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Image / Agenda / Image Writes

Even former Victoria’s Secret models felt brand’s body ideals ‘went against Mother Nature’


By Sarah Finnan
27th Oct 2021

@karolinakurkova / Instagram

Even former Victoria’s Secret models felt brand’s body ideals ‘went against Mother Nature’

Several more ex-Victoria’s Secret models have spoken out against the brand in recent days, opening up about the impossible standards they were expected to adhere to.

Victoria’s Secret has always promoted unrealistic beauty ideals, but it’s not until recent years that the brand has really come under fire for its treatment of young women and girls in the industry. Notorious for being extremely choosy in who they allowed to walk in their shows, models were expected to adhere to crazy diet and exercise routines to ensure they were “catwalk ready”. 

However, while such behaviour may have been glamourised in the early to late noughties when the brand was at its most powerful, the time has passed and people have slowly wizened to the misogynistic and unhealthy ways of Victoria’s Secret world since then. No longer with the same pull it once had, several models have spoken out about their time working for the company too… and unsurprisingly, none of them has anything good to say. 

Going against Mother Nature

Take Selita Ebanks or Erin Heatherton, for example. Two of the latest to detail their experiences of being accepted into the exclusive VS club, neither woman was complimentary of what really went on. “Modeling for Victoria’s Secret, there’s a code you have to follow,” Ebanks admitted in an exclusive True Hollywood Story that aired on American TV during the week. “There is an expectation to maintain [a certain] size, and unfortunately, we are going against Mother Nature. It is not something that’s natural, it is not something that should happen. It’s tough,” she commented. 

Tough would be an understatement though. According to psychotherapist Stacy Kaiser, she often heard tell that models would eat nothing more than an apple a day in order to maintain their trim physiques. Hindsight tells her that what she went through was wrong, but becoming a Victoria’s Secret angel was Ebanks’ end goal at the time. “I’ve been on many runways, but, to be a part of the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, for me, was more than just a job. It was the highlight,” she recalled.  

Such overnight fame came with its consequences though and Ebanks said she very much had to fight for her place. Then, of course, there were the lasting physical and mental implications that the brand’s obsession with appearance fostered. “It’s really hard for a lot of Victoria’s Secret models to have the kind of self-worth that the rest of us have, because it’s all about their appearance,” she stated. “No one wants to hear what they have to say.”

Pills and potions

Echoing what Ebanks said, Heatherton told the Fallen Angel podcast that she started injecting herself with all sorts of hormones to try and help her get in shape. “Where things started to go south for me was when I hit, I think it was 25… There was this certain point where everything that I was doing just didn’t yield the same results. I was just a little bit bigger. In retrospect, that’s just biology and how the body works. You’re not the same size when you’re 18 to when you’re 25,” she noted. 

Making an appointment with a nutritionist to try and help her, Heatherton said she was willing to do whatever it took to stop her from losing her job. “That pushed me over the edge a little bit. It definitely led me down this path where I went to see this nutritionist who started me on this diet pill called phentermine, which my therapist later called ‘bathwater meth,’” she told listeners. 

“Phentermine is an amphetamine-like prescription medication used to suppress appetite that carries with it a host of side effects including increased heart rate,” as per a New York Post description of the drug. 

Confessing that she compares her behaviour at that time to being on par with “emotional cutting”, the model said that though she was so against what she was doing, she continued doing it “almost to feel the pain or feel how wrong it was”. 

Performative allyship

Heatherton’s comments come not long after yet another ex-VS model Bridget Malcolm also spoke out against the brand earlier this year. Already having walked the runway for them on two separate occasions, Malcolm accused her former employers of “performative allyship”, detailing how she was cut from a subsequent show because she had gone up a bra size. 

According to Malcolm, Ed Razek (one of the top executives at L Brands, the parent company of Victoria’s Secret) rejected her on the basis that her body “didn’t look good enough”… even though her measurements had only marginally changed from a 30A to a 30B. Now a 34B (what she describes as a “healthy” size for her), Malcolm recently tried on her old catwalk bras in a viral TikTok that all but broke the internet after she posted it. 

Part of a series of videos in which Malcolm endeavoured to highlight “times the fashion industry has sucked”, many questioned why the Australian native is only speaking out now – to which she replied that it’s taken her years to work through the past trauma of it all. “By the age of 18, I’d lived in three countries alone. I travelled to all continents except for Antarctica. I’d been groomed by a much older man. I’d been sexually assaulted multiple times.”. 

Developing PTSD as a result of the huge amount of pressure she was under, she went on to speak about how modelling agents had advised her to use cocaine and “just have lots of sex to lose weight”… all this while she was still only a minor. 

“I was struggling with my gender identity and I developed anorexia and orthorexia and anxiety and depression. I couldn’t socialise without drinking and was developing quite the reliance on Xanax and Ambien to get me through the night – and that was before I turned 18.”

Eight years later she had a nervous breakdown on her 26th birthday, also confessing that she had a “bout with suicidal ideation which was terrifying”. Thankfully in a much better place now, she’s sober, in recovery from her eating disorder and feels “balanced”, “strong” and the best she has in years. 

Appearance vs reality

Perhaps the saddest part about the whole thing is that the general consensus to former Victoria’s Secrets models sharing their stories is usually “disappointed, but not surprised”. Yes, the above stories are completely awful and utterly shocking, but we’ve long suspected there was foul play going on behind the scenes. That’s not to cleanse VS of culpability or guilt but rather to highlight how much of a stronghold it had on us at the time. 

As a child of the late 1990s, I grew up with diet culture – the shackles of which have taken years to shake free. “Train like an angel” was part of my everyday vernacular and shows such as America’s Top Model encouraged me to spend hours fantasising about what my life would be like if I was only taller, thinner, more beautiful. 

It’s only now that I realise how farcical the whole thing really was though. Not even the models I so idolised back then looked like the catwalk/magazine versions of themselves I had pasted around my room. As Ebanks, Heatherton and Malcolm have all admitted – their bodies defied nature, and not in a way that was healthy. We lauded them for their fit, toned physiques, but this was only achieved through starvation and relying on medical advice from dodgy doctors motivated by monetary gain. 

The brand may have launched the careers of some of the world’s most successful models to date, but at what cost? And all to get us to buy an overpriced lacy bra?