Victoria’s New Secret
In September 2012, a CNN article called attention to Victoria’s Secret “Go East” Collection. One particular number in the collection – the “Sexy Little Geisha” – raised eyebrows, especially from the Asian-American community. Many found it offensive and accused Victoria’s Secret of exploiting sexual stereotypes of Asian women.
Joz Wang, co-editor of the blog 8Asians, could see why the getup was called racist. The catalog picture of a voluptuous blonde model in a sheer mesh teddy with cutouts and strategically placed Asian floral patterns is a hyper-representation of the geisha girl. “Part of me says: maybe they’re just clueless,” said Wang, who noted that Victoria’s Secret has not used Asian models very much – in their catalogs or on their runways. So, it is plausible that they just didn’t know.
Bust, a woman’s pop culture magazine, pointed out that there wasn’t necessarily anything wrong with a clothing company incorporating Japanese patterns. “That in itself isn’t racism, it’s globalization,” but, “considering the complicated history of geishas, repurposing the ‘look’ for a major corporation to sell as role-playing lingerie seems a bit tasteless,” Bust said.
As we have learned in class, Asian women are typically typecast in Western society as the Dragon Lady or the Butterfly (though in this article, they use the China Doll typecast instead). Says Wang, “I think this has caught fire, especially with Asian American women, who are having to overcome exotic stereotypes.” Additionally, she notes that it doesn’t help to see “something that was so overtly Orientalist and exploitational,” Wang said.
Wang found it interesting that the Victoria’s Secret model wearing the “Sexy Little Geisha” was not Asian, but white. Cornell University’s Minh-Ha Pham, an academic whose research focuses on the convergences of race, gender, fashion and social media, said it was significant that the model was obviously white. The image was a version of racial drag that has a long history in the United States, said Pham, curator of the blog Of Another Fashion. “Playing Oriental,” or as we call it in class, “Yellow Face,” can be traced back to 1900s Vaudeville stages, where playing out fantasies of racial exoticism (as a way of dealing with racial anxieties) was a wildly popular cultural activity.
Victoria’s Secret has remained silent on the matter. A CNN call to a company publicist still has not yet been returned.
By Priscilla Hsu
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