What Former Models Are Saying About The Victoria's Secret Fashion Show

Trigger warning: The following article contains details of sexual abuse, assault, and disordered eating. 

For years, women were sold on the idea that unless they looked like a Victoria's Secret Angel supermodel, they were doing it all wrong. The once-popular lingerie store was originally intended to serve the male gaze instead of its overwhelmingly female clientele, and the annual televised fashion show featuring some of the world's most glamorous models served as an ever-prevalent reminder of what women "should" look like. The Victoria's Secret fashion show was often accompanied by sold-out musicians and, of course, the "Fantasy" bra — it was all exceedingly glamorous, and instantaneously made anyone over a size four increasingly self-conscious. But that was before the truth about Victoria's Secret and its fashion show came to light.

In both 2020 and 2021, former Angels and employees of Victoria's Secret came forward with harrowing details about the brand's culture and the fashion show's inhumane expectations. From concerning affiliations with the likes of Jeffrey Epstein to the lengths Angels would go to serve the brand's "look," the testimonies have been jaw-dropping. For anyone who felt as though the Angels promoted an unhealthy expectation of the female body, you're not alone — the Angels felt it, too. Here's what former models are saying about the Victoria's Secret fashion show.

A demeaning and abusive culture was cultivated by Victoria's Secret show auditions

In order to understand why the Victoria's Secret fashion show went to such lengths to promote unhealthy female body expectations, we have to revisit the core values of the company and who executives associated with. An investigative piece conducted by The New York Times found that convicted sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein was intimately involved with the Victoria's Secret fashion show, and from 1995 to 2006, he lied to up-and-coming models about his affiliation with the company and his ability to get them hired as Angels. In at least two of the auditions Epstein held for models, he assaulted them, according to court documents. 

"I had spent all of my savings getting Victoria's Secret lingerie to prepare for what I thought would be my audition," a Jane Doe testified during the Epstein trial. "But instead it seemed like a casting call for prostitution. I felt like I was in hell." So what did the executives at Victoria's Secret do with this information? Nothing. The New York Times reported that Leslie Wexner, the founder and chief executive of parent company L Brands, was informed about Epstein's behavior, but did not act on the complaints lodged against him.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

A former model wasn't hired back as an Angel after rejecting sexual advances

Some of the initial whispers that circulated about Victoria's Secret and its annual fashion show came from former model Andi Muise, who became an Angel in 2005 when she was just 17. To The New York Times, she claimed that her career started to go under when she rejected sexual advances from Ed Razek, one of L Brands' executives. Razek has allegations of inappropriate conduct and fondling lodged against him — Muise was just one of the models who allegedly suffered at his hands. 

In 2007, Muise reportedly became the recipient of sexually explicit emails from Razek. After the two shared a dinner together, Muise said she endured months of emails from Razek, one of which suggested that they move to the Dominican Republic together. "I need someplace sexy to take you!" Razek allegedly wrote. In order to stop any harm from coming to her career, Muise "maintained a polite tone" in her responses. But when Razek reportedly invited her to his home in New York so the two could have dinner together, Muise denied him. She was not picked for the Victoria's Secret fashion show that year, the first time in four years.

Selita Ebanks said that maintaining the brand's body standard went 'against Mother Nature'

The environment surrounding the Victoria's Secret fashion show was, as proven above, surrounded by predatory behavior. The same perspectives extended to the Angels' maintenance of their bodies. Selita Ebanks, a former Angel, told E! News in a "True Hollywood Story" episode that being a Victoria's Secret Angel meant going against nature itself, as trying to maintain the "fantasy" body type that the brand was so known for was basically impossible. 

"Modeling for Victoria's Secret, there's a code you have to follow," Ebanks shared, noting one of the more sizable complaints lodged against the brand in recent months. "There is [an] expectation to maintain the size, and unfortunately, we are going against Mother Nature. It is not something that's natural, it is not something that should happen. It's tough." She went on to share that being part of the Victoria's Secret fashion show was such a goal for her as a model that the effort of maintaining an unnatural body size felt as though it was worth it at the time. "To be a part of the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, for me, was more than just a job. It was the highlight," she shared, before recounting the lengths she went to to pursue the gig.

Selita Ebanks' life changed overnight due to the fashion show, but not in a good way

To speak out against a brand as prominent in the fashion and modeling industry as Victoria's Secret is brave to say the least, but former Angel Selita Ebanks talked all about the toxic environment that surrounded the brand and the show. "My life changed drastically, like overnight," Ebanks told E! News. "All of a sudden, people know your name. You find out friends that you thought were friends were not necessarily friends. A lot of other models didn't think that I was deserving of this contract, so I had to basically fight my way into their circle." And unfortunately, that inner circle was plagued by troubling perspectives surrounding the models' body types, diets, and the lengths that they should've been willing to go to maintain the brand and show's image. 

As discovered by a New York Times investigation, Leslie Wexner, the founder and chief executive of parent company L Brands, was asked about the brand's models and the body image that he was projecting into the fashion world as a result of the Victoria's Secret fashion show. His response to the question was described as "dismissive." "Nobody goes to a plastic surgeon and says, 'Make me fat,'" Wexner said, according to two witnesses.

