Who's the Fairest of Them All?
By Ciana Alessi
We’re all guilty of scrolling through the Instagram’s of influencers, socialites, and miscellaneous 24-year-old-looking-17-year-olds thinking things like, “her skirt is amazing,” “his hair is so perfect,” and “I can’t imagine going on vacation/living there!” Although these thoughts are often harmless and fleeting, for too many people they are constant calls for comparison.
A good deal of our cultural and general knowledge comes from the socialization we unknowingly engage in via daily images we receive. Since Instagram is literally just a hub of cherry-picked images assaulting your eyes on an hourly basis, it surely follows that Instagram is an agent of socialization as well. This is important to remember when movements like #RevolveSoWhite or the masses of Victoria’s Secret critics are themselves criticized for fighting an unnecessary fight. I wholeheartedly agree that it is within any company’s power to portray themselves in whatever manner they’d like. They do not, however, have the authority to play the victim when their portrayal is blatantly exclusionary, nor will they outlive companies that portray more inclusive images. This crucial conversation stems from the comments made by Chief Marketing Officer of L Brands Ed Razek during a recent Vogue interview which truly rocked the “woke” social media world. Razek made a number of unsavory and overall tasteless remarks throughout the interview in regards to the upcoming Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, but a particular few comments resonated with me.
“Everybody keeps talking about Rihanna’s show. Everybody had the conversation about Savage [x Fenty] having the pregnant model in the show. We watch this, we’re amused by it, but we don’t milk it. And all of these things that they’ve “invented,” we have done and continue to do.”
First of all, anyone who says they are merely “amused” by anything Rihanna does -- let alone her immensely successful Fenty lines -- needs to be taught some sort of lesson about life. Seriously. Secondly, the above comments are clearly that of bitterness and reek of Old White Man Elitism; just look at a picture of Ed Razek and try to tell me he doesn’t also seem like the kind of guy that says “healthcare is a privilege, not a right.” This obvious reduction of Rihanna’s success in the fashion industry is both distasteful and disrespectful to a woman who heads an inclusive, well-received company and has done a damn good job.
2. “I’m always asking myself: If we do that, what is the reason we did it? Why did we include that person? And did we include them to shut up a reporter? Did we include them because it was the right thing to do or because it was the politically correct thing to do? Do they take the place of somebody who worked for a year for the opportunity and cried when they found that they got it?”
This is what I like to call the Anti-Affirmative Action Argument, because it’s exactly what people say when they criticize Affirmative Action. No one is asking Ed Razek, Victoria’s Secret, or otherwise, to cast just any transgender model, just any plus size model. Asking for more diversity doesn’t mean accepting anyone who fits said qualification and no others; modelling is still a job that needs a certain skill set. We are aware of that. We are also very much aware of how many talented, hardworking transgender and plus size models there are. I’d wager to bet there are at least hundreds who would do just as good of a job, if not better, than your Kendall Jenners and Sara Sampaios.
3. Re: the above quote -- white men need to stop using “politically correct” as if it’s a bad word or an evil concept.
If what you’re doing isn’t politically correct and you want to whine about it, that means you’re only thinking about certain types of people and not other (usually marginalized) people, and you think it’s too complicated to consider the lives of others...aka you’re trash. Next.
4. “Shouldn’t you have transsexuals in the show? No. No, I don’t think we should. Well, why not? Because the show is a fantasy. It’s a 42-minute entertainment special. That’s what it is.”
This quote was initially and still is quite puzzling to me. If the show is “a fantasy,” and that -- to Ed Razek -- is justification for excluding transgender people, then Ed Razek for some horrific reason fantasizes about a completely cisgender world of young, thin girls in lingerie. Yeah.
If someone like this heads the marketing for a global brand like Victoria’s Secret, that means millions of young girls are seeing Ed Razek’s cisgender, quasi-pedophilic fantasy as an actual, tangible reality. And although this full-blown reality is only televised annually, pieces of it are scattered throughout the Victoria’s Secret Instagram and the Instagrams of the models in the show year-round. So yes, Victoria’s Secret can advertise their brand using only super thin, conventionally attractive, cisgender models if they’d like. It is then our job, however, to support brands who show reality, not fantasy. And reality is not all women (and people) that are cisgender, skinny, and conventionally attractive, but I’d much rather live in reality with all these wonderful, different, beautiful people than in Ed Razek’s fantasy. Wouldn’t you?