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What message are we sending to young women about Victoria’s Secret?

This past week, lingerie giant Victoria’s Secret opened its first Vancouver store. Hundreds of excited customers lined up well in advance to get an early glimpse of the 35,000 square foot Robson and Burrard location, which is the retail chain’s second largest store in the world.

I remember being 15 and obsessed with Victoria’s Secret: The glamour, the sexiness, the confidence that a pretty bra can give. When I went on a class trip to Florida, I bought my first VS pieces: a lime green bra with pink polka dots, and a tan bra with black lace overtop. Not gonna lie, I still have that tan one.

The recent VS opening in downtown Vancouver has caused a little bit of a stir. Like parents everywhere, many of them in BC are now concerned that their young daughters are going to get somehow corrupted or over-sexualized by the brand. Case in point: A CBC segment during which they interview a “parenting expert” and author of parentingtoday.ca named Kathy Lynn. Lynn said she’s “just appalled” when she sees lingerie brands targeting young women (VS got a lot of flack back in March for a campaign titled “Bright Young Things” that appeared to be attracting tweens and teens; VS says that’s not who they were after). Okay, fair. 

“They’re kids,” Lynn said to CBC. “The children themselves, the girls, they’re not thinking of it as messages about sex, they’re thinking about the style.” As far as preventing girls from buying VS, Lynn said to “bring the dads into play so that they can to talk to your daughters about what kind of messages they’re giving to the boys.”

Lynn continues: “A father could say, ‘You just think you look cute and have a neat little outfit on like this person or that person, but I have to tell you that for boys, it really turns them on and gets them very excited. They are thinking that you are giving them a message that you want them to have sex with you.’”

Waitttttttt. Wait. So the IMPORTANT message that we should be giving girls is that if they wear anything sexy or cute, it’s a siren to the bois that they wanna get it on? Is THAT what we want to be teaching young girls? That boys don’t need to respect them, and that if a boy tries to hook up with them its their fault because they’re dressed provocatively? Are we really starting this slut-shaming, victim-blaming game so young?

This unsure, insecure, impressionable age is unbelievably vital in a young woman’s life. We need to be teaching them that no matter what they wear, they are not “asking” for sex. That no matter how many times they step into Victoria’s Secret and try on the bras and smell the perfumes and stare at the catalogues, they are not suggesting to the boys of the world that they’re down to get down. 

Also does Lynn think that girls wear their bras on the outside of their shirts? Most of VS products are undergarments. They may have some extra sparkle and lace, but they’re still worn under everything else. At least that’s how it was when I was in high school.

I’m not trying to suggest that teenage girls should or shouldn’t be wearing Victoria’s Secret. I really think each parent should be able to sit down with their daughter and have an honest and collaborative conversation about it, and decide on a plan of action that works for them.

However, something that should not be said is that by wearing lingerie, the girl in question is sending a message to boys everywhere that she wants them to sleep with her. That is NOT something we should be teaching young women.

Ultimately, all I know is my own experience. And during that experience, Victoria’s Secret was never anything more than an excuse to spend money and wear something bedazzled. I never sent any horny boys any mixed messages about what I wanted from them. And I was never led to believe that the bra I wore was somehow linked to the way boys saw me.

So sometimes I wear bras that have little bows and are lined with lace. So what? It makes me feel confident, fierce. Call it my Victorious Secret.

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