Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show 2016: Cultural Appropriation or Business Smarts?

OK, I think that’s about as click-baity as my headlines will ever get. Hi, my name is Vickie, a former model from Taiwan and reader of Cosmopolitan and a recent shopper at Victoria’s Secret (they have good panty deals).

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. Lo and behold, Cosmopolitan responded with “Why Can’t Victoria’s Secret Stop Designing Racist Lingerie?” The article has since been pulled from their website and I was only able to read the original article once in full before the cached page was updated with “Everything There Is to Know About the 2016 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.”

This one I loved. Sass for days, and on their second try, the authors Helin Jung and Rachel Torgerson highlighted the three black models who walked the show in natural hair, and another who walked while pregnant (commitment!). I dig the wider spotlight and the quick save.

But not before a few other channels have picked up the first headline.

Elsa Hosk in the 春節 festive dragon. Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Victoria’s Secret via

What are your thoughts on this? Personally, my first reactions to the outfits were 1) typical Victoria’s Secret extravaganza: Impressive, outlandish, borderline comical, and so much fun to watch. 2) Oh cool it looks like Chinese New Year! And finally 3) LOOK AT ALL THE CHINESE MODELS!!! But why don’t they get to wear the dragons I’d want to wear the dragon if I were one of the four Chinese models in the show but I guess that would be typecasting and would this be considered cultural appropriation but since I’m Asian, does that mean I’m qualified to judge on what’s cultural appropriation or not and if it is cultural appropriation, but I sort of like it, what does that make me *audible gasp*?

Lais Ribeiro (love) in… Literal strips of Chinese culture. Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images for Victoria’s Secret via

Bit of a mixed bag of reactions, sure. But at least my enthusiasm seems to be echoed by the WeChat posts popping up in my Moments feed. If Victoria’s Secret is trying to appeal to the Chinese consumers, congrats y’all, it’s working. The Chinese (WeChat) netizens are eating 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!” 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. The national pride is palpable, and good on them. China has become an undeniable presence in the world, and I share their excitement. It’s as good as watching your sport team win that important game (excuse my feeble attempt at a sports analogy).

This meme speaks to me.

As a Taiwanese person and a former model, I was happy to see a total of four Chinese models on stage. When I was 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. 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, I knew it represented an important shift in the modeling industry, and that it would increase my chance of traveling for work (even though I only got as far as Shanghai). Heck, even the Taiwanese designers would sometimes cast me as the sole Asian model in a lineup. I didn’t complain, but I did hope there would be more Asian models at the top, and it thrilled me whenever I saw one in an editorial or a cover.

One of my favorite Chinese top model, Fei Fei Sun. Photo by Karim Sadli for COS.

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 of theirs. Asian women don’t all look like Ju Xiaowen, Liu Wen, Sui He, and Xi Mengyao, and friendly reminder to Glamour (and thank you to Ryan at NextShark): 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 that ethnic group. Yes, it would be laughable to claim at all that models alone can represent a 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.

Xi Mengyao, Sui He, Ju Xiaowen, and Liu Wen, the four top Chinese models who walked the 2016 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. Photo from NextShark, but originally appeared on Liu Wen’s Instagram @liuwenlw.

Victoria’s Secret has huge global reach, and getting those covetable wings opens doors to extraordinary opportunities. I applaud every single woman who has come this far. 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 (and I don’t like them, either. Not really. OK, maybe a little bit). But there’s no denying these women worked hard as hell staying fit, persistent, and disciplined in a competitive industry full of challenges, temptations, and impossible standards of beauty. As the new-and-improved Cosmo post pointed out, Lily Aldridge and Sara Sampaio did squats until right before the show! And have you seeeeeen Gisele or Adriana Lima throw a punch?

Gisele Bündchen for Under Armour

So to all of the Victoria’s Secret Angels, congrats on your incredible achievements that earned you the spot on the runway (except… Does anyone else think Kendall Jenner’s walk is still a bit wobbly? Or is it just me?). Kudos to Cosmopolitan for your updated article. And to Victoria’s Secret: Great job on another fun show and your effort in representing diversity of race and culture. I respect your business smarts and effective befriending of the Chinese consumers, and I loved seeing Maria Morges with her TWA. You have such an amazing platform, it would be great to see even more women of all types in your creations.