Victoria's Secret is facing accusations of promoting a negative body image with a recent marketing campaign that features the superimposed phrase "The Perfect 'Body'" with an image of several underwear models who have slim body types.
Three British students are demanding that the company, which is the largest American lingerie retailer, apologize and alter the phrase on the advertisement. The campaign is a play on the wording for the company's "Body" bra collection.
But the current text, the women said, suggests there's only one ideal body type, and it fails to celebrate the diversity of all figures by naming only one as "perfect."The students, Frances Black, Gabriella Kountourides, and Laura Ferris, of Leeds, United Kingdom, created a petition on change.org.
"We would like Victoria's Secret to apologize and take responsibility for the unhealthy and damaging message that their 'Perfect Body' campaign is sending out about women's bodies and how they should be judged," they wrote on their website. They are asking the company not to use words that "promote unhealthy and unrealistic standards of beauty," and to pledge avoiding inclusion of "such harmful marketing" in the future.
Victoria's Secret didn't immediately respond to msnbc's request for comment.
The campaign perpetuates low self-esteem among women and contributes to a culture that permits health problems, including negative body images and eating disorders, they wrote.
"Victoria's Secret's new advertisements play on women's insecurities, and send out a damaging message by positioning the words 'The Perfect Body' across models who have exactly the same, very slim body type," they said.
The petition reached 8,000 signatures by Thursday morning. The women also took their petition to Twitter, rallying other people to spread the message with "#iamperfect."
Another underwear company joined the public outcry. Dear Kate, a New York City-based retailer, typically features women of all shapes and sizes in marketing campaigns. Founder Julie Sygiel said she was "shocked" when she first saw the Victoria's Secret ad.
"It blows my mind that they thought it was OK to put out a campaign that looks like that, and, in my mind, is irresponsible marketing," she told msnbc. "They probably didn’t think twice about the message that the ad is sending, but it does send a very strong message."
Sygiel said she initially thought the "body" referenced in the text of the ad indicated the physical figures of the models. It wasn't until she glanced at it again when she said she noticed it is meant to promote the "Body" bra collection. "People assume you're talking about the body. I think that's obvious," she said. "How many people are not going to understand that nuance and take a second glance at it?"
Sygiel's company Dear Kate also has fielded its share of controversy. In August, the company released a "nontraditional" ad showcasing six female founders and CEOs of tech companies posing in lingerie while holding laptops. Quotes from the women appeared next to the images and provided advice about how to ask for a promotion or how to succeed in the industry. The campaign went viral and reinvigorated the debate about women and body images. The models said posing in their underwear empowered women, though critics claimed the ad bolstered sexism, a particular problem in the tech industry.
"We try to show women doing things and looking comfortable and happy," Sygiel said. "We want to show women who are doing their own thing." Each Dear Kate line is named after a woman from history, including independent singer-songwriter Ella Fitzgerald and aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart. Ada Lovelace, the world's first female computer programmer, inspired the name of the collection featured in the August ad.
Victoria's Secret isn't the only large retailer to face public backlash about sizes and images. Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries created an uproar last year when he said his clothing company's policies exclude sizes bigger than a 10 or large. And earlier this year, specialty retailer J.Crew created a size smaller than an extra, extra small: triple zero.