Former lingerie model Kylie Bisutti, who won a modelling competition run by Victoria’s Secret in 2009 (she was 19 at the time), has written a memoir titled “I’m No Angel: From Victoria’s Secret Model to Role Model” in which she slams the brand for mistreatment and exploitation.
Kylie Bisutti at the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show in 2009. Image from Rex Features.
The New York Post first reported the story on Tuesday with some words from the former model. This is a segment of the entire story:
“That’s when it hit me. I was being paid to strip down and pose provocatively to titillate men. It wasn’t about modeling clothes anymore; I felt like a piece of meat. The next day, I broke down and started sobbing. I was in my bedroom and dropped to my knees and started to pray.
“God, why did you have me win the Victoria’s Secret Angel competition if it was going to make me feel this way? I’m not honoring my husband. I just want answers!”
That was two years ago. Today, I’m living in Montana with my husband, enjoying the fresh air and volunteering with our church.”
I find it difficult to believe that Kylie Bisutti had no idea what she getting herself into. Victoria’s Secret is one of the most visible lingerie companies in the world and watching the annual fashion shows from an early age should have made things crystal clear. The brand operates on sex appeal and has never tried to disguise itself on that front. They don’t sell cocktail dresses or bridal gowns; they sell underwear, and have continued to cling on to idealised perceptions of female beauty (curves, smooth skin, long legs, flowing hair, etc.) from the get-go. I’m certainly not saying that the brand is innocent here. In fact, there is a laundry list of problems with the company (read here and here), but isn’t this just a little hypocritical?
The Black Eyed Peas performing at the 2009 show. Image from Last FM.
I’d also like to point out some of the insidious effects of her arguments. The title of her memoir is problematic in itself because it suggests that being a lingerie model and a Christian role model are mutually exclusive. Vogue UK reported that Bisutti is actually working with a Christian brand to release “modest clothes” modeled by women of “all shapes and sizes” to counter the fact that her “career was sending a bad message to women about confidence and body image”. Under her paradigm, for a woman to express her sexuality beyond a private domestic environment with her husband is corrupt, un-Christian, and morally dangerous. It seems that having control of your sexuality is not okay if you’re going to make money out of it.
Victoria’s Secret publicly responded to Bisutti’s allegations with the following statement:
“She was never a Victoria’s Secret ‘Angel’ as defined by the terms of our Angel model contract. And contrary to Ms. Bisutti’s claims, she was never offered any subsequent modeling contracts or opportunities with Victoria’s Secret despite her multiple appeals for further work. She has repeatedly fabricated her work experience with Victoria’s Secret – including a relationship that simply did not exist.”
I don’t agree with a lot of what she has said but I commend her for refusing to do anything she wasn’t comfortable with, even if the statement implies that she was never in demand to begin with. Being a model is a dream for many young girls, and most of them travel to countries where they don’t know anyone and can’t speak the local language. But Victoria’s Secret and Terry Richardson, who has had several allegations of sexual harassment made against him, are two completely different things. I’m more concerned about Bisutti’s slightly medieval views on sex and for demonizing Victoria’s Secret as a perpetrator of sexual corruption. There are plenty of grounds on which to criticise the lingerie company but using sex in advertising (honestly, who doesn’t do this?) to sell lingerie is not one of them.