Model Erin Heatherton's career with Victoria's Secret started to decline when she was just 25

When viewers watched the Victoria's Secret fashion show, they were instantly struck by the incredibly thin bodies of the brand's Angel models. For years, the body type was hailed by the brand (and by society at large) as what women should look like, but for former Angel Erin Heatherton, the lengths she went to maintain her figure were incredibly damaging. In a sit-down interview with "Fallen Angel" hosts Justine Harman and Vanessa Grigoriadis, Heatherton shared that when she was about 25, her career as an Angel began to dissolve thanks to her slightly changing body. 

"There was this certain point where everything that I was doing just didn't yield the same results," Heartherton shared on the podcast, a preview of which was given to People. "I was just a little bit bigger. In retrospect, that's just biology and how the body works. You're not the same size when you're 18 to when you're 25." In light of her changing physique, Heatherton succumbed to pressure that was "over the edge a little bit," and engaged in drastic dieting and exercise. In addition, she went to a nutritionist who "started me on this diet pill called phentermine, which my therapist later called 'bathwater meth.'"

Erin Heatherton resorted to drastic measures to maintain her Angel status

In an attempt to keep her job as a Victoria's Secret Angel, model Erin Heatherton resorted to unimaginable tactics to maintain her body size and proportions. In her interview with "Fallen Angel" hosts Justine Harman and Vanessa Grigoriadis, Heartherton shared that, in addition to taking the diet pill phentermine, she also started injecting herself with HCG, a hormone that is secreted during pregnancy. At the recommendation of her nutritionist, Heatherton went to these lengths in order to maintain a body type that was completely unnatural. 

"I was just like, 'Help me lose weight. What do people do?' He suggested something this other model did that worked for her. This is this nutritionist to the stars, whatever," she shared, as noted by People. "I started like a diabetic injecting my stomach every morning. I look back at it as like emotional cutting because I was so against everything that I was doing, but I was just reluctantly doing it almost to feel the pain or feel how wrong it was." To level this kind of information against such a powerful company as Victoria's Secret is bold to say the least, and Heatherton's comments came at a time when a number of models started speaking out.

Erin Heatherton believes that Victoria's Secret doesn't care about their models

In her interview on the "Fallen Angel" podcast, Erin Heatherton did not hold back. "I don't have any faith that these people really cared about me," Heatherton shared, as noted by People. "You know what I'm saying? It's just about business." The former Angel went on to share that she isn't "mad" at the brand, but neither does she have any "ties" to Victoria's Secret anymore. She revealed that she wanted to come forward in order to help anyone else battling body and eating issues, as her experience with the fashion show did a number on her well-being. 

"I share my story again because I don't want anyone to have an eating disorder or hate their bodies," she said. "I know what that feels like. I speak out only for people that might hear me and think, 'Hey, that makes sense,' or maybe that might change their attitude towards how they treat themselves." She went on to say that "aspirational" body influences can be obtained "without illness and eating disorders," but also shared that having an eating disorder took away her "freedom." "When you are confined to this shape it consumes your life," she said.

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, or know someone who is, help is available. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association website or contact NEDA's Live Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You can also receive 24/7 Crisis Support via text (send NEDA to 741-741).

Model Bridget Malcolm was denied from walking in the fashion show because she went up a size

The confessions from former Victoria's Secret Angel Erin Heatherton are, sadly, not isolated incidents. Model Bridget Malcolm also shared her harrowing experiences, and took to TikTok to reveal what she went through at the hands of the event and brand. In a post that is no longer available, Malcolm shared that as a young model, she was encouraged to "do cocaine to lose weight," and was told while she was still an underaged talent that she should "just have lots of sex to lose weight." As noted by People, it was at this time that she developed anxiety and depression, as well as anorexia and orthorexia. 

"I couldn't socialize without drinking. I was developing quite the reliance on Xanax and Ambien in order to get me through the night. And that was before I turned 18," she said. When it came time for the Victoria's Secret fashion show in 2017, the then-Angel was reportedly rejected by Ed Razek, partly because she had gone up to a size 30B from a 30A. "He said, 'My body did not look good enough,'" Malcolm shared. In a video posted on TikTok, Malcolm held up the 30A bra she had modeled in the 2016 show to her now-34B, and shared her sadness over her experience.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Bridget Malcolm said she was let go from the fashion show after gaining half an inch on her hips

Bridget Malcolm's exposure of Victoria's Secret, its branding, and its fashion show did not stop with her social media posts. She went on "60 Minutes" in Australia to further discuss what she had gone through for the fashion show, and shared that she used to go days without eating in order to live up to the brand's expectations. Revealing that she was so underfed that she could barely climb a flight of stairs, Malcolm did not hold back when it was time to critique the brand that put her on the modeling map. 

