Victoria’s Secret’s “Bright Young Things” Lingerie: What’s the Message for Young Women?

Victoria’s Secret PINK

About a month ago, while I was still away on my honeymoon, I got a ton of e-mails from people asking what I thought about Victoria’s Secret’s controversial new “Bright Young Things” collection. Though it’s old news by now, I wanted to discuss it anyway because I think this entire story (and, more importantly, people’s responses to it) brought up a lot of the issues I have with the way we discuss lingerie in America.

The Bright Young Things collection was part of Victoria’s Secret’s PINK line, which debuted in 2002 and targets 15-22 year olds. The story went viral after a father posted a “Letter to Victoria’s Secret,” and a Facebook page dedicated to taking down the campaign was also popular for a short while. Though I was watching the story develop from afar, I couldn’t help but think, “What’s wrong with teenagers and young women wanting to wear cute underwear?” This excerpt from the father’s letter linked above stuck out to me in particular.

I don’t want my daughter to ever think that her self-worth and acceptance by others is based on the choice of her undergarments. I don’t want my daughter to ever think that to be popular or even attractive she has to have emblazon words on her bottom.

I want my daughter (and every girl) to be faced with tough decisions in her formative years of adolescence. Decisions like should I be a doctor or a lawyer? Should I take calculus as a junior or a senior? Do I want to go to Texas A&M or University of Texas or some Ivy League School? Should I raise awareness for slave trafficking or lack of water in developing nations? There are many, many more questions that all young women should be asking themselves… not will a boy (or girl) like me if I wear a “call me” thong?

I want my daughter to know that she is perfect the way she is; I want my daughter to know that no matter what underwear she is wearing it does not define her.”

I admit, I’m not a parent, so my perspective on this is likely going to be a bit different from the parents reading this. But I’m not too far removed from PINK’s target age range, and though it’s not popular to say so, I bought a LOT of my first ‘grown-up’ bras from Victoria’s Secret. And I can tell you right now, as a broke college student who purchased a ton of inexpensive PINK, I never felt like I was deciding between graduating from college or wearing sexy lingerie. A young woman’s mind is not so fragile that a bit of lacy underwear will completely ruin her brain.

I know this is an issue many people feel strongly about, and I understand why, but exploring gender and sexuality through dress is what teenagers do. Developing an independent identity…figuring out what they like (and don’t like) is pretty much the job of a teenager or young adult. And teenagers don’t want to wear the same bras their Moms are wearing. Why should buying cute underwear be any more scandalous or shocking than buying makeup or high heels?

Obviously, it is entirely possible to want to wear nice lingerie, and yet not be ready to engage in sexual activity (at least I would hope that’s obvious). But besides that, even if a teenager is sexually active, is it really okay to teach young women that self-respect and sex are mutually exclusive? That you can either go to college or wear a push bra? That you can either save the world or wear lacy underwear? No, I don’t think so.

I honestly hate panties with words on the back, but this entire event reminded me of is how lingerie is always connected to sex in our culture. Pretty lingerie is never for a woman to enjoy for herself; it’s always for someone else to look at.

Lingerie does not always have to be about the boudoir. Yes, it’s fine if it is, but why aren’t we telling young women that you can totally buy that lacy bra and panty set just for you? No one else has to see it. You don’t have to be in a relationship. You don’t have to show it off. You can buy this beautiful lingerie and be completely, awesomely selfish about it, and wear it all by yourself. And that’s not only okay, it’s wonderful. Why are we scolding and shaming teenagers for their interest in lingerie instead of encouraging them to view it as another, healthy aspect of their self-expression and personal style?

When it comes to Victoria’s Secret’s marketing and messaging, I think we should absolutely challenge the imagery they put out there. But there are ways to critique the method VS uses to sell lingerie without slut-shaming young women. I don’t like the assumption that a teenager who wears panties with words on the back somehow doesn’t value herself. A thoughtful conversation on lingerie doesn’t require references to “sluts” and “whores” (language the Facebook page I linked to used way too frequently). Teaching young women to respect themselves and their bodies shouldn’t come from a place of teaching them their sexuality is bad.

