Two weeks ago, Jacinto, a 26-year-old Bay Area blogger and non-profit development manager, most likely became one of those factors.
It all started here. "I saw a link to [Victoria's Secret's Go East] line on the blog, Angry Asian Man," she says.
"Hooray for exotic orientalist bull----," wrote the blogger who included a link to the "Asian-inspired" lingerie line's centerpiece: "The Sexy Little Geisha," a mesh teddy that comes with an obi belt, chopsticks and a fan.
Immediately Jacinto sat down to write an insightful post on why she found the outfit, and the line in general, offensive. "It's the kind of overt racism masked behind claims of inspired fashion and exploring sexual fantasy that makes my skin crawl," she wrote in article published September 6 on the blog Racialicious, a site for commentary on the intersection of culture and race.
"There's a long-standing trend to represent Asian women as hypersexualized objects of fantasy," wrote Jacinto. She also took umbrage with the lingerie description as "your ticket to an exotic adventure" and the fact that none of the models for the collection were of Asian descent.
"The lack of Asian women here simply exposes the deep-rooted nature of the Orientalist narrative, one that trades real humanness for access to culture," she wrote. "Besides, it can only feel sexy and exotic if it's on an "American" body—without the feeling of accessing something foreign or forbidden, there can be no fantasy."One week after Jacinto posted her piece, the feminist website Bust picked up on the story. When the Bust reporter went to check out the teddy described in Jacinto's story, it had disappeared from the site. According to Bust, a Victoria's Secret rep suggested the teddy had simply "sold out." A week after that, The Frisky's Jessica Wakemen wrote about the offending and mysteriously missing teddy in question. "Considering the complicated history of geishas, repurposing the "look" for a major corporation to sell as role-playing lingerie seems a bit tasteless," she wrote.
By the afternoon, major news outlets like the Huffington Post began calling blogger backlash to Victoria's Secret a "controversy." The Daily Mail noted that the teddy and the Go East line in its entirety had been removed from the company website and replaced with the main product page.
The company still hasn't released a statement or confirmed its decision to remove the line, and had not returned Yahoo! Shine's request for comment at press time.
Over on Twitter, the audience is divided on the issue of whether the geisha teddy is offensive. "Can we please stop fetishizing Asian cultures?" asks one Twitter user. "I'd still wear it," adds another. On the brand's Facebook page, a VS superfan asks when the line is coming to Australia. Don't expect it too soon.
Companies pay attention to the blogosphere, and hard-learned lessons have taught them that they're not immune to the power of a strong and well-crafted opinion. In June, Adidas pulled its plans to create a line of shackle sneakers when over 2,000 commenters on Facebook complained of the design's racist overtones. And last year, American Apparel's plus-size modeling contest was taken to task by a contestant who taught the marketing company a thing or two about women with curves.
Jacinto, meanwhile, has gotten a lot of responses from commenters questioning why she cares so much about some bras and underwear. "It's important that companies like VS know that capitalizing on a stereotype and on a culture is tasteless and offensive," she explains. "The messaging we insert in our culture shapes people's attitudes—so questioning clothing like this is important."
Questioning is one thing, seeing results is another. Whether or not Victoria's Secret confirms it, Jacinto's impact on a massive multimillion dollar line seems obvious. But she still sees room for improvement. "Their Cherry Blossoms line [another Asian-influenced VS line mentioned in her blog] still exists and still contains language such as 'indulge in touches of eastern delight,' " she says. "The clothing itself may not be as overtly distasteful as the Geisha piece, but the language makes it troublesome to me. Surely there must be another way to advertise that line that doesn't exoticize Asian women."