A Victoria’s Secret-Style Runway Show with Underage Girls Sparks Controversy in China

A Victoria’s Secret-type fashion runway show featuring young Chinese girls wearing revealing lingerie and accessories has caused a public outcry in the online community in China. The organizer, a shopping mall located in Southwest China, was criticized for inappropriately sexualizing young girls.

Since the story broke, first by the Daily Mail on August 9, and then on a number of Chinese media sites including Sina Fashion and Jinri Toutiao, it has inspired heated debate by internet users over whether it is appropriate to dress underage girls like Victoria’s Secret’s models. Most  commenters were against the idea, and that’s putting it mildly.

Based on photos of the fashion show, which are circulating on the internet in China, these underage models, whose ages have still not been revealed, were dressed up in bikinis decorated by accessories such as leather and diamonds. Some of them even carried angel’s wings, which is one of the most iconic accessories for models in the annual Victoria’s Secret fashion show.

Besides the highly controversial costumes, the strong makeup and dramatic hairstyles worn by the girls caused further discomfort to Chinese parents. In Chinese culture, children are generally not allowed to wear makeup and even adult women don’t ordinarily wear full-face makeup.

Victoria’s Secret and its highly-visible annual fashion show certainly are one of the most popular Western brands and cultural events among Chinese consumers. For many young women in China, the Chinese supermodels that walk the runway for the show such as Liu Wen, Ming Xi and He Sui are what they admire and hope to gain. That’s why many people believe the brand was signaling a bright future in China when it opened the first fully-stocked store in Shanghai earlier this year.

The brand has hit a few bumps when it demonstrated a lack of sensitivity when trying to appeal to Chinese customers. Last November, when Victoria’s Secret sent models down the runway in dragon-themed costumes, online users made fun of Elsa Hosk’s dragon wrap, Adriana Lima’s embroidered stiletto boots, and Kendall Jenner’s phoenix wings. But in that instance, criticism was targeted at the cultural misappropriation.

The shopping mall that copied the idea of the lingerie brand, however, provoked accusations of sex and gender discrimination as well as the infringement of children’s rights.

For example, one Weibo, one commenter said, “What kind of parents send their daughters to this?”

Another user equated the event with “pedophilia,” saying that “normal people only admire beautiful bodies of adult women. What do you want to show with underage girls? Only pedophiles want to see that!”

Some commenters held the opposite view believing the critics are too conservative about gender.

“There is nothing special about it,” one commenter said. “It is just a show. Only strange people think it strange.”

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