Make no mistake, I’m all for valuing the complete woman. I just with society would stop implying that a young woman’s lingerie choices somehow make her less “complete.”

Cora

Cora

Founder and Editor in Chief of The Lingerie Addict. I started TLA in a small studio apartment in 2008. Since then, it's become the leading lingerie blog in the world, and has been featured on the websites for Forbes, CNN, Time, Today, and Fox News. I believe lingerie is fashion too, and that every who wants it deserves gorgeous lingerie.

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35 Comments

  1. Ariana
    30/04/13 at 4:52

    Well said… as a 17 year old girl who LOVES lingerie I completely agree with your point of view. I like buying and wearing and simply owning pretty lingerie because it makes me feel good about myself. I don’t really see how it affects anyone else anyway because they can’t even see it!
    I think the bigger concern here is parents blaming things like pretty lingerie for how some young girls act, instead of accepting that is most likely due to several other factors and life issues. As long as a girl is sensible and has some common sense owning some pretty lingerie isn’t going to put her head in the clouds and stop her from making educated life decisions.

  2. Lily
    30/04/13 at 4:59

    I can’t agree more! I read an article about this on Jezebel and they had a very similar opinion… If I were this father I’d be feeling more than a bit sheepish right now. He is trying to in his own way say that he values his daughter, yet at the same time is completely undermining her.

    • Megan Rose
      30/04/13 at 14:42

      Yeah, that father was way off track. You can’t empower women by telling them what to do. You don’t empower women by forcing even more unrealistic and false dichotomies on them. You don’t empower women by saying you’re doing things for their own good.

  3. Laura Brasinha
    30/04/13 at 5:37

    And this is why I love reading this blog! (that and pretty undies, of course). I think exactly the same way.

  4. 30/04/13 at 7:49

    Yes, I was thinking the same thing! Victoria’s Secret PINK is about being fun and slightly provocative– some of their messages might be stupid, but I think equating underwear with being overtly sexual (and then clearly not being able to achieve great things) is moronic. Honestly, the whole ‘I’m a father who is looking out for my daughter’ thing can really rub me the wrong way because there is so much ‘woe is me’ about their daughters’ sex lives and so little respect.

  5. 30/04/13 at 9:16

    Very interesting. I have many mixed feelings about this as a mom. I’m still sorting them out in my head so it’s really hard to take a stance one way or another. I do like what you said here, though:

    “but why aren’t we telling young women that you can totally buy that lacy bra and panty set just for you? No one else has to see it. You don’t have to be in a relationship. You don’t have to show it off. You can buy this beautiful lingerie and be completely, awesomely selfish about it, and wear it all by yourself. And that’s not only okay, it’s wonderful. ”

    That’s one point I wish our culture would get. That you can buy things just for you. Lingerie doesn’t have to be for a partner but because of the way it makes YOU feel.

    On the other hand, as a mom I see so much pressure on very young kids to look a certain way. My four year old has it in her head that her naturally curly hair isn’t as pretty because of what she hears from friends, media etc no matter how many times we talk to her about it. It’s incredibly frustrating and difficult to deal with all this pressure to look a certain way. So when I see lines like this it makes me wary because of the pressure it puts on kids.

    I’m not sure where the balance is and like I said, I’m still figuring out my own feelings…

    • Stacey
      30/04/13 at 15:23

      I am in the same boat but have to say this: in no way do I feel the Dad is being disrespectful. He is not claiming his daughters body as his, he is not saying that she may not explore her sexuality and he seems concerned about the pressure placed on all girls. He is being an active parent and hoping his daughter shoots for the stars, not the latest boy crushes bed. I was raised in a house where sex was not even discussed and by his addressing a concern and not ignoring nor seeming to disapprove of young girls sexuality, he is doing exactly what parents are supposed to do: being a slight bit overprotective. Are parents supposed to enthusiastically approve of their 15 year-old wearing undies that say “Call Me” across the crotch? I hope that if I ever have a daughter that once she is in high school she is comfortable with her body and having fun but I have to say if she came home with undies saying “Do Me” or whatever, I would be concerned. I don’t know, I would just hope she went for the popsicle pattens and cute stripes… What many are forgetting is that girls in junior high and early high school are targeted demographics (lets face it, junior high girls are buying this stuff too). I love having a line that lets girls and young women have fun with their lingerie but it’s about a few of the messages across crotches and bums- not the line itself.
      That being said, I am against censorship and in no way would ever say that something shouldn’t be made or printed. There is a balance, but I know that I for one have no idea where that balance is.

