How Gisele, Karlie, Tyra & More Models Really Feel About the Controversial Victoria's Secret Fashion Show
"Actually, the Victoria's Secret show is the highlight of my life," the longtime Angel told the U.K.'s The Telegraph in 2011. "Becoming an Angel, once I achieved that, it was a dream come true for me ... Any model in this world would love to be an Angel."
Lima ended her 20-year tenure as one of the show's most recognizable models in 2018. Revered by the rest of the VS models as The Guardian Angel, the Brazilian bombshell reflected fondly to PEOPLE on her 18 shows with the brand before bidding a tearful farewell on the runway.
"I think this year is going to be the highlight of my career," she said. "This has been my 18th fashion show and I am still as excited as I was from the first day. I always love to be on runways and being part of the Victoria’s Secret show. It's my favorite to do."
Lima's close friend and fellow veteran Angel Ambrósio emotionally announced her retirement one year earlier, following the 2017 VS Fashion Show in Shanghai.
"Words cannot describe how grateful I am to have been working for this amazing brand that inspires me and women all over the world," she wrote on Instagram. "In my wildest dreams I would have never imagined doing 17 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Shows. Thank you Ed [Razek, chief marketing officer of VS's parent company L Brands], and all my Victoria’s Secret family for making these memories unforgettable. Last night was so emotional to say goodbye to my #angel sisters but we put on the biggest and best show ever. I could not have done this without all the love and support from my fans. It gives me great pride to be part the Victoria’s Secret movement! I will always be cheering for you! Love you forever."
Since becoming a model, Harlow has always set her sights on the VS Fashion Show. "Obviously the top things for a model are Vogue covers, Victoria’s Secret and such, so I always wanted the best for myself. Obviously, Victoria’s Secret is the best," she told Vanity Fair.
When her management staged a surprise reveal to let her know she'd been cast in the 2018 show, she was overjoyed, she added to the outlet. "I started crying. Literally, I immediately just dropped everything that was in my hand and started bawling."
Her casting coincided with the controversy surrounding Victoria's Secret, following CMO Ed Razek's comments that suggested plus-sized women and transgender models didn't fit into the brand's "fantasy."
When asked about her take on the issue, Harlow explained, "I think we just need to keep focused on taking steps forward. In life, we’re always gonna take steps forward, and then, sometimes, we take steps back. It’s the same thing with diversity and color and all these types of things. We have to keep on making these steps to move forward for diversity."
Heatherton cut ties with the lingerie giant after allegedly being repeatedly pressured to lose weight ahead of the annual show, she revealed to TIME in 2016.
"I was really depressed because I was working so hard and I felt like my body was resisting me. And I got to a point where one night I got home from a workout and I remember staring at my food and thinking maybe I should just not eat," she recalled.
Unwilling to promote an unhealthy body image, she decided to leave the brand. "I realized I couldn't go out into the world — parading my body and myself in front of all these women who look up to me — and tell them that this is easy and simple and everyone can do this."
"I did [cry] a little bit, [during] my first fitting. I had tears," the model and reality TV star admitted to POPSUGAR about her reaction to being cast for the first time in the 2015 show. She walked again the following year before taking a hiatus in 2017, due to a competing contract with lingerie brand La Perla, and returned in 2018.
"Honestly, the show is such a dream come true. So walking in it is a really big deal for me. I’m extremely excited. I just hope I don’t cry [on the runway]," she added to the outlet.
Brazilian beauty Ribeiro opened up to Teen Vogue about the lingerie brand's steps toward more diverse casting ahead of her fifth show in 2016.
"The show features women from every place you can imagine. Victoria's Secret helps to build our confidence up [by sending the message] that you can be different, and it's beautiful, and it should be considered normal. All the viewers look up to us, and we just want to prove to everyone that they can be a part of it also. That's what I love about the brand."
Ribeiro, who wore the Fantasy Bra the following year in 2017, told PEOPLE that she was most excited "for the girls out there just to get inspired and see people that they think kind of look like them. My skin tone, my hair or I’m from that country. That’s amazing inspiration for them."
Bündchen hung up her wings in 2006, after years of slaying the annual runway in barely-there looks which — as it turns out — she wasn't entirely comfortable with.
Over time, the model felt "less and less at ease being photographed walking the runway wearing just a bikini or a thong," she wrote in her book Lessons: My Path to a Meaningful Life. "Give me a tail, a cape, wings — please, anything to cover me up a little!"
Ultimately, she explained, she ended her contract because she was "at a different place in my life, and I wasn't sure I wanted to continue working there."
