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Victoria’s Secret owns up to perpetuating 'toxic culture' and 'a damaging standard of beauty' after song calling out the brand goes viral

Yahoo Life 8/16/2022 Kerry Justich
Victoria's Secret joins the conversation about body image sparked by viral TikTok song. (Photo: Getty Images) © Provided by Yahoo Life Victoria's Secret joins the conversation about body image sparked by viral TikTok song. (Photo: Getty Images)

Victoria's Secret is owning up to perpetuating "toxic culture" in response to a viral song named after the brand.

Singer-songwriter JAX shared the body empowerment anthem on social media where it gained attention for calling out the famous lingerie brand for profiting off of people's insecurities and creating unattainable beauty standards. CEO Amy Hauk responded to it with a public statement, while the artist explains that the song isn't meant to be a takedown of the brand.

"I think a lot of it is like the internet loves drama. So they love to paint this picture that JAX is spearheading this campaign against Victoria's Secret. And I'm like, no, no, I think you guys are not actually listening to the whole song," JAX tells Yahoo Life. "It was a play on words to represent a bigger thing. It was a big old metaphor for an entire era, and it continues, of teaching young girls and young kids that they have to look one particular way, or they're not sexy or they're not beautiful."

Her song was first introduced to TikTok in the same way that a number of her others are, as she filmed herself playing it for a girl that she babysits who had started to have conversations with her friends about body image. When the teen, Chelsea, recalled one of her friends making a negative remark about her figure, JAX was reminded of the experiences she had growing up that eventually led her to harmful behavior.

"I went through a very, very dark period. And I always had a problem singing about it because I never felt like I was fully recovered and I had to be recovered to talk about it," she says. "I keep mirrors out of my bedroom because it makes me happier to not obsess, so I am not fully there. But the thing that clicked in my head was when I realized that there were actually younger girls going through exactly what I went through and worse."

While JAX remembers the difficulty she had going through puberty and watching her body change as she was faced with unrealistic beauty standards plastered on billboards, magazines and on the infamous Victoria's Secret runway, she says that young girls and boys are still being exposed to those ideals. They're even faced with them on a daily basis as they open their social media feeds to filtered photos.

"I think I have something to say," JAX recalls thinking. 

Finally, she felt ready to work through some of her own trauma in the form of a song that could be healing for herself and so many others.

"I was really nervous when I was starting to write it because this could get really heavy and really dark really quick. But I don't actually think kids like Chelsea want to hear something really heavy and dark," she says, explaining that she wanted the song to be meaningful and fun. "The feeling I want people to have when they listen to the song is empowerment. And I want people to rage. I want people to be screaming this, chanting this and actually loving themselves by the end of the song."

That clip, posted June 7, has 39.2 million views as of publish and was posted before JAX even finished writing the song. It caught mass attention for poking fun at billionaire businessman Les Wexner who was the former CEO of the lingerie brand and was best known for putting the Victoria's Secret Angels at the forefront of the company's marketing. 

The full song, which was released on June 30, included more commentary on diet culture. 

"I wanted to call out the toxic catchphrases we had as a kid, the thunder fires and all that. But most importantly, when I wrote this song, I wanted to drive home the fact that not a single body is the same and whatever your self worth and self love is going to come from, it's not going to come from anything you see in the media, anything you see on social media, it's gonna come from you internally. And we have to fight for it," she says.

The song's popularity was solidified with a viral video that the artist posted on July 25 of herself and a group of people doing a flash mob performance in front of a Victoria's Secret storefront. Her goal was to "have as much representation in one video, one three-minute song as I possibly can, and make sure that everybody was showcased appropriately," which she admits was a difficult task. More than 30 million views later, she feels that part of her goal was accomplished.

"Ever since I started writing songs, I always said that I was going to do this for young girls," she says of creating impactful music. "When I was 12, I was like, 'One day, I'm gonna have 12 year olds, and they're gonna listen to my songs, I'm gonna be able to make some sort of tiny little difference in eternity with music.'"

To her surprise, even Victoria's Secret was paying attention. Hauk wrote an open letter addressing the artist and the impact of the song. 

"Jax's latest single 'Victoria's Secret' has resonated with many of her fans, including me. I want to thank Jax for addressing important issues in her lyrics. We make no excuses for the past. And we're committed to regaining your trust," part of Hauk's message reads. "As CEO of Victoria's Secret and PINK, I can wholeheartedly say that we are all committed to building a community where everyone feels seen and respected. And if we mss up or can do better, we want to know. We truly value your voice and are working to find new ways to listen and bring you into the conversation."

A Victoria’s Secret spokesperson sent the following statement to Yahoo Life:

At Victoria's Secret, we make no excuses for the past. We know the old VS lost touch with many people, projected a damaging standard of beauty, and perpetuated a toxic culture.

Today, we are proud to be a different company, with a new leadership team and mission to welcome, celebrate, and champion all women. We have made much progress, but recognize this transformation is a journey, and our work continues to become the Victoria’s Secret our customers and associates deserve — where everyone feels seen, respected, and valued.

We’re always open to engage with those looking to share feedback as we continue our transformation.

While JAX has used the song to share her experience with an eating disorder, she assures listeners that its purpose is to allow others to feel free of their own insecurities and give them the opportunity to share their truth as well. 

"The coolest part about it is that a million people started sharing their story with me. And it made me feel like I was not alone," she says. "People all over have the same story that I do the same internal struggle. For me. It's therapy I could never pay for."

In response to outreach from Victoria's Secret, JAX doubled down on that intention. 

"I don't feel comfortable speaking on behalf of an entire generation in a manipulative, non-inclusive marketing culture. And I do not wanna be the face of any company's 'We've Changed' ad. So, since Victoria's Secret is paying attention to my account I am asking anyone who feels like they never had a voice, or ever had a say in the matter to comment on this video," she said in her latest TikTok post. "You let them know what you need to feel safe and represented and comfortable and beautiful in today's society." 

Although her song is proving to have the power to heal some wounds for people within generations that lived through Victoria's Secret's heyday, JAX is most proud of the impact her message will have on young people, knowing how deeply it would have helped her.

"If I could be any help in preventing a young girl, boy, anybody from going through what I endured and am still enduring in the last like ten, fifteen years, put me in coach. I'll do anything," she says. "I just needed to speak my truth to younger kids."

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.

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