      • anon
        30/04/13 at 18:07

        Girls in junior high are explicitly NOT the target demographic for this line. Girls 15-22 are the target demographic for this line. With the exception of the “call me” undies, (furthermore ‘call me’ is a far cry from ‘do me’) I don’t find this line to be particularly sexual. Although the emphasis on a narrow image of beauty is offensive, the designs themselves seems perfectly age appropriate – more cute and sporty than sophisticated and ‘sexy.’

        By the time you are 15, your body is yours, and your parents don’t really have a say in what kind of underwear you purchase or wear (especially your dad). The father’s primary fear, moreover, is wholly unfounded. His daughter is perfectly and fully capable of being a sexual being, who is interested in boys (or girls) while simultaneously pursuing and achieving whatever goals she chooses. (The idea that she couldn’t do both is subtly – or not so subtly perhaps sexist – he expresses no fear that his son will be distracted from his larger goals when he discovers his sexuality, for example.)

  6. Pamela
    30/04/13 at 9:17

    I find this Ironic. “I don’t want my daughter to ever think that her self-worth and acceptance by others is based on the choice of her undergarments” and the unspoken “so she better wear ones I don’t think are slutty” are so at odds.

    I was lucky. Even as a child my mother encouraged me to buy pretty underwear that made me happy. I recall a pair of silky panties with a rose print in particular. I remember her saying “sometimes it just makes you feel good to wear pretty underwear.”

  7. Kaboom
    30/04/13 at 9:39

    Victoria’s Secret was my first experience with lingerie that actually fit me properly. And I don’t necessarily think that lingerie is tied to sex. I’m probably going to be forever alone, but I like to wear nice lingerie because it makes me feel good, not because anyone else is going to see it. I have two jobs, one of those is working in sales. When I go on sales calls I like to wear matching bra and panties because it makes me feel more coordinated.

    But… I’m also a product of going to a school where health class was basically “if you have sex you’ll get STDs and die!!!!!!” I’m not all that far removed from those days (I’m 21), and with the cultural message that lingerie = sex, it is a bit unnerving to me when I see middle-school-age girls buying sexy underwear, even though I know that lingerie doesn’t necessarily mean sex. If that makes sense at all? I know it’s hypocritical, but it’s like just a default reaction that I can’t seem to completely delete.

    If that makes sense at all…

    • Stacey
      30/04/13 at 15:26

      It makes total sense, at least to me :)

      I am coming from not caring about pretty undies until my first boyfriend which was my senior year of high school (I was an athlete and obsessed with class so I didn’t think twice about boys until later than my peers), I think I may have a weird outlook.

  8. 30/04/13 at 10:36

    i agree 100%
    the only reason why people have a problem with it is because they’re viewing this as little girls buying lingerie in order to impress boys, which isn’t always the case. I think that if our society just accepted the fact that girls and women can be sexual without it being for the sole pleasure of boys and men, then we can understand why a girl would want to buy lingerie for herself.
    i always talk about this with my cousins. A lot of the time, when people buy cute bras and underwear, it’s for themselves! And i think the reason why the father is having a hard time understanding this is because many people (especially men) think that anytime a woman does anything sexy, it’s to impress a man! which isnt always true. it’s amazing how much wearing lingerie can boost your self esteem! if i were a mother, i would want my daughter to feel the same way.
    and if we’re being honest with ourselves, if our kids are gonna have sex, there’s no way to stop that. if people really want something, they will always find a way to make it happen, which is why i think it’s important to teach young boys and girls about sex and sexuality, as well as how important being protected is. that way, when the inevitable happens, we’ll feel comfortable knowing that our kids are well prepared.

  9. TBonz
    30/04/13 at 10:40

    I’m a mom of 3 grown daughters, who loves pretty lingerie. I’ve always bought them for myself and if my husband likes them, great, but I buy them for myself first.

