Zen and the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show

Over the holidays while I languished on the couch after knee surgery, I had the decadent experience of watching lots of television. One evening, I stopped channel surfing at the Victoria’s Secret fashion show, an annual extravaganza of impossibly skinny models striding down the runway in bedazzled bikinis and not much more. I paused for a moment to admire how gracefully they walked in stilletos, because I could barely stand or point my toes, and my swollen leg looked like a fire hydrant.

Then the incomprehensible happened. One of the models–Ming Xi, whose hometown was Shanghai where the production took place and whose entire family was in the audience–slipped and fell. She accidentally stepped on her chiffon cape and suddenly she was on all fours, dazed but trying to recover.

Ming untangled herself from the gossamer get-up, struggled to her feet in sky-high heels, and adjusted what looked like a cherry blossom tree on her shoulders, all while drenched in hometown humiliation. The model queued behind her–Gizele Oliveira–arrived, steadying her with a sisterly smile, and sent Ming on her way. Ming struck a contrite pose with a wan smile before disappearing backstage, where she burst into tears (which was also shown).

The Victoria’s Secret fashion show isn’t a live performance, and they film it twice so it’s possible to cull the finest moments. For some reason, the producers kept the mishap in the show. They also dubbed in the backstage audio:  “Model down. Ming has fallen. Oh my goodness.”

In a spectacle of perfection, why immortalize this mike-drop moment?

“Because it’s ratings gold,” a friend explained. “Like fights in a hockey game or a car crash.” Talk show host Wendy Williams said, “Hey we all know her name now. It’s Ming.” Girl, enjoy your fifteen minutes of fame. All publicity is good publicity.

I have a more uplifting view of it. Here are my three takeaways from the Victoria’s not-so-Secret spill.

First of all there was the touching vignette of Gizele speedwalking-without-trying-to-look-like-speedwalking to assist her fellow Angel, who was still in a heap on the runway. Their sweet exchange was heartwarming. As mop-up operations go, that was about as good as it gets.

Then there was the backstage scene where we panned past Ming in tears as another model hugged and comforted her by repeating “You look beautiful!” Tux-clad performer, Leslie Odom Jr., of Hamilton, offered this commentary to the camera: ”Happens to the best of them. Sometimes we fall. We get back up. Fall down seven times; get up eight.” That last sentence was so profound that I wrote it in my journal. (I was, remember, learning to walk again after knee surgery.)

Fall down seven times; get up eight. We lose our balance. We fall. Get up. Shake it off. Move on.

Perhaps Victoria’s Secret wove Ming’s flub into the broadcast as a precious reminder of the human condition. Just in case we were deluded by the pageant of rail-thin models sticky-taped into skimpy, elaborate costumes, there was this bulletin: clay feet are still standard human issue. “Hey folks, we’re keeping it real for you here.” The slips, the gaffes, and yes, the kindnesses, are life.

By including the fall, the producers celebrated how Ming owned a difficult moment and moved forward with grace and determination. Was it ratings gold or a public service announcement? Maybe it was both.


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