Dear Victoria's Secret: Femvertising Is a Facade; Empowerment Comes From Within
When I think back to the times I felt truly empowered, it was on my own terms, not from something external.
I have a love-hate relationship with Victoria's Secret. The hip-huggers and briefs help my periods feel a bit chicer, the workout gear is long-lasting and actually fits well, the pajamas are epic.
But that's where the love ends.
They don't stock my bra size, and Victoria's Secret is not as popular in the U.K. as in the U.S., so stores are pretty rare. But that's not my main grudge against the brand. My issue is their recent direction.
After years of creating lingerie for the male gaze and dictating what constitutes beautiful, sexy and cute, the powers that be in Victoria's HQ have decided to join the “femvertising” trend of empowerment. They have ditched the stick-thin Angels and replaced them with real, more relatable models, which to me, feels empty and uncouth. It's like saying, "You are the opposite of what we, the corporate Misters, deem beautiful, therefore you are perfect for our new empowering campaign."
I can appreciate that they have taken steps to become more female-friendly by hiring women in leading roles. But ultimately, it is still a male-dominated company. Its image of perfection will always be part of Victoria's DNA. A recent look on their website shows that there are 95 pieces of activewear available for a size medium, but only 31 for XXL.
You really have to wonder how committed they are to this new empowering direction.
Why I Loathe Femvertising Ads
I'm not often irked by advertisements. As someone with a master's degree in public relations, I understand the importance and influence of words. However, the use of the term “empowerment,” quite frankly, annoys the fuck out of me.
To put it into context, empowerment has two meanings: The first is, "The process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one's life and claiming one's rights." The second is the "authority or power given to someone to do something."
As a stand-alone thought, the latter is not really that offensive; as humans who have been conditioned to behave a certain way all our lives, we do occasionally need permission to do something. But when it's plastered across a cleaning product or on a box of cereal, I can't help but think, "Are they honestly giving me permission to clean and eat?"
In the case of the cereal, are they really empowering me to take care of my body while also telling me that my body shape is wrong and I should only eat two bowls of this awesome cereal until I look socially acceptable?
The same can also be said for the endless host of empowering panels, workshops, and female-led communities. They claim to be empowering, but the only feeling I'm left with is inadequacy and despair. According to these wonderful “communities,” I have no excuse to not have my shit together because not only are there so many resources for me to take advantage of, but the law of attraction says that anxiety is just a choice, and you control your mindset.
Apparently, it's that easy. Who knew?
And I get it. Empowerment does spark a reaction. It does make you feel like anything is possible. And it does draw the female crowd. But when it comes from an external source, does it not feel sort of empty?
You Don’t Need Affirmation to Experience Self Empowerment
When I think back (and you are more than welcome to do this exercise as well) to the times I felt truly empowered, it was on my own terms, and it brought a sense of pride—not to mention a big-ass smile across my face. These truly empowering moments have changed the direction of my life.
For example, I graduated in 2012. The global recession was coming to a close, jobs were few and far between and starting salaries were garbage. In PR, employers were only recruiting those who had half-year and year-long internships. As someone who needed to work through university, I was not one of those golden recruits.
So I took matters into my own hands. I ignored all the advice the older generation had given me, I disregarded my parent's expectations and I joined an airline on the other side of the world.
It was the best decision I ever made. I have seen the world, eaten the most delicious foods and I have done things people only dream of. I was empowered, and I was happy. After my emigration, I would continue my personal empowerment spree, taking solo travels to Jordan, Ecuador and Europe, and generally living my absolute best life (not to sound cliche).
My next moment of empowerment would come five years later when I decided to leave a toxic relationship. I looked back to my earlier empowered days—how I acted, how I felt, and I decided I wanted to be that person again. So once again, I took control of my life. I left him, moved into my own apartment, took steps to get me feeling like my old confident self and never looked back.
Don't get me wrong, I'm still scarred. It will take me a long while before I get into another relationship, and who knows what triggers will appear then.
Even this article itself is empowering for me. It is my first published article where I am talking about myself and expressing my opinion. It is a huge step in creating the life I want post-flight attendant. Pitching to editors and putting myself out there in a very competitive industry is scary, but writing is how I want to spend my life, so here I am.
The Last Place Women’s Empowerment Should Come From Is a Product
Knowing what I know and experiencing how empowerment feels, it's difficult for me to get behind all these empowering products and events. Because, if you ask me, empowerment is the former definition. It is "the process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one's life and claiming one's rights." It's not something you need permission for. It is a personal experience that comes from within and feels almost divine.
It certainly does not come from a product or service.
That product or service might support you in a way that helps your confidence, but the empowerment to make the change came from you. I'd also like to point out that the decision to not do something is just as empowering and liberating as deciding to do a thing. You can decide not to date, to not take that high-pressure job or even to not do any work for a couple of days.
While I recognize the irony of me telling you that empowerment is a personal experience while also telling you what empowerment is not, I want you to consider that there are no empowering male products. You won't see advertisers trying to empower the male population because they already do what they want, when they want. They don't need a seal of approval from society.
So the next time you see something empowering, ask yourself what the real message is, and remember that you have control over your life and decisions.