The Victoria’s Secret fashion show, in which models waft down the catwalk in snazzy underwear, sporting giant wings, used to be one of those slightly baffling American things, like Donald Trump or their pronunciation of oregano. It is now a global phenomenon.
The brand turned over £4.5bn last year, when its show was watched by 9.2m Americans and millions more worldwide. The 2015 show took place last week and was, by all accounts, sensational. A teenage girl I know has asked for a Victoria’s Secret bra for Christmas. The brand has only 10 shops in Britain, but that doesn’t mean everyone doesn’t know about it.
I was looking at pictures of the show and thinking how clever it was of the company to have colonised lingerie — something louche and European — in this all-American way. Lingerie used to be what you left on the floor when you met your lover in Paris; it went with red lipstick, smoking and postcoital tristesse.
It wasn’t quite nice, and respectable women preferred a sturdy girdle or a pair of huge matron pants. That has eroded over the years, of course: every department store will now sell you something relatively racy. But it’s quite a feat for an American company to have turned lingerie into something so milk-fed and wholesome. It has made it un-dirty. The models are known as Angels, just to hammer the point home.
The Victoria’s Secret show is also one of the few remaining opportunities to ogle good-looking women in their underwear while feeling blameless (it’s wholesome! They’re angels!). This is good on one level — the show is glamorous fun and the smiley models, for once, look in the peak of health, being both super-fit and pneumatic.
With thanks to 10 Magazine
But it also feels terribly old-fashioned: it’s Miss World without even the wishing for world peace or the interesting hobby. And there’s the utilitarian defence: everyone needs underwear, so that underwear may as well be appealing; women are empowered by non-grotty, attractive underwear; and so on. The fact remains: we’re all ogling hot women in pants, and we love it.
Ogling hot women is, as I probably don’t need to remind you, deeply frowned upon these days. I personally find this quite annoying, being of the opinion that the more you ban things — either by law or by using your moral superiority — the more you make them intensely desirable. Either that, or you drive them underground, where things have a way of getting angry and dark.
What the massive audiences for Victoria’s Secret shows tell me is that there is an enormous, gaping discrepancy between what people feel they should think — that all women in pants are automatically objectified — and what they actually believe — that some women in pants are having a nice time and that the whole thing is glittery and jolly and life-enhancing.
As the brand’s marketing manager says: “Our customer base is 98% women and those women need to be able to relate [to the models].” That’s what we forget when we shout about objectification. Sisters have more than one way of doing it for themselves, and that way can involve white knickers and a pair of wings.
Jackie: the musical
If you are of the right vintage, the girls’ magazine Jackie was like a best friend. One of my greatest treats when I was 12 or 13 was to accompany my mother to Sainsbury’s, where she would buy me a copy of Jackie and a bag of salt and vinegar crisps. I would then disappear breathlessly to my bedroom to read it from cover to cover. I don’t think I’ve read a magazine as devotedly since, or taken its advice so much to heart.
But eventually poor old Jackie was unable to compete with the new, racier breed of mags — and it folded in 1993. But gladdest tidings: it’s being revived as a musical.
The plot concerns a fiftysomething divorcée who returns to her carefully stashed pile of old Jackies for romantic advice. The soundtrack will feature poptastic 1970s hits, and the show will be choreographed by Arlene Phillips of Hot Gossip. If the execution does any justice at all to the premise, I predict a stampede of tearful middle-aged women and a West End transfer.
If you don’t like her, then don’t ‘Like’ her
A study from Copenhagen has found that people who aren’t on Facebook are happier. It split 1,095 Facebook users and made half of them go cold turkey. After a week 88% of this group said they felt happy, compared with 81% of Facebook users. They also felt less lonely, less depressed, more decisive and less stressed.
That’s all perfectly fine, but surely the point of all social media is to follow or befriend only the people who make you feel happy in the first place. The experience is obviously not going to be enjoyable if you follow people who make you cross, or sad, or envious, or people who use social media as a means of bragging. (Tip: people who have amazing lives don’t usually make a point of logging on to say “My life is amazing” to a bunch of strangers.)
Online life is the same as real life: surround yourself with people who make you feel happy and you’ll have a nice time; seek out people who rub you up the wrong way and you won’t. It’s not that complicated.
Changing the conversation
Nice — the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence — has said hormone replacement therapy, or HRT, should be discussed more.
Once hailed as the great saviour of menopausal women, HRT has fallen out of favour in recent years after some studies linked it to cancer and heart disease.
When I wrote my book In Your Prime — a manual for middle age — I spoke to several doctors about HRT. All of them told me that HRT helped certain women hugely and that it was a terrible shame that its name should have become so blackened.
You can read said book if you want more, but the point I want to make is: the pros and cons of HRT should be part of everyday conversation. Only embarrassment about the menopause prevents it from being so. It’s the last taboo.