Zen and the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show

Over the holidays while I languished on the couch after knee surgery, I had the deliciously 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 in my post-op condition, 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 yardage, 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 humilitation. The model queued behind her–Gizele Oliveira–arrived, steadying her with a sisterly smile and an encouraging hand squeeze, and sent Ming on her way. Ming struck a contrite pose with downcast eyes and a wan smile before disappearing backstage, where she burst into tears (which was also captured).

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

In a sparkling spectacle of perfection, this was a mike drop moment. Why immortalize it?

“Because it’s ratings gold,” a friend said. “Like hockey fights or a crash during a car race.” Talk show host Wendy Williams opined, “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 less cynical view of it. Here are my three generous 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 were the backstage scenes where we panned past Ming in tears as another model hugged and comforted her, repeating “You look beautiful!” Tux-clad performer, Leslie Odom Jr., of Hamilton fame, 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.

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

What if Victoria’s Secret retained Ming’s flub as a wink and a nod to the viewers? Perhaps it was woven 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 and stitched into skimpy, elaborate costumes, there was this bulletin: clay feet were still standard human issue. “Hey folks, we’re keeping it real for you here. Don’t blink or you’ll miss it.” 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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