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How an androgynous model is challenging Victoria’s Secret’s beauty standards
‘Things are going to change, which means Victoria’s Secret should change, too.’
It’s time for the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, that crucible of unattainable feminine perfection that batters the eyes with the glittering sheen of a thousand spray tans.
When the show airs tonight on CBS, it will once again instruct us all in the womanly arts of blowing kisses, throwing peace sign fingers, breast contouring, beachy waves, Brazilian waxes, and body glitter. It’s a time-honored tradition that only gets bigger (as the outfits get smaller) each year. With a mind-blowing 500 million viewers worldwide, the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is essentially the planet’s most widely-attended go-go bar.
Not everyone wants to sit back and watch, however. Androgynous model Rain Dove is using the occasion to introduce a much-needed critique of the beauty standards that the show reinforces year after Swarovski-bedazzled year. Today, Dove is publishing a new set of photos modeled after actual images taken from the Victoria’s Secret Christmas catalog—but there’s a twist.
Each of the photos features Dove in all her gender-bending glory: with no makeup, a butch haircut, and her masculine facial features balancing out the dainty lingerie and feminine posing of the shot. Each picture, shot by photographer Sandy Ramirez, is doubled to show the real version as well as a second version in which the faces of Victoria’s Secret models are Photoshopped over Dove’s.
Dove’s look can be seen as far too masculine for women’s lingerie modeling. In fact, she has been featured as a male model in a Calvin Klein underwear show. “My sex appeal lies in suits and ties, but my body is femme,” said Dove, who also frequently models menswear, told the Daily Dot over the phone on Tuesday. “I use my breasts like a passport to get into bathrooms.”
Dove’s body type is the absolute ideal for a Victoria’s Secret model: she’s tall and thin with 32DD-26-34 measurements. But the brand also demands stringent adherence to a high-femme, Barbie doll look. The standards are so tight, in fact, that even when model Karlie Kloss cut her flowing hair to a shoulder-length lob in 2012, brand loyalists wrote letters of protest.
Dove emphasized that she means to critique body image standards, not particular models. “I have nothing against the Victoria’s Secret Angels. They’re all beautiful people and I respect where they are at,” said Dove. “Victoria’s Secret is a brand, not a socio-political movement. But at the same time, there is that one-dimensional look.”
She continued to describe her concerns with the body image insecurities that can result from seeing models airbrushed, lit, and Photoshopped to unrealistic levels while wearing such revealing lingerie.
“When a lot of people wake up in the morning and put on their underwear, the first thing they feel that day is terrible about themselves,” Dove said. “When you see that your body is not what other people want, it can be really devastating. I have so many friends that I grew up with who have had serious eating disorders.”
A powerhouse brand like Victoria’s Secret isn’t just selling underwear and bras—it’s selling an international ideal of how women should look. The annual show airs in 158 countries around the world: some of which, according to a recent Forbes report, don’t even have Victoria’s Secret stores.
L Brands, the corporate monolith behind Victoria’s Secret, disclosed a stunning 11.5 billion in profits in 2014 alone, according to its latest annual report. That’s higher than the gross domestic product of Armenia that year, not to mention several smaller, poorer countries.
For Dove, that massive brand power—built on the dollars of women—could stand to reflect a bit more diversity. And she’s not the only one who wants to see Victoria’s Secret widen its wingspan (sorry) to include more kinds of women. In 2013, over 48,000 people petitioned the lingerie line to feature transgender model Carmen Carrera on the runway or in a campaign. Despite her contract with Elite Models and notable resemblance to the current crop of Angels, Victoria’s Secret hasn’t responded.
“Victoria’s Secret has a monopoly on lingerie,” said Dove, “And that’s hard to beat. But we’re coming in to a time when people are looking for brands that reflect honesty and reality. Things are going to change, which means Victoria’s Secret should change too. I would like to see them change the world.”
Photo by Sandy Ramirez/courtesy of Rain Dove
Mary Emily O'Hara is an LGBTQ reporter. Her work has appeared in Rolling Stone, NBC Out, Daily Dot, Broadly, Vice, the Daily Beast, the Advocate, Huffington Post, DNAinfo, Al Jazeera, and Portland's Pulitzer Prize-winning newsweekly Willamette Week, among other outlets.