Sexy survivors?

Victoria’s Secret is one of those enterprises that generally needs to be looked at from a very critical perspective. The company is guilty of cultural appropriation, perpetuating negative body image and fetishization.

Photo by Kayla Nguyen.
Photo by Kayla Nguyen.

Victoria’s Secret is one of those enterprises that generally needs to be looked at from a very critical perspective. The company is guilty of cultural appropriation, perpetuating negative body image and fetishization.

Having said that, it’s sometimes necessary to step away from the critical lens and acknowledge a company when it is on the cusp of doing something truly great.

Allana Maiden, a woman in her mid-20s residing in Richmond, Va., is the daughter of a breast cancer survivor. According to ABC News, she “doesn’t remember too much about her mother’s breast cancer diagnosis—and subsequent mastectomy.” What she does remember, though, is her mother’s struggle to “feel beautiful” and to find a bra that was functional as well as attractive.

Through, Maiden created a petition that, if successful, will push Victoria’s Secret to create a line of “survivor bras” for women who have gone through single or double mastectomies.

A survivor bra is a bra with a pocket that acts as a cradle for prosthetic breasts. These are meant for individuals who have not yet gone through or choose not to go through breast reconstruction surgeries.

Of course, this lingerie already exists. There are myriad online boutiques catering to survivors, including Nearly You, Woman’s Personal Health Resource and About the Girl. Diane Mapes of Health Today also reported that Nordstrom provides certified mastectomy fitters, and most stores “carry anything from surgical camisoles to pre-pocketed bras to pocketed bathing suits.”

While all of those resources are great, they’re not as accessible as we would hope. A smaller town or rural area is unlikely to have a Nordstrom and, let’s be honest, shopping for lingerie online is taking a gamble.

Maiden told Mapes that she chose Victoria’s Secret “because of the chain’s ubiquity and reputation.” Maiden is right about ubiquity; a smaller area, like central Oregon, is much more likely to have a Victoria’s Secret than it is a Nordstrom.

“They are everywhere,” she said. “When you think of bras, you think of Victoria’s Secret.” Whether you like the company or not, you must acknowledge that Maiden is correct in essentially calling VS the lingerie powerhouse.

Breast cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer ailing women today. The American Cancer Society predicts that in 2013 around 232,340 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women, and around 64,640 cases of noninvasive cancer will be diagnosed. This is followed by the chilling statistic that almost 40,000 women will die from breast cancer.

As disheartening as these numbers are, the ACS also stated that female breast cancer incidence rates began decreasing in 2000. This was followed by a 7 percent drop between 2002 and 2003. The ACS attributed this drop to the declining use of hormone therapy following menopause.

On a happier note, the ACS also reports that there are more than 2.9 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S. With all the medical advances that have come about in the last few years, the chances of surviving breast cancer are much higher as well.

While all that is good news, prevention is still key. Keep performing self-checks, and although the suggested age to begin yearly mammograms is 40, it might be better to start younger, though that’s up to each individual.

Back to Victoria’s Secret: The company has yet to officially get on board with Maiden’s petition, but online support is growing quickly. However, some are less than thrilled about the sex-infused stores getting behind such a cause.

Brandie Langer, a breast cancer survivor, told Mapes that, “[t]here’s no way I’m going to walk into a Victoria’s Secret where some perky 21-year-old is working, flash her my scarred chest and say ‘Help me find a bra,’” and continued that the whole idea of selling survivor bras would be “boiled down to sex, sex, sex.” Langer went on to say that the ads would include scantily clad girls donning survivor bras and that the company would never opt to include a real survivor, “because our breasts aren’t marketable any more.”

Maiden replied that she held those same concerns, but still put VS as her number one choice. At this time, Maiden said that she’s been in talks with the president of external communications at Victoria’s Secret, during which they’ve discussed projected lines of survivor lingerie and how they could forward the process. At this point there’s no definitive outcome, but here’s hoping for the best.

Despite negative connotations surrounding VS, this could be something really great. The company definitely has both the power and the money to turn this into a beautiful and empowering campaign for women currently fighting breast cancer as well as those who have emerged victorious.

Having said that, it’s important that this not turn into an overly sexualized fetish fest, as Langer pointed out. It’s important to remember what this would truly represent and who it would be marketed to. After the fight’s over, breast cancer survivors deserve to wear sexy underwear and feel comfortable more than anyone else—and, as much as I kind of hate to say it, no one does sexy and comfortable better than Victoria’s Secret.