*Trigger warning due to size/diet-related topics*
Both Playboy and Victoria's Secret have signature looks and models associated with the brands (think Anna Nicole Smith and Adriana Lima, respectively). And while both brands have been peddling their version of the ideal woman for decades, we wondered if they were actually changing for the times and adapting to the more body-positive 2010s.
By looking at the journey of the brands and seeing how they've changed over the years, we saw which brand has become the most modernized — and the answer was surprising.
In order to see if the brands and their ideal women have changed over the years, you have to look at two things: the Playmates of the Year and the Victoria’s Secret Fantasy Bra.
Holding those titles is basically like being the Most Valuable Player within the two groups. Playmates of the Year are selected by the magazine's editors following an assessment of the magazine's readers poll, while Victoria’s Secret Angels chosen to wear the multi-million dollar Fantasy Bra are "picked" by the brand, so neither are really democratic decisions by consumers.
Although jewel-encrusted bras and bunny ears may barely concern some, these women — and their images — are heavily marketed and have a lasting impact on consumers. The women chosen to carry the titles exemplify the perfect woman according to the brand.
Take a look at how Playboy's Playmate of the Year has transformed, and what it says about their impact on body ideals over the decades.
In the 2000s through today, we've seen the Playmates of the Year become shorter than those of the '90s, but their waist sizes haven't changed much.
In the 1970s, Playmates of the Year on average were about 5' 6" inches and their waists hovered around 23 inches. In the '80s and '90s, the models suddenly shot up to 5'8", but still had about a 23-inch waist.
The 2000s brought much shorter Playmates at 5'5", but with minor waist changes. From 2010 through 2016, the average Playmate of the Year had a 24-inch waist and stood at 5'6" tall.
The bust size of Playmates in general (not Playmates of the Year), has actually decreased from the '90s through 2008, while cup size has stayed around a C to D, according to Wired. There was an increase in breast augmentations in the US in 2006 versus 2005, and with silicone implants getting approved by the FDA that same year for cosmetic reasons, it's definitely not a coincidence.
What's most telling is that the differences between the various Playmates of the Year is just a matter of a few inches. Clearly, body diversity hasn't greatly improved throughout the decades; the brand STILL has a ways to go.
While the Victoria's Secret's Fantasy Bra hasn't existed as long as Playmate of the Year, the bra (and the model chosen to wear it) still has an impact on body ideals.
The Fantasy Bra actually existed before chairman and CEO of L Brands Leslie Wexner even created the Victoria’s Secret Angel concept in 1998, but the bra has since become a way to mark the “it” model of moment. Victoria's Secret models claim to train like Olympians, so wearing the Fantasy Bra is equivalent to receiving the show's gold medal.
Despite a constantly rotating cast, the models chosen to wear the Fantasy Bra haven't varied that much since the bras were first created in 1996.
By having Heidi Klum and Adriana Lima wear the bra more than any other models (three times apiece), the brand has turned the two into revered supermodels, while also showing how unattainable the brand's body ideals really are even for Victoria's Secret models.
Although there isn't much quantitative data available about the sizes of the Victoria's Secret models when they wore the Fantasy Bra, the women chosen to wear the bra the most speak volumes about the brand's version of the perfect woman: one with a slim-yet-athletic body.
In 2011, Lima was under scrutiny for revealing TOO much about her pre-show diet routine.
In an interview with The Telegraph, Lima shared her controversial liquid diet. It definitely stood out in comparison to the "healthiness, not just thinness" mantra models have repeated over the years.
“For nine days before the show, she will drink only protein shakes - ‘no solids.’ The concoctions include powdered egg. Two days before the show, she will abstain from the daily gallon of water, and ‘just drink normally.’ Then, 12 hours before the show, she will stop drinking entirely,” The Telegraph reported.
Soon after, Lima backtracked on her comments, calling it a “misunderstanding” and even showing a piece of cake while talking to E! Canada. She said she goes back to a “normal” routine following the show, because, well, even she knows that getting VS-ready isn’t exactly "normal" or easily attainable.
Most recently, Playboy has expanded its idea of the Playmate with size-inclusive, age-defying, and LGBTQ-inclusive photo shoots.
In June 2017, Playboy had its original Playmates recreate their iconic covers, breaking the ageist ideals of what Playmates should look like. Playboy also fought gender norms by casting its first transgender Playmate, Ines Rau, for its November/December 2017 issue. And when the brand was met with criticism for the casting choice, the magazine reminded everyone the first Black Playmate in 1965 was met with similar hostility. In fact, that wasn't the first time the brand ever had a transgender model in its pages — Caroline "Tula" Cossey appeared in the magazine all the way back in 1981.
In probably its most body-positive move yet, its international title, Playboy Brazil, made headlines when it had plus-size model Fluvia Lacerda cover the January 2017 issue.
Although the brand has made noteworthy steps this year, it still needs to make major moves regarding body diversity, since the average sizes of Playmates of the Year aren't that varied.
Although Victoria's Secret drags its feet on body positivity, the public has been very vocal about wanting size and gender inclusivity on the VS runway.
The brand has received pushback from consumers for not offering a wider range of sizes in stores or featuring plus-size models on the runway. In fact, back in 2014, the brand changed its "A Perfect Body" UK ad campaign to "A Body for Every Body" after a Change petition circulated that received over 30,000 signatures.
Both brands and individuals alike have encouraged Victoria's Secret to expand its idea of an Angel, but, as of yet, to no avail. Over 40,000 people signed a Change petition in 2013 to have Carmen Carrera be Victoria's Secret's first transgender model, although she wasn't cast. In November 2017, supermodel Ashley Graham’s Instagram post of her wearing VS Angel wings went viral, proving how much people want to see a woman like her walk down the runway. Most of these efforts, supported by tens of thousands, have gone virtually ignored by the brand.
What’s odd is that when Victoria's Secret actually IS body positive, the brand is pretty silent about it.
In 2016, the brand published unretouched images on Getty of Jasmine Tookes' stretch marks, but didn’t post them on its Instagram or clarify whether or not the move was intentional. It was definitely a missed opportunity for the brand to embrace the unretouched trend that other successful lingerie brands such as Aerie have adopted, as instead it stayed mum on the subject.