I personally could admire a pretty curvy women, rather than a skinny one. I feel as though they are more. But I believe all women are beautiful and we should all encourage beauty within rather than looks.

  6. Personally I have seen this effect people all around me including myself. I have grown up watching these shows and all of my friends have been severely impacted by the weight and their self esteem. They connect the appearance of their physical body to their worth and start to develop beliefs such as ” I’ll never be good enough”. I used to hold myself to such standards of perfectionism and after seeing all the pain it can cause, I began to detach myself from the standard and grow from there.

  7. I enjoyed this blog post. I understand that feeling of insecurity, as most women do. I struggled with this same insecurity for years. Unfortunately, I still do. I don’t think that will ever stop. I can remember being in high school, wearing a size 5 thinking I was fat. I wanted to be a size 3. I remember getting up to a size 7 thinking I was completely over weight so I hide under baggy shirts and sweatshirts. What I would give to be a size 7 again. Typically, women are not naturally that fortunate to have large breast, skinny waist, and firm butt. It’s not impossible, but requires a lot of time in the gym and A LOT of will power when it comes to food. Victoria secret models are born beautiful, there is no denying that but, they put in effort to look that good because it’s their job. They get paid to eat like rabbits and work out constantly. Society makes us believe this is an easy task to accomplish. Working mothers realize that it is not easy, yet we still hold ourselves to these super model standards.

  8. When thinking about way that women are portrayed in the media, which includes the Victoria Secret Fashion Show, my stomach usually drops. This is so because I know how much it affects all of the women that are in my life, and I’m sure most women around the world (at least in the United States). I attend a program that helps with mental health recovery, including recovering from depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and more. When I see girls who are affected by an eating disorder, often times their feelings regarding their own body are distorted by what they see in the media. Sometimes what a woman looks like in a magazine isn’t even physically possible for a real woman to achieve. Thus, I see women and girls trying to achieve this ideal by seeking out unhealthy avenues. I will wait for the day when I can see a Victoria’s Secret Fashion show that includes the real women who aren’t selected for looking “perfect” or “ideal,” but rather are chosen because they define what a woman really looks like and embodies. I also wait for the day when the definition of beauty can be expanded to include all women, because beauty goes beyond physicality.

  9. This article really hits home for me, been a full figured women. Im always conceded with what to wear and if its drawing to much attention to the incorrect places that I’m not proud of. But reading through this there was a line that made me laugh out loud and it was “So you show up on a date and eat normally. That’s hot!….” This is because the same line was said to me before my first date with the most important man of my life, although I didn’t know it at the time. My closest cousin who is a man and close enough to my age said to me when I asked him what I should eat at dinner as I was going on my first date to the outback steak house and I would normally get the ribs but i didn’t want to get thought because they are not lady like to eat, but my cousin said i should eat what makes me happy and not to give to shits about what the guy thinks, He said my date would appreciate me enjoying my meal then picking at something I only sorta like. This meant a lot to me coming from a guy and if other girls could hear a man say something like this instead of seeing commercials on tv like that then the world could much healthier place.

  10. I too am self-preparing for this elusive, self-esteem pulverizing, introspection-inducing event. Each November, I never fail to question the extent of my commitment to beauty when I watch physically idyllic women prancing around in scantily clad outfits that, on a regular person, would be considered inappropriate, slutty and vulgar- but on a Victoria Secret model is considered glamorous, fun and feminine. Like you’ve experienced, post-vs show there is a undying buzz that is made up of the newly cultivated or pronounced insecurities that ourselves and the women in our lives that follow this event are now undergoing. But what happens when you reach that point of optimal beauty? Do all of your problems magically erase? Does beauty equate to happiness? Are we looking for happiness in all the wrong places? Probably, and probably not.

    I think happiness blossoms out of the things you value. If you value academia, you’ll feel happiness when getting an A on your quiz. If you value beauty then sure, losing those pesky last 10 pounds is going to make you ecstatic. But then you get into degrees of happiness; long-term vs short-term happiness. Differentiating those can be tricky. Going on a hunch, I think long-term happiness is derived from things that don’t have a negative correlation to other things you love. Like, losing those 10 pounds is great but at what cost? Giving up 98% of food for a week won’t bring you lasting happiness. In comparison, getting an A has no negative correlation besides studying hard which is ultimately beneficial.

    Going back to the topic, I agree on your notion of if superficial ideals determine your self-worth, you’re in for a lot of pain. Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. Ideals shift from society to society. As I watch the show this year, I’ll remember to not forget my values and refrain from comparing myself to these women whose profession is literally based on perfecting their bodies for commercialization. Heck, I wish I would stop watching the show altogether but that isn’t a possibility. I justify tuning in because, well, glitter and GAGA!

    Great post. Thanks.

  11. I personally never liked these type of shows, nor did I ever watch “America’s Next Top Model” either. I guess I was just never attracted or interested in those type of shows, but I understand where the student who wrote this is coming from. I just do not think boys/men understand her point though because we have personally not gone through things like this or maybe some of us have but not as much as girls/women do. Every interesting article, she proves a good point.