    Having said that, I hate to see young girls sexualized too early. There is incredible pressure on young girls to be sexy, thin, or pretty. That’s bad.

    I’d like to see young people just be young people, without that pressure, including teen girls. I guess that’s a bit unrealistic. And I’ve never seen the appeal of words on clothes that go on my butt, LOL.

  10. 30/04/13 at 11:13

    I have more collection lingerie from victoria secret. I like a sexy lingerie and bra. Its comfortable to wear it

  11. Karen
    30/04/13 at 12:14

    As a mother of a seven yr old daughter, I can understand the fear the father has of his daughter being focused of undies rather then college and saving the world. But my daughter is a beautiful child. When I buy beautiful lingerie for myself, she always asks when she can wear/look so beautiful. So we buy cute undies for her and talk about how they show her individuality and her inner beauty. We have discussed how her aunts will take her to buy her first bras and grown up panties (with lace she says). My daughter is not focusing on how she can get a boy, but on how she is different and beautiful. I realize this changes as aperson gets older, but lingerie is not for “bad girls” but for all people who are beautiful (that’s everyone!).

  12. Katherine
    30/04/13 at 12:45

    Isn’t it more the tone of the comments on the pants and the age range they are marketed towards that’s offensive? Having ‘call me’ emblazoned on your knickers *is*, whether we like it or not, a provocative invitation. It could be an invitation to go and discuss calculus over a coffee in the park but it isn’t is it? The calling is linked to the knickers which is by association linked to whats in the knickers ie your sex organs! It’s another example of a massive company using irresponsibly over sexualised products to make money from an inappropriate age bracket. I’m not saying teenagers aren’t sexual beings- I remember being one and *everything* was sexual- but i truly believe it is inappropriate for a company to market a product which indicates sexual experience and activity to a demographic who may very well be below the legal age of consent or be on the very cusp of making A decision regarding their sexual activity. interfering in that decision process by warping a persons perception of what is and isnt ‘normal’ or ‘sexy’ is unhelpful and confusing. If I had a daughter who in her early teens I would not want her to have ‘call me’ written on the front of her pants and I am a pretty liberal minded person. I’m not saying that teenagers shouldnt wear sexy underwear or explore the development of their own sexual identity via this but some of these slogans are inviting another person or assuming another presence in that realm and that is what I don’t like and feel very uncomfortable with.

  13. MrsB
    30/04/13 at 12:49

    Oh, how I missed your posts when you were away!

  14. Haley
    30/04/13 at 12:50

    I cannot agree more! Growing up I always liked wearing cute underwear and bras, not because I wanted anyone to see it, but because I liked it. It was for me and no one else. Now that I have a significant other, I like to wear nice things for him as well, but it is still mainly because I like them!

  15. Lauri
    30/04/13 at 12:53

    It’s sad that one can only display feminine beauty in certain narrow ways without being considered brainless and/or frivolous (among other things). I propose we all just carry on being intelligent and beautiful at the same time and eventually the world will catch on.

  16. 30/04/13 at 12:56

    It makes me very sad to think how society views things like pretty lingerie as a sexual object. Like you said, yes, it CAN be used in the bedroom, but that’s not all it’s used for. Lingerie is something that empowers woman, young and old alike; gives them self esteem and makes them FEEL beautiful and sexy and I really wish THAT could be more of the focus instead of automatically linking it with sex.

    Society really needs to focus more on the empowerment of woman rather than stereotyping them and making them feel bad or guilty about liking lacy underwear!

  17. Jessica
    30/04/13 at 12:57

    I love everything you’ve said here.

    The only area where I can somewhat see where the father is coming from is regarding the “call me” underwear. I’m not a parent, but I can image if I were the parent of a pre-teen/ teen, I might feel uncomfortable buying it for my kid (but I’m not saying I wouldn’t buy it for them). But, if I were a pre-teen or teen, I might think it was really cute.

    I think the biggest problem here is that the Dad is discussing his daughter’s underwear at all regarding her place in the world. One has nothing to do with the other. Will she become a senator if she wears the right underwear? Where can I find the bra and panty set that will make me a successful doctor or lawyer? Hook it up!

