“Bright Young Things”? Or Dark Old Misogyny?

20130326-124334.jpgI’m not lying when I admit that nearly all of my underthings—bras, panties, everything but pantyhose—come from the lingerie giant Victoria’s Secret. My roommates constantly tease me about my collection, claiming that I’m a bad feminist for shopping at a store that blatantly objectifies and commoditizes an ideal female body. I’m of the opinion that at least in the case of bras, brand loyalty really matters. I can’t drop hundreds of dollars on bras from different stores just *hoping* that they’ll fit. And as far as the products are concerned, I’m decently satisfied with Victoria’s Secret (well, I was, though I agree with some bloggers that the quality is declining). Regardless of my excuses for indulging in VS, the company is currently stuck in a bit of a PR mess after the launching of their spring break collection, “Bright Young Things.”

The collection is not its own line and is in fact part of Victoria’s Secret PINK, a line of lower-quality, brightly colored underwear and sweats. I’m probably wasting my time by explaining this since the prevalence of PINK loungewear makes it extremely recognizable. The in-your-face bright colors and giant letters (usually spelling “PINK”) emblazoned on the line’s wide variety of hoodies and sweatpants make it possibly the most recognizable apparel *ever*, especially in high schools and on college campuses (as I write this on my own campus, the girl sitting next to me is wearing PINK’s popular yoga pant). The “Bright Young Things” collection, although it comes from a high-profile lingerie brand, is really quite tame (relatively speaking) and many of the products resemble those sold by Aerie and Pacsun, other teen/young adult apparel brands. So, why the public outrage, documented for example by Huffington Post?

Well, it all boils down to semantics. The word “young” in the collection’s title has left a bad taste in the mouths of some, parent-bloggers in particular. Even The New York Times featured a post on its “Motherlode” blog criticizing the collection  (additionally, apart from the aforementioned entry, the Huff Post has published several blogs about PINK in the past few days). Many parents are wary of the suggestive words and phrases emblazoned on PINK’s line of panties, panties that for years have displayed flirtatious and sometimes downright rude messages. Parents are concerned that the PINK line risks “spillover” from its college-aged demographic to younger girls.

Well, of course it will—this is true of just about everything. If the older kids are doing it, younger kids will want in too. I know this is boring anecdotal evidence, but I remember seeing girls in PINK thongs in my middle school locker room (2003-2006). These girls didn’t have jobs or their own personal transportation and I doubt that many of them did their own laundry, so it’s probably safe to assume that the youngest girls who are wearing the line had to have a parent (or maybe a generous older sister or friend) buy it for them. I also might add that the PINK line is still *sized* based on young adult women, so there does come a point when an XS is still too large for many a tween girl. And for those younger girls who do physically develop early, why should they be barred from wearing certain clothing? A 32B is a 32B, whether it belongs to a 21-year-old or a 12-year-old.

I find this whole debate about what young girls wear problematic because I still think it draws heavily from the fear of a teen girl’s sexuality. Parents seem to take it as a given that their teenage sons will masturbate, but what about their daughters? Demonstrating to teen girls that their sexuality is threatening and shameful as opposed to natural is probably just as dangerous as demonstrating that girl’s sexuality is the only important thing about her. And while I am not a mother, I’m frankly a little shocked at how skittish parents seem to be about the “spillover” that even the PINK line itself claims will affect “15 and 16 year olds.” So what? Is 16 really that innocent of an age? By that age many teens will be old enough to drive and start part-time jobs and make purchasing decisions. While parents still have the right to throw out any clothes they don’t approve of, is the battle really worth it knowing your innocent little girl will be a legal adult in a mere two to three years?

At this point it seems as though I’m shifting all the “blame” in this scenario exclusively to parents. Of course parents have the responsibility to educate their kids about sex (and I can understand not knowing when the right time to do that is) but I can also understand the case against Victoria’s Secret. One commenter on the aforementioned Huffington Post article called attention to the use of the objectifying word “things” in the name of the PINK collection. No woman should be regarded as a “thing” regardless of the cutesy, naïve tone of the slogan. Although I am a fierce advocate for women feeling sexually empowered, I can understand how the PINK line seems to pander to the male gaze even more so than VS’s more provocative adult line. Some of the coy quips featured on PINK panties and nightshirts seem to even imply downright rape culture; past designs have included phrases like “PIN ME DOWN,” “YES NO MAYBE,” “PLAY WITH ME,” etc. Since PINK has stated that it is a brand targeted towards college-aged (and let’s be real here, high school) women, the playful tone of the brand’s slogans and designs is sending very complicated messages to young women: “I know that you know that these panties are referring to something *naughty*—but they’re still bright and in a handwritten, glittery font! Your girlish innocence will make you more attractive because your sexuality is non-threatening to your young male peers!”

Although I feel like I’m a bit late to this minor PR scuffle, I’m curious to hear other perspectives on the issue. As a childless, college-aged woman myself, I realize that my perspective is pretty biased. I still struggle somewhat with my “feminist values” especially regarding sexuality and the sexual messages that are communicated to teenagers by parents, schools, and the media.

What are your thoughts on this issue? Should VS tame its PINK line knowing that it is widely consumed by US teenagers? Or does all of the responsibility fall on parents (well, the parents who are offended by the line) to educate their kids about sexuality and sexual expression?

A parting thought: This website advertises an anti-rape panty campaign based on the PINK line. The panties, modeled by women of all sizes and colors, read messages such as “NO MEANS NO,” “RESPECT,” and “CONSENT IS SEXY.” Sadly, the line of feminist underthings was revealed to be a hoax in December and isn’t actually affiliated with Victoria’s Secret.

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3 thoughts on ““Bright Young Things”? Or Dark Old Misogyny?

  1. I got drawn into this debate too when browsing huffpost on this past Tuesday, and I had a few opinions myself.

    Capitalism is ingrained in American culture, that being said, Victoria’s Secret is a business with the goal of making money. As long as the panties they make are selling, they’re going to continue to make them. It’s not their job to regulate our daughter’s underwear drawer. I’ve read a lot of comments debating that we should keep teens out of Victoria’s secret. But VS shouldnt be our teens moral compass, the parents should.I understand that Victoria’s Secret sexualizes women, but as long as we all are encouraged to wear underwear and Victoria’s secret is an underwear store, all we teach young women by banning them from victoria’s secret is that sexuality is wrong, which is not true or fair.

    It reminds me of the theme in Harry Potter of not saying Voldemort. Not saying the name was a sign of fear and ended up giving more power than he deserved in the first place. The over sexualizing themes in Victoria’s secret’s campaigns could be used as an opportunity for parents to discuss sexuality and choices for young girls with their daughters, rather than hiding from it.

    – Another Childless Feminist College Student, E

    • I mean, ultimately I wish that companies like VS would take social responsibility and not manufacture apparel that leans towards rape culture. However, you do have a point, in that in a free market economy companies will merely manufacture what they think will sell best. If parents had such a problem with the PINK line and *all* members of the under-18 demographic stopped purchasing PINK’s apparel, then certainly the company would alter its marketing. Since there are still plenty of parents who don’t care what’s on their daughters’ underpants, the line will continue to make a hefty profit (hell, America’s teen girls can wear whatever they want; they could all go bra-less and panty-less for all I care).

  2. Pingback: Books for the Budding Feminist | Discharmed

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