The Difference Between Advocating For Inclusivity and Body Shaming

Every year when the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show rolls around, I watch the women around me vocally criticise themselves as they compare their body shapes to those of the tall, slender, and confident women who strut down the famous VS catwalk. And every year, I wait patiently for Victoria's Secret to send a confident, beautiful model with a body that looks like the majority of American women down their catwalk.  

Love it or hate it, the Victoria's Secret fashion show is inescapable. It's seen in more than 190 countries and last year, the show received by 1.4 BILLION views and did more than 150 BILLION media impressions.

Here's a sobering stat from Katty Kay & Claire Shipman's The Confidence Code that changed the way I feel about brands who refuse to advocate for inclusivity of diverse body types:  

90 percent of all women want to change at least one aspect of their physical appearance. Eighty-one percent of ten-year-old girls are afraid of being fat. And only 2 percent of us actually think you're beautiful.

This weekend, I shared a photo of myself to Instagram advocating for inclusivity. 

And while a lot of women understood what I was trying to say, there were a few comments inferring that I was body shaming-- 

"@Shannin_ I couldn't agree more... why are we shaming anyone? VS or not ? Every woman can have strength. This post and her message here bothers me"

"@Gokasego Why are you so worried about what the Victoria's Secret models look like if you're happy with yourself? Pretty sure you're shaming them"

"@Kldanielspearman You do realize a good portion of those models are actually sporty and strong too. So sick of this broad's skinny shaming." 

And to be honest, I could have done a better job of communicating my message. But here's what frustrates me, that because I said that I won't be watching the Victoria's Secret fashion show because of the lack of diverse body types and because I truly believe that I am strong, that I'm skinny shaming.

Body shaming is the act of criticising someone's appearance. If there is one thing I've learned after becoming a runner and a 3-hour 41-minute marathoner, it's that strength doesn't look a certain way. My US size 8/10/12 body looks nothing like the body of a Victoria's Secret model, but that doesn't mean that I'm not strong. And PLOT TWIST, just because I'm strong doesn't mean that I'm saying the VS angels aren't strong.  

They work their asses off. So do I. We just have different body types.

And that's my point.

Strength comes in all shapes and sizes. 

Every single woman deserves to move with confidence and swagger. It's just hard to love the skin you're in when you never see yourself represented as strong and beautiful. Right? I'm not worried about what the Victoria's Secret models look like. I'm worried about the women that Victoria's Secret isn't representing.

There's a difference.

I'm not arguing that these Victoria's Secret Angels aren't strong and beautiful. I'm advocating for inclusivity and the opportunity to see a diverse range of strong and beautiful women who happen to be rocking their different body types.

We know they exist! They're killing it on runways around the globe. And when we have 1.4 billion people watching a fashion show that celebrates a particular body type, we have to ask ourselves what kind of message that sends.

This year, VS put out a 'behind the scenes' series on YouTube leading up to the show and there was a moment in episode 1 that resonated with me.

VS 1.gif

The model in the video says, "I understand that Victoria's Secret is looking for a girl that's really confident in herself. At first, I was shocked, I was like why do they want me? I don't look like your typical Victoria's Secret model. But they took me in with open arms...I feel good in my own skin. The way I look. The way I am."

Sounds familiar, right? 

I really believe that helping women feel sexy and confident is what Victoria's Secret is all about. But listening to that model say, "I feel good in my own skin. The way I look. The way I am." I just can't help but feel disappointed that another year went by without Victoria's Secret helping more than just one body type feel beautiful, sexy, and empowered. 

Look, the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show is a work of art. The craftsmanship that goes into the pieces and the show itself is remarkable. I'm not over here standing on my soapbox screaming down with Victoria's Secret. It's a beautiful show. But it doesn't make sense why they're missing the boat.

Change doesn't happen overnight and even though it is a fight, we have to use our voices to advocate for change. No shame. No shade. Just smart, strong women drawing attention to the fact that women don't use the mirror as a tool for empowerment. And the damage we're doing by refusing to celebrate all types of strength is a problem. 

Health is not a look, it's a lifestyle. And everyone deserves to not only feel strong, sexy, and beautiful in the skin they're in but see themselves represented as well.