"I got a very interior glimpse at the machine that was running at that time and it was really sick. It was really unhealthy," she said. "At the start of 2017 it took me 10 minutes to climb a flight of stairs. I reached the top and I just had that awful, hollow feeling like, 'This is what the rest of my life is going to look like if I don't do something about it now.'" Malcolm went on to share that she was dropped by Victoria's Secret once she gained about half an inch in hip size, and that the bodily expectations that she'd failed to meet were "pretty clear."

Former Angel Bridget Malcolm blames the fashion show for her disordered eating

If taking more than 10 minutes to climb a flight of stairs wasn't concerning enough, former Angel Bridget Malcolm shared with Australia's "60 Minutes" that she blames the company and the fashion show for her disordered eating, as well as her increase in anxiety. While she was still trying to live up to the brand and show's expectations for her body, Malcolm shared that she would resort to starving herself, as it was clear what body type the executives were after. It should be noted that Victoria's Secret was designed with male clientele in mind, and that the fashion show served as the living embodiment of the fantasy that the brand was trying to perpetuate. 

"The longest I managed to go without eating was three days and I had to quit because I kept passing out. I was annoyed with myself because I was determined to make it to five days but I couldn't function, I couldn't move," Malcolm shared about her experience. "I remember being so angry with myself and feeling as though I had failed somehow on not being able to survive on water for that long."

Former Angel Rosie Huntington-Whiteley called out the fashion show and brand for being 'sexist'

When we think of Victoria's Secret Angels, we often think of Adriana Lima, Alessandra Ambrosio, and Tyra Banks. Another name that is up there in popularity is Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, who was signed by Victoria's Secret in 2006 and made an Angel in 2010. But after walking the show and making a name for herself within the brand, Huntington-Whiteley left the famed lingerie line. Over a decade later, she explained her reasoning in an interview with The Times, and shared that the fashion show and the brand at large was promoting unrealistic representations of women. 

"It was a different time and it's crazy to say that because it was 11 years, which is not that long," Huntington-Whiteley said, calling Victoria's Secret both "sexist" and "patriarchal." "I really feel that Victoria's Secret has lost its way in expanding in recent years. What was missing was the cultural change that people are looking for in your brand," she shared. While Victoria's Secret has changed its branding and fashion show status (more on that later), Huntington-Whiteley still expressed her "skepticism" over the changes. Similarly, Bridget Malcolm shared on TikTok that the "performative" shifts made by the company were not enough.

Former Angel Karlie Kloss also called out the brand for not being authentic to young women

Victoria's Secret has employed some of the modeling world's most impressive talents. One such former Angel is Karlie Kloss, who walked the runway for the brand from 2013 to 2015 — but after two short years, she decided to sever ties with the show and the brand. So what motivated her decision? Kloss shared with Vogue UK that at the time, she began a course in feminist theory at New York University. Her time in school dramatically impacted her perspective, and as such, she ended her contract with Victoria's Secret (a company that has been hailed by former models as "sexist," as mentioned earlier). 

"The reason I decided to stop working with Victoria's Secret was I didn't feel it was an image that was truly reflective of who I am and the kind of message I want to send to young women around the world about what it means to be beautiful," Kloss shared with Vogue. "I think that was a pivotal moment in me stepping into my power as a feminist, being able to make my own choices and my own narrative, whether through the companies I choose to work with, or through the image I put out to the world."

By 2018, the Victoria's Secret fashion show was canceled due to low ratings

While the impactful stories we have heard from former Victoria's Secret Angels about their experiences with the fashion show and the brand mostly came in 2020 and 2021, Victoria's Secret suffered a massive blowback in 2018. It seemed that the general public had caught on to the archaic nature of the male-centered lingerie brand, as many stopped tuning in to watch the Victoria's Secret fashion show. As reported by Business Insider at the time, the 2018 fashion show lost almost 2 million viewers from the previous year, and dropped by about 3 million viewers from 2016. 

The decrease in viewership came after Ed Razek told Vogue that he wouldn't consider putting plus-size or transgender models in the Victoria's Secret fashion show because, in his opinion, it would ruin the show's image. He explained his reasoning, stating that "the show is a fantasy" that he believed certain models didn't fit into. As a result, the Victoria's Secret fashion show was canceled, and it has yet to make any kind of comeback as of publication (although a reboot is reportedly in the works, as noted by CNBC).

In an attempt to salvage the brand, the Victoria's Secret Angels were abandoned

The impact of public outrage and the testimonies of former Victoria's Secret Angels forced the brand's hand, and in 2021, it was announced that the Angels and fashion show as we've known it for years would be abandoned. Instead, women from different walks of life and professions were hired to represent the changing face of Victoria's Secret, although time will tell if the brand can recover from years of declining sales and a tarnished reputation. 

As reported by The New York Times, Victoria's Secret opted to exchange the Angels for the likes of USA Soccer star Megan Rapinoe, Chinese American skier Eileen Gu, and body positivity advocate Paloma Elsesser. The rebranding of the company was described by The New York Times as "the most extreme and unabashed attempt at a brand turnaround in recent memory," as the company once defined by "sexy" announced they'd be doing everything in their power to change directions. Commenting on the rebrand, chief executive Martin Waters said, "When the world was changing, we were too slow to respond. We needed to stop being about what men want and to be about what women want."