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The Secret's out?

by: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach - Last updated: 2003-12-07

I was standing on a Manhattan street corner recently speaking to a friend when our conversation was suddenly interrupted by a giant pair of breasts unlike any I had ever seen.

Gargantuan and incongruously sitting atop a New York taxi cab, they looked like giant bowling balls invading the Big Apple from another planet. To be sure, exposed breasts are a penny a pair on billboards all around America, and we have grown so desensitized to them that they at most evoke a momentary and instantly forgettable thrill like a field-goal kick in a professional football game.

But what made these particular breasts so memorable was they were unattached to any face. Like a prosthetic leg lying on the floor, or a wig thrown on a woman's dresser, the breasts were hovering there, disembodied and alone, as if someone had left them there by accident. They were restrained by a little piece of flimsy gold and black lace, evoking images of a bursting dam struggling against a mighty sea. And on top were the words, "Don't miss the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show on CBS."

Fast forward a few days later to the Sunday New York Times where readers needed no coffee to wake up as they were confronted by a full-page, color ad of three supermodels in sheer, almost see-through underwear, standing in a provocative pose of legs open and cracks-in-butts showing. This time, the caption read "The Sexiest Night on Television: The Victoria's Secret Fashion Show."

What struck me in both these ads was how Victoria's Secret, which – unlike Hustler and Playboy – is a clothing company, was no longer promoting undergarments or lingerie. Rather, like porn, they were highlighting body parts. I once admired Victoria's Secret as a store that could enhance the attraction between husband and wife by giving "ordinary" women the tools to feel desirable and look sexy. But not a semblance of that early innocence remains.

The ad campaigns are now designed not for well-intentioned women, but for lecherous men. Not to make women feel good about themselves, but to make men salivate after the supermodels who wear their clothing. Rather than enhancing women by giving them lingerie that can make them feel feminine, they are degrading women by catering to the most base male demographic.

Like cheap pornography on the Internet, the clear message from the "Victoria's Secret Fashion Show" is that women are the libidinous man's plaything, created by G-d to entertain men by parading around in their underwear. Adorning the outside of the stores are their window displays replete with the most explicit pictures of women in half-wire bras with their breasts spilling out and thongs that barely cover their private parts.

The fact that pictures like these are being displayed on Main Street USA rather than being consigned to adult book stores where they belong is astonishing evidence that the degradation of women has gone mainstream and that Victoria's Secret has gone from highbrow to low gutter.

When a spokeswoman for Victoria's Secret came on my radio show to promote romantic gifts for Valentine's Day, I told her that their message promoting romance was belied by their advertising campaigns depicting women as brainless bimbos and horny harlots. But what's even worse is the New York Times, "the newspaper of record," prostituting itself by publishing these pornographic pictures for money and CBS deciding to become the Playboy Channel in prime time.

Recently, a close male friend of mine told me excitedly that he had bought tickets to the taping of the "Victoria's Secret Fashion Show" on eBay for $2,000 and that a whole bunch of his guy friends were going. And all along, I stupidly thought that Victoria's Secret was a retail store for women.