What the Church can learn from Victoria’s Secret

Never did I ever think I’d write that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints could learn something from Victoria’s Secret, but. . . the Church could really learn something from the PR response of Victoria’s Secret to the song “I know Victoria’s Secret” by Jax that has become a viral phenomenon.

Jax reacting to the CEO of Victoria’s Secret response to her viral song, “I know Victoria’s Secret”

Jax, previously a competitor on American Idol, wrote this song for a girl she babysits who was struggling with body image. Jax knows body image struggles all too well, and says that media portrayals of the ideal body type she saw as a teen encouraged her to develop body dysmorphia and years of eating disorders. So she wrote “I know Victoria’s Secret” to address how girls are manipulated into unhealthy thoughts and actions.

The chorus of the song reads:

I know Victoria’s secret
And girl, you wouldn’t believe
She’s an old man who lives in Ohio
Making money off of girls like me
Cashing in on body issues
Selling skin and bones with big boobs
I know Victoria’s secret
She was made up by a dude (dude)
Victoria was made up by a dude (dude)
Victoria was made up by a dude

Jax first shared the song on Instagram and Tik Tok, and when it took off, released it as a single with her label, Atlantic. It has been streamed millions of times, is playing by radio stations, has hit the Billboard 100 chart, and is part of viral content with people sharing their own stories on social media.

While the song calls out Victoria’s Secret specifically, Jax has clarified that it isn’t about that one brand, but larger systemic issues of corporations and media that feed the idea of only one acceptable body type in order to push products to obtain the unobtainable. For her, it isn’t about the models who have been used by the system, but the impressionable young girls who are told they need to contort themselves into a single shape to be worthy of love.

When a corporation is called out by name, they can respond in various ways. They can have lawyers send a cease-and-desist letter to have the content removed (as singer Cherie Call once experienced), and if the artist will not, proceed with a lawsuit for civil damages. They can attack the character of the content creator. They can ignore the callout and pretend the conversation about systemic issues isn’t happening. They can use their immense financial resources in any number of ways to make the life for the artist challenging.

But in this instance, the CEO of Victoria’s Secret, Amy Hauk, responded on Instagram with a hand-written note thanking Jax for addressing important issues and committing to do better in building a community “where everyone can be seen and respected.” She said, “We make no excuses for the past. And we are committed to regaining your trust.”

Brava, Amy.

Of course, this is not the first time that Victoria’s Secret has been called out for ways that they have strategically marketed a single body type that is unrealistic and unhealthy for most people. And despite recent changes with new plus-size options and broader visual representation with their models, Victoria’s Secret has a long way to go to be an inclusive, body-positive brand. But just because they have not always responded with a public commitment to change in the past does not mean that they cannot or should not do so now.

Maybe this is just a PR stunt to offer a positive public response and private legal action will follow. I hope not. But responding to criticism with grace, no excuses, and a commitment to listen and change is an excellent place to start. It will need to be followed with meaningful action, or any future response to criticism will ring hollow.

When an individual speaks out that they have personally been harmed by a multi-billion dollar organization and that they see ongoing systemic issues that continue to hurt people, it is possible for the organization to do more than ignore the issue, make excuses, or attempt to diminish or silence the speaker.

If Victoria’s Secret can publicly acknowledge problems and commit to doing better, then the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which teaches a gospel of repentance, can do so, too.

Katie Ludlow Rich

Katie Ludlow Rich is a writer and independent scholar focused on 19th and 20th-century Mormon women's history.

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6 Responses

  1. Abby Hansen says:

    This song has been in my head since it was released, and now it’s back again after reading this (not that it ever left, really 😄). But I saw this, too! Why is it so hard for the church to step back and take valid, constructive criticism from people who have been harmed when a lingerie company can manage to do it? It’s crazy.

  2. Hogarth says:

    When Elder Uchtdorf acknowledged the Church had made “mistakes” in the past, President Nelson corrected that “mistake” by demoting him back to the Twelve.

  3. Mikaela says:

    Unfortunately this is not just limited to modern times. The last year of Old Testament study clarified that we don’t even feel safe making criticisms of church leaders from thousands of years ago.
    If we can’t openly discuss the mistakes of Old Testament leaders how can we ever reach a point of addressing any missteps within the modern era.
    Also, due to the popularity of the song and decreased sales, this admission by VS was their best move. Until the church is in a position where an admission of fault feels like the safer, more profitable bet I don’t see it happening. There is still $100 billion to lose. In addition, VS CEO’s don’t claim to be led by God and have no need to worry about how their actions affect the image of the previous CEO. They also didn’t spend decades working together with the knowledge the only way the previously leader would be ousted was death. When fresh leadership can swoop in and throw the previous guy under the bus without any harm to their own image/institution it makes change significantly easier.
    Despite the fact we claim to believe in ongoing revelation and a “living church”, a lot of people want to suffocate any new thoughts or ideas with a corset of conformity.

  4. Bailey says:

    Thank you for writing this. Why is it so hard for the church to own its mistakes and say they will do better as an organization? I learned this in Primary. When you hurt someone, even by mistake, say sorry. Do better. Learn grow. Model at an organizational level what we say individuals need to do. Not doing that only fosters disconnection and distrust.

  5. JC says:

    One of my favorite quotes is, “Never underestimate the power of ‘I’m sorry.'”

    An apology goes a long way, but the apology needs to be put into action. I hope Victoria’s Secret will act and do better, and not just rest on its apology note. The church needs to do the same: say sorry and then create change to make things better.

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