Last night, 2017's Victoria's Secret Fashion Show premiered on CBS. For the most part, all was well and good; Jane Zhang, Leslie Odom Jr, Miguel, and Harry Styles all gave wonderful performances. The girls looked beautiful and poised, almost surreal. And the brand debuted its collection with Balmain. However, if you search "Victoria's Secret Fashion Show 2017," the first suggestion that comes up is "Victoria's Secret Fashion Show 2017 Fall."
Yes, the first televised fall in the show's history, by Chinese model Angel Ming Xi, was aired last night. She catches her heel in her skirt, tumbles to the commentary of CBS producers ("Ming is down!") and gets back up relatively gracefully, with Brazilian model Gizele Oliviera lending her fellow Angel a hand in picking her walk back up. To the sound of other Angels clapping, she finishes her strut, posing and walking backstage.
This is where the hairy ethics of the show start to become apparent. This beautiful young woman has just had what she admits to be one of "the hardest moments [she has] ever had to go through," and so naturally, when she gets backstage she starts crying. It's a natural response to a mortifying event, particularly when you're representing your own country (she was) and when your family is in the audience (they were). CBS, in tandem with the brand, had cameras backstage and managed to catch the crying on film. And they aired it on television.
If the Victora's Secret Fashion Show aired live, this would have been understandable, but it doesn't. It even films twice, once during dress rehearsal. Plus, they have a precedent for editing. In 2012, after backlash for sending Karlie Kloss down the runway in a Native American headdress, the brand removed the look from the broadcast.
Choosing not to edit out the fall makes it look like the two companies decided to use one model's embarrassing moment in order to push a superficial rah-rah-girl-power message to bolster their branding, each tweeting out "Angels always get back up" in a callback this morning, once the news had proliferated headlines.
Yes, the truth is sometimes embarrassing and otherwise bad things happen and we have to keep going. But in an increasingly volatile world, why should this be news? The phrase "angels always get back up" rings out of touch. We often look to the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, and other runways, aspirationally, but those who are watching the show don't necessarily want to be angels anymore. There is more than one thing to aspire to than beauty—and the tagline the companies are using belittles that.
Boiled down, CBS and Victoria's Secret took the hardest moment of a young woman's career and decided to capitalize on it. She will now be known as "the girl who fell," not "the girl who got back up," no matter what line they use. Eventually she may get past it, but for the time being it will define her. CBS and Victoria's Secret are changing the course of someone's career and their public identity to further an idea that doesn't even resonate. And the worst part? The didn't have to.