    • I’m hoping that men can come to have a better understanding of how women experience things through these Posts. It’s such a normal feeling for women that it can be hard for us to realize that men have no idea.

  12. In my opinion, women really should not care so much what people think about them. Now people are demanding too much on women’s body, including women themselves. Girls do everything possible to lose weight since the thin body has become a fashion. In particular, after the media publicity, like Vitoria’s secret underwear show, all kinds of magazine covers are actress and models who scantily clad. This demand for women leads to gender inequality and is extremely detrimental to women’s confidence.

  13. I understood what the author’s friend said. Sometimes I think “I wish I could walk on a runway of Victoria’s Secret.” I understand that the models’ bodies are gifted and they are working on unhealthy diets. Every time I wished, I keep reminding myself “Most of women in the world don’t have ‘perfect’ body, but I believe many of them have chances to get ‘perfect’ life.” Also we should know that eating meals three times a day and “Angels” don’t exist as same time and women should not be misled by standard of hotness. We should built and spread “healthy is hot.”

    • True. And what is considered attractive even varies from culture to culture. So we could certainly have a healthier notion of what is beautiful than starving Victoria’s Secret angels.

  14. I can relate to every single detail of this post. Every year, I watch the fashionshow and even though I know that the models are pimped to perfection with oil and makeup and godknowswhat, I still feel this pressure to go to the gym the next day and eat a salad in some weak attempt to feel better about myself. This show really butcheres a lot of Young girl’s self- esteems, including my own. In reality, you know that confidence is the best accessory you can have. But the you look at the angel models who doesn’t seem to have anything else but confidence and suddenly that saying doesn’t sound so reassuring anymore.
    Since history has a way of switching beauty ideals every decade or so, I really hope that this insane size zero, “perfect body” ideal ends up in the drain soon and that a more diverse ideal that embraces all kinds of body sizes takes its place.

  15. Great ideas, As a girl, I really think a lot after I finish reading this essay. “Beauty”, a word that many girls pursued a life. They control diet, doing exercise, eat weight loss pills to make them looks “beauty”. They carefully maintain their weight, and afraid some people would say “You’ve been fat recently.” “We are never good enough.” Right, we are not satisfied with our weight or with our look that I always hear my friend says she think she has been fat, and she wants to lose weight; (said by a girl who is only 50 kg. ) that I always hear someone says she doesn’t like her nose or eyes so she wants to fix by doing plastic surgery. Today, we live in a society that is not fair for women that as vulnerable groups we have controlled by others‘ thought that we forget we should live for ourselves, and confidence is the source of beauty!

  16. I find this Victoria’s Secret Angel fashion show to be highly ridiculous and degrading towards women. Not only women, but people in general are giving society the wrong ideals of beauty because I am sure that there are some male models who might be on strict “protein only” diets, which is also unhealthy. These models are starving themselves to look appealing to people who have little to no respect for them and see them as objects rather than people. I feel like we as women have come a long way and the fact that these models are making thousands of girls feel insecure because they don’t look like them is just plain wrong and can lead to anorexia and possibly even bulimia. Victoria’s Secret as a brand is known for making women feel sexy once putting on their lingerie, yet in reality no one actually looks like these models, not even the models! I believe that Victoria’s Secret should change their whole ideals of beauty and hire models who actually look like people, and by people I mean revealing stretch marks, scars, obesity, and any other flaws because in reality this is what women really look like. We’ve made so much progress in society with the ideals of beauty, but this is a major issue that should be fixed.

  17. I personally love watching these types of shows and watching the models. However I do wish that the beauty standards for these types of shows weren’t just tall, skinny, pretty faces. I know a lot of women probably watch these shows and wish they looked like these ladies, but for me what stands out the most is their confidence to be so honest. I totally try to look past the skinny, tall look and try not to compare myself too much much because I know once in my life I aspired to be a model and spent thousands of dollars trying to chase that hustle just to be let down because I’m a short, thick little girl lol. I just wish there were more fashion shows that embraced all different shapes and sizes with that same confidence that all those ladies had.

  18. Now there’s more than just models on TV that makes young girls question their beauty. One example I can give is social media like Instagram. It’s become a thing to be instagram famous.. to look up to internet celebs. Like we all know what we see on the internet isnt always 100% true. So just imagine when girls post picture perfect post all the time. One person I can think of is Kylie Jenner. This girl is 19 years old, same age as me. When I first followed her on IG I would wonder why I hadnt grown into just proportional curves like she did. How was it possible for her to have a huge ass, big o breast and such a tiny tummy. How was it possible for her to look so darn good at this age. Then I started to notice that so many girls did things to look like her. Girls way younger than me.. knew how to look older and better. I began to question myself wondering if I had taken too long to grow up.. but I finally understood that she was rich and famous and I wasnt. I began to understand that social media has much more influence on younger girls than it does on me b/c I am grown and can think for my own….

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