    If Mother Theresa wore crotchless panties and pasties underneath her clothes, would it really make any difference? Obviously not.

    Who are we to judge what another person wants to wear as “intimates?” It is fabric covering the most private areas of our bodies, it’s a personal decision. Why must it be a group discussion, or a group decision?

    Throughout history, people have been saying “women’s too underwear is too this, or that.” It makes me mad because it’s so sexist. No one is judging men for their underwear choices!!!

    It would be nice if people could relax, stop judging others, and stop saying negative things, especially about things that don’t really concern them. If there is a problem, discuss a solution, rather than criticizing the problem:

    Maybe instead of putting lingerie companies down, this father could team together with like-minded people to create the underwear they think is appropriate for women. Who knows? Maybe it’s a business that would take off!

  18. Yaara
    30/04/13 at 14:20

    I don’t think the main issue with this line was that it was cute underwear for 15-22 year olds. At least not for me or obviously anyone in the comments.
    My main issue with this line is the name. Bright young THINGS. Objects. The name suggests that women are pretty little objects when they are young, and not human beings. This was the problem that I saw people having with the line as this story came out and I agreed with it. And it’s not just that the name objectifies women in general, but it also sexualizes and objectifies minors, which is another big problem. I have no issues with young women wearing sexy underwear, I started wearing VS too when I was even younger! And as a 21 year old I sometimes still do! But words mean a lot, and calling your line Bright Young Things really turns people off of wanting to buy your brand’s lingerie. Regardless of what your demographic is.

    • 30/04/13 at 15:47

      Bright Young Things is also the name of a book about 20-somethings that was published in 2010, of a well-received movie that was released in 2003, and of an ethical, sustainable fashion line of little black dresses that was founded in 2009. I did not interpret the phrase “Bright Young Things” as an example of objectification because it’s a phrase that appears regularly in reference to a certain demographic.

      • Yaara
        30/04/13 at 15:57

        I understand that, I was just restating opinions I previously read about the topic. It can be taken out of context, is what I’m saying.

      • 01/05/13 at 2:24

        I kind of dig the name myself because it’s a callback to the up-and-comers of a little under a century ago. :) That’s why the movie’s called what it is, yeah?

  19. Rebecca
    30/04/13 at 14:49

    I am a soon to be 44 year old woman who has really just discovered how amazing it feels to wear beautiful underpinnings. I look in my underware drawer and i get thrilled choosing which delicate item I get to wear. It makes me feel so good about myself. It also feels great when my husband appreciates the look too! To this day, my mom calls anything less than full coverage “hoochie coochie”. Like wearing something that is delicate and frilly is a bad thing. I don’t have a daughter (I have a son) but if I did, I would imagine us talking about college and (hopefully) shopping for girly attire.

  20. Maple
    30/04/13 at 17:21

    I didn’t read any of the comments- I will when I’m done- THIS ARTICLE IS AMAZING!

    I must point out that the pressure to be sexy and sought after in high school is pretty real. It nagged at me from time to time but I resisted what I see as bullshit ideals bolstered by my peers. (I went to an all female religious school.) Just because one does follow SOME of those ideals, doesn’t mean one is blindly following an ideal set up and reinforced by who and what ever. But I question whether or not someone who does by into any brands image really knows themselves. When I fall into patterns of by stylistically dominated by a brand it’s because I’m losing touch with myself. I know- this might not be true for everyone but I think it applies to SOME people besides me.

    I’ve only bought a few items from PINK- a handful of yoga bras and a handful of underwear. I refuse to buy anything else from them because of their messaging AND they don’t carry the size (30b) I wear. To me their messaging says: large breasts, flat stomach, long legs, long hair, and being light skinned, ect., is sexy. But that’s all. Nothing else qualifies.

