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Victoria’s Secret Goes to China: Femvertising and the Failed Promise of Empowerment

Jia, X. ORCID: 0000-0002-3595-8302 (2022). Victoria’s Secret Goes to China: Femvertising and the Failed Promise of Empowerment. In: Gwynne, J. (Ed.), The Cultural Politics of Femvertising: Selling Empowerment. (pp. 17-37). Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan. doi: 10.1007/978-3-030-99154-8_2

Abstract

As the largest retailer of lingerie in the United States of America (US), Victoria’s Secret (VS) has become a brand for promoting ‘sexy’ hyper-femininity. The brand’s annual lingerie show has long been a cultural spectacle. Since 2016, increasing numbers and varieties of Chinese cultural symbols have been seen on lingerie models at Victoria’s Secret annual fashion show and the company stands accused of cultural appropriation. In this chapter, the focus is on the femvertising of Victoria’s Secret advertisements, showing how the commercialised form of sexuality, with its promotion of sexiness as a positive, confident, and self-assured attitude, has updated neoliberal governmentality from disciplining women’s bodies to regulating women’s psychological life. This chapter shows not only how a specific type of sexually empowered postfeminist femininity is constructed and appropriated by the brand, but also brings a critical race perspective to the marketing practices of Victoria’s Secret as it travels from the US to China.

I will first delineate the sexualised representation of lingerie models by situating them in relation to the contradictory nature of postfeminist media culture – ‘a double entanglement’ of feminist and anti-feminist ideas. Can the representation of hyper-femininity be seen as ‘women’s success’ or as retro-sexism in the era of postfeminism? Second, the way that VS, in seeking to secure market share in China, shifted from using mainstream Chinese-looking models to newer hyper-white imagery is examined. The chapter explores this shift by examining the work of two models: Liu Wen and He Sui, demonstrating the dynamics of female beauty in contemporary China. Furthermore, VS seeks to claim a racially and culturally diverse brand identity, but in fact uses highly restricted ideas of Chineseness. The collision and fusion of traditional Chinese culture with a sexualised aesthetic raises questions about gendered, racialised, and transnationalised power relations.

Publication Type: Book Section
Publisher Keywords: cultural appropriation; female empowerment; femvertising; post state feminism; postfeminism in China; whiteness
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Departments: School of Arts & Social Sciences > Sociology
[img] Text - Accepted Version
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