Honey Birdette: Sexy or Sexist?

As a certified unsexy person, Honey Birdette both intrigued and intimated me. I’d heard all the news: it’s un-feminist, anti-workers’ rights, and downright terrible. But I’d never actually been in a store.  The chain’s been in the headlines again this week after announcing that they’re going to hit up America and take Victoria’s Secret head on. So I thought I better go see what all the fuss is about.

Honey Birdette’s SS17 Campaign

I’ve read all the headlines about this controversial lingerie brand: Honey Birdette exploits its workers. Honey Birdette fires people for not being sexy enough. Honey Birdette tells its workers to flirt in the face of sexual harassment. It’s all there. The brand is terrible and you should never ever never ever ever shop there.

Except, it’s quite a nice place to shop.

I tell you, if you want a confidence boost, just head on over to this mecca of female empowerment. Pick out the first bra, knickers or accessory you see, and let the shop girls shower your bod in more compliments than you can poke a stick at. It’s a bit intimidating at first – the shop girl came right into the change room with me, adjusted all my nooks and crannies and then rained compliments all over my poor, insecure bod. Once you get past the invasion of privacy it’s pretty great.

Image Credit: StStyle

But no one’s accusing Honey Birdette of making customers feel bad about themselves. It’s their work conditions that have got people all riled up. All of the girls who work there are beautiful. Like models or gods or flight attendants in the 60s. And it’s no accident. The careers section of the Honey Birdette website dubs it’s retail assistants “Honeys” who are “like Hollywood starlets only naughtier”. In order to get an interview to work in a Honey Birdette store, you have to send in a video of yourself; an audition of sorts. I asked my shop lady what she said in her audition. She told me she said:

“I love empowering women! And I love making women feel sexy cos I’m a sexual person and I think everyone should feel comfortable.”

Which is kinda the opposite of what the brand is copping flack for. There’s been complaints that the brands advertisement overly sexualises women.  If we’re being real though, sexualising women is literally the whole point of lingerie. It is designed to make you feel sexy.

However, a potentially valid point is that their recent “Office Party” campaign both sexualises women and demeans them. Check it out for yourself:

I get the complaints about this video, it is a bit male-gazey with the whole ‘traditionally beautiful and scantily clad women being flanked by fully clothed men’ thing. But how is that different to any other lingerie advertisement, ever?

Another article claimed that Honey Birdette’s policy on sexual harassment is to tell customers “not to let it ruin a sale”. So I asked my shop lady if there were many creeps that came in:

“Yeah. I had one yesterday on the phone he was like, gonna spend like two grand, but we think he was having a wank.”

So how do you deal with that?

“Just kind of like…gotta be professional. Obviously. And like, don’t go into too much detail, just don’t like, feed into it really.”

She then immediately changed the subject by telling me how beautiful I looked. It’s not a great answer, and I know that she’s probably precluded from telling me too much, but it doesn’t seem like she had to make a sale with a dude that was mid-wank. She just got off the phone. It’s not great that it happened to her, but it’s not really the company’s fault.

All in all, I would say Honey Birdette is more sexy than sexist. Yes, they’re a brand that capitalises off the sexualisation of women, but it’s also a brand that genuinely makes those women feel good about themselves. Cafes capitalise off people being hungry. Cafes in Melbourne capitalise off hipsters being both hungry and snobby about their coffee. Like it or not, our culture is a capitalistic one. A brand’s success or failure rests on their ability to market to a consumer. Honey Birdette’s brand is clear: the shop girls are beautiful, they make you feel beautiful, and then they kick back and let that sweet, sweet moolah roll in.

I don’t work there, so I understand that there may be things they’re unable to tell me. But the brand is female from top to bottom. They seemed genuine. They seemed like they actually liked working there, and felt they had a duty to make other women feel good about being a woman. And hey, yes, that’s just my informed opinion.

It is possible for Honey Birdette to both profit off women’s sexualisation and make them feel genuinely good about themselves. It is not necessarily one or the other.

What’s your opinion? Let’s hear it below!