Lily Aldridge & Behati Prinsloo
In a joint interview on CBS, Angels Aldridge and Prinsloo gushed over how much fun the show is and how much more freedom they have to be themselves on the VS runway.
"I think this is the biggest fashion show in the world, there is no show like this. There isn't a model in the world that wouldn't want to walk the runway for Victoria's Secret," Aldridge began.
Prinsloo added, "It's nothing like a regular [show] ... where you just showcase someone's clothing. This one's really about the girl's personality, it's more like a carnival and a concert. You can do whatever you want."
"It's like a Broadway show," Aldridge chimed in. "They want people to get to know you, they want people to get to know us and our personalities, and it's really the only runway in the world that allows that."
The Project Runway host ended her contract with the lingerie company in 2015, and her opinion on the message the iconic show sends to young women has seemingly evolved over the years.
"A show like Victoria’s Secret is so relevant in the world we live in today," Kloss told The Telegraph in 2018. "There’s something really powerful about a woman who owns her sexuality and is in charge ... I personally love investing in a powerful scent or piece of lingerie, but I ensure it’s on my terms. I like to set a positive example, so would never be part of something I didn’t believe in."
More recently, Kloss revealed to British Vogue that she parted ways with the company because she didn't agree with the beauty standards it encouraged. "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," she said.
Stepping away from the brand helped her to feel empowered, she added. "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."
Tookes shared her optimism for the brand's increasing diversity efforts with PEOPLE in 2016, after she became the third woman of color to model the coveted Fantasy Bra.
"I looked up so many supermodels growing up like Tyra Banks and Heidi Klum who wore this Fantasy Bra and I never thought that I would actually get the chance to wear it," she told PEOPLE. "I think it’s such a milestone for me because I am an African-American girl and there hasn’t been many in the past that have worn a Fantasy Bra. I think that’s a huge thing, and I am honored to be able to represent that for the brand."
The model and activist spoke out on Australian podcast RAW Talks with Keshnee about CMO Ed Razek's controversial comments, stating bluntly that "he hates plus-sized women, I hate that term. He hates women, in general." Lawley, who has attempted to campaign against the megashow in hopes of bringing attention to the lack of size inclusivity, continued, "I think all bodies should be represented. I think diversity is beautiful and I think it's boring to have one body type that everyone aspires to be."
Even after years of strutting her stuff in the show's elaborate looks, Hosk still can't quite believe she's there. "I never thought I would get to the point where I was walking Victoria’s Secret fashion shows and being an Angel," she told Harper's Bazaar in 2016. "It’s all still really surreal to me. My brother is like, 'You are a Victoria’s Secret Angel?' He cannot believe it. When I told him the first time he was like, 'You? On that catwalk?' So it’s such an amazing surprise for me in my career to be able to do this."
"It’s so amazing to be here," Anderson told PEOPLE about her experience walking the 2017 show in Shanghai, which featured 55 models representing 17 countries. "I love the fact that they brought all these different cultures and all these different girls to one place. You have almost 20 different countries represented within the course of the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. To have all those different people and all those different girls in one place — it’s amazing."
Leomie Anderson & Liu Wen
Anderson added that being part of the brand's most diverse show ever at that point was inspiring and promising for the future. "I am a champion of diversity. I’m always talking about how important it is for fashion to be more diverse," she told PEOPLE. "I’m so proud of the Victoria’s Secret Show for encouraging that and being a part of that movement because I think it’s very important that every single person and every single girl can look at the Victoria’s Secret Fashion show now and feel represented."
Wen, who made history when she became the first Chinese model to walk the runway for Victoria's Secret in 2009, added that holding the show in Shanghai felt like a huge moment for her. "It’s my home country, so I can’t ask for more," she explained to PEOPLE. "I’m very excited and proud. We have so many Chinese girls. It’s like fashion has brought us all together to make the world a little smaller."
The former America's Next Top Model host, who recently made her return to modeling as the cover girl for the 2019 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue, revealed to Style Caster that she almost missed her chance at becoming one of Victoria's Secret's most boundary-breaking and recognizable Angels because of her natural hair.
"I had to figure out how to make sure I looked good at work, because I almost lost my opportunity at Victoria’s Secret. I was sent home the first day because the hairdresser didn’t know what to do with my African-American hair, so it looked crazy," she explained.
But the supermodel and queen of smizing added that the brand was receptive to making changes after she spoke up for herself. "I stopped silently suffering. And I do have to take my hat off to Victoria’s Secret because that was the last time I ever had to do that — I talked to them and said, 'Look, my hair is different, I need somebody who can do my hair.' After that, they hired people who could do my hair for 10 years."