Women We Love

Kelsey Merritt: An Appreciation of a Beautiful, Feisty Filipina

"I love my country and I’m proud of where I came from."
IMAGE Instagram - Kelsey Merritt (@kelseymerritt)
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It’s a story that’s been told countless times—notably by Justin Timberlake as Sean Parker in The Social Network—about an empire born at the climax of America’s sexual revolution. Sometime in the late 1960s, a man named Roy Raymond decided to try purchasing lingerie for his wife, Gaye. He was looking for something that the department stores didn’t always have; something racier than the relatively unflattering sorts of underwear that were more readily available to women at the time.

He didn’t find it without having to endure a degree of embarrassment. He was made to feel like a pervert for looking intentionally to find his wife something nice. So, keenly aware of his problem, Raymond saw an opportunity; and in 1977, founded a boutique in which men and women alike could shop for lingerie without fear of judgment. He gave it a regal name with a flirtatious inflection: He named it Victoria’s Secret.

Raymond’s own personal story doesn’t end very well, but as we now know, Victoria’s Secret went on to become a billion-dollar brand and an enduring symbol everywhere in the world—a symbol of sex and of female beauty.

Victoria’s Secret stands for a liberating view of sex and beauty—not one that subjugates and objectifies.

And it survives as such today, even after other purveyors of sex and sexiness have been unmasked as problematic and then properly toppled by the #MeToo movement, because unlike them, Victoria’s Secret stands for a liberating view of sex and beauty—not one that subjugates and objectifies. As a brand, it stands for the same idea it was founded on: that people should be free to take ownership of their own bodies and their own sexuality without shame or fear of judgement—and that a woman who does is ever more desirable.

Which brings us to this year’s Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show—the next installment of the brand’s annual parade of beautiful women, and a grand celebration of the female form. More specifically, it brings us to the fact that this year, and for the very first time, a Filipina will walk the show’s runway. Her name is Kelsey Merritt, and she is, of course, gorgeous. Like all other women who have stepped up to the runway for Victoria’s Secret, Merritt is a world-stopping beauty—one who waxing poetic cannot capture better than her own Instagram feed does. The obvious need not be stated further.

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In the wake of her announcement as one of the show’s models, Merritt has been celebrated by Filipinos for representing us. Her own announcement on Twitter opened with a wave of the flag rather than a thump of the chest: “We did it, Philippines!” Surely no one believes that we did it—she did. But that she would, before anything else, make reference to her roots, is something to melt for.

They asked: Why are we celebrating the success of a model with European features and a European last name, who doesn’t truly represent Filipino beauty?

Still, as quickly as some have rallied behind her, others preferred to cast doubt. They asked: Why are we celebrating the success of a model with European features and a European last name, who doesn’t truly represent Filipino beauty?

There are a lot of ways to address this restrictive and ultimately flawed view of an otherwise unanimous cause for celebration, but Merritt herself said it best:

This, to us, is no less than a fearless refusal to participate in identity politics, and simultaneously a proud declaration of her heritage. Merritt, who was born here, who grew up here, who decided to finish her studies here, who regularly tweets in Filipino (and sometimes Kapampangan), and who has no qualms about voicing an opinion about the state of things in this side of the world, doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone, freckles and all. She takes ownership of herself—which is just another way she fits the role that Victoria’s Secret has given her.

So by making the cut, Merritt represents not only the Philippines, but a step in the right direction. Slowly, we’re seeing a more inclusive view of beauty. We’re seeing ourselves among the Angels, which is important because of how it can inspire us. 

But the brand, for all the ways it has stood for empowerment, has long been criticized—perhaps fairly—for having a narrow and idealized view of female beauty. So by making the cut, Merritt represents not only the Philippines, but a step in the right direction. Slowly, we’re seeing a more inclusive view of beauty. We’re seeing ourselves among the Angels, which is important because of how it can inspire us. Taking inspiration is a choice, of course, but thanks to Kelsey Merritt—a proud and self-possessed woman who happens to be drop-dead gorgeous—it isn’t a very difficult one.

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