When I saw the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show posts starting to pop up in my WeChat moments feed, I knew exactly what to expect from the Interwebs. My first reactions were 1) LOVE the Victoria’s Secret extravaganza: Impressive, outlandish, borderline comical, and so much fun to watch. 2) Oh cool it looks like Chinese New Year came before Christmas! And finally 3) LOOK AT ALL THE CHINESE MODELS!!!
Elsa Hosk in the 春節 festive dragon.
Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Victoria’s Secret via Forbes.com
Lais Ribeiro (love) in… Literal strips of Chinese culture.
Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images for Victoria’s Secret via Forbes.com
The Chinese (WeChat) netizens ate it up, just in time for the Shanghai flagship opening. Most of the articles on WeChat are raving about the “Four Chinese Beauties Taking Over Victoria’s Secret!” and “Spring Festival Lingerie Show!” The national pride is palpable, and good on them. China has become an undeniable presence in the world, and I share their excitement. No mention of cultural appropriation specifically, but some have pointed out that the “Chinese style” in the outfits didn’t really reflect traditional Chinese aesthetics.
As a former model, I was happy to see a total of four Chinese models on stage. Growing up in Taiwan, it was common to see only Caucasian models on the covers of magazines. There’s even a very popular Japanese fashion magazine called ViVi that mainly casts mixed race models. Strange, I know, but that’s how it used to be. That’s how it still is, sometimes.
Xi Mengyao, Sui He, Ju Xiaowen, and Liu Wen, the four top Chinese models who walked the 2016 VS Fashion Show.
Photo from Liu Wen’s Instagram @liuwenlw.
Luckily for me, by the time I started modeling the Chinese market had begun to gain notice. Even as I cringed at the seemingly blatant attempt to appease the Chinese consumers with a token Asian model here or there, it represented an important shift in the modeling industry. Heck, even Taiwanese designers would sometimes cast me as the sole Asian model in a lineup of Caucasians. I didn’t complain, but I did hope there could be more Asian models at the top, and it thrilled me whenever I saw one in an editorial or on a cover.
Can you find me in the line-up?
That said, did it really need to be four Chinese models? There are women of other Asian ethnicities that could benefit from this “diversity” initiative. Asian women don’t all look like Ju Xiaowen, Liu Wen, Sui He, and Xi Mengyao, and friendly reminder: Asian women are not all Han Chinese women.
I don’t claim to know if the four Chinese models are all Han Chinese, more that their features are commonly associated with our ethnic group. Yes, it would be laughable to claim that models can represent their race. I’m a meager 5'9" and already an anomaly amongst my fellow Taiwanese, and the extreme weight requirements of the modeling industry is an important subject for another day.
Victoria’s Secret has huge global reach, and getting those covetable wings opens doors to extraordinary opportunities. Like them or not, modeling is a tough job. Sure, many of these girls are born slim, and few in the world are blessed with the genetic makeup that gives you Amazonian height along with beautiful proportions (I don’t like them, either. Not really. OK, maybe a little bit).
But there’s no denying these women work hard as hell to stay fit and disciplined in a competitive industry full of rejections, temptations, and impossible standards of beauty. I applaud every single woman who has come this far.
So to all of the Victoria’s Secret Angels, congrats on your incredible achievements that earned you the spot on the runway. And to Victoria’s Secret: Great job on another fun show and good efforts in representing diversity of race and culture. The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is global event and an amazing platform, and it means a great deal for women of all types to be represented. I respect your business smarts and effective befriending of Chinese consumers, and I loved seeing Maria Morges with her TWA.