  21. Heaher
    30/04/13 at 18:36

    Once I hit 16, and my interests turned to focus on fashion and hair and make up, my mother allowed me to explore all sorts of beauty/fashion choices. She showed me how to apply my makeup properly and helped me to choose make up that suited my skin tone and eye color, and she supported me through my many clothing style phases; my sweater obsession phase, my dark clothing phase, my everything has to be obnoxiously colorful phase, all the way through until I adopted and settled with an eclectic vintage style. When I wanted to dye my hair, she never complained. When I purchased lacy panties or lingerie for myself, she never question if it was for someone else. When I got my first tattoo, she came with me and held my hand. My mother and I have always had a very close and open relationship. She knew she could trust my choices because she knew me for who I really am…I strongly believe that if parents form solid and close relationships with their daughters they would be less fearful about the possible meanings behind their daughter’s fashion and beauty choices.

  22. 30/04/13 at 20:48

    Treacle – what a well thought out post. So many women think that their sexuality is all about pleasing their partner or attracting a partner; Only a subset of women think about themselves when it comes to being beautiful.In our society, women as a rule, don’t take care of themselves. They think back to the stereotypical 1950′s that sexuality needs to be hidden.

    Well, we broke that mold in the 1960′s/1970′s; But yet, women still hate photographs of themselves. They see only their flaws. It’s wonderful to educate women to valuing themselves to have a good self worth. Dressing the part is a part of that.

    As a photographer who photographs women in lingerie, many women come to me thinking that it’s a gift to their partners. Rarely do they leave having seen the images of themselves think it was for someone else. The process causes them to realize they need to celebrate their beauty – not as much their sexuality as their feminism. Even little girls can wear “wholesome” pretty underwear. No different than the Princess Costume they wear with the Fairy Wand and Crown.

    Maybe we still need to educate those men who haven’t yet come to realize that Women can think for themselves in Pink Granny Pants or in La Perla. What is wrong with celebrating your feminism? It’s not the same as Sexuality.

  23. Julian
    30/04/13 at 20:53

    As a male, I do understand where the father is coming from! In this day and age, girls especially teenagers are overstimulated by sexual propaganda in the media! However in defence of Victoria’s Secret when has it become the norm that what is printed across your derrière or crotch becomes a motive for sexual enuendo? Lingerie may make women and men feel confident and sexy ( lingerie does exist for men) but I am certain that it does not influence sexual promiscuity?

  24. Jessie
    30/04/13 at 21:39

    I think that the letter written by the father was more out of his OWN personal views of his in regards to women’s lingerie. Being right at the end of the marketing age range being discussed, I myself have only recently escaped my own father’s control of what I can wear on my own body. A father views his daughter wanting to wear something he seems “sexy” as something bad because of how he knows men think. While wanting to “protect” your daughter from the evils of the world is a more than honorable trait that I wish more fathers shared, shaming your daughter is the number one way to make SURE she ends up being that slut you tried to keep her from being. Sexual exploration in ones teen years are an essential developmental phase, especially for young girls in our society, both in coming to terms with their individual sexuality as well as recognizing the sexuality of others around them. Feeling “sexy” is a GOOD thing, it produces higher self esteem and a feeling of self worth. Now I’m not saying that feeling sexy is needed for heightened self esteem, but it can’t hurt. Lingerie in our times is seen as something that another person is bound to see, but I just do not agree with that view point. Lingerie is for the wearer and if others are so privileged then so be it, but it shouldn’t be the expectation. I see nothing wrong with wearing what makes you feel good, though some of the choices available by Victoria’s Secret that are marketed for the young women’s line I think go too far into the sex side of lingerie. The bottom line is no good father wants to think if his teenage daughter wearing a lacy thong, but if you don’t let them explore when they are young then they will always be looking to get away.

  25. Blue-peridot
    05/05/13 at 0:09

    I fully agree with this. So many people automatically connect lingerie with sex and sexuality, and while it can be connected to that, it doesn’t have to be. I’m 19 and since I’ve started wearing bras I’ve always preferred beautiful ones. Until recently my love life has been almost non-existent, so that had little to do with my clothing choices. Wearing lingerie doesn’t have to be sexual, though it can be- it can simply be something you wear that makes you feel pretty, put together, and even powerful. These things aren’t exclusive to feminism or lofty goals and achievement for women. I myself have top grades. What you wear underneath your clothing doesn’t define you.

    I also find it odd this father feels his daughter might feel pressured to fit in by wearing this line- who knows what one wears underneath one’s clothing anyway?

  26. 13/01/14 at 4:19

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