Self, Sex

What Working At Vicky's Secret Taught Me

What Working At Vicky's Secret Taught Me

It's often said that we learn everything we need to know about life in kindergarten. While that's a pretty bold statement, and one up for debate (I, for one, ate crayons), I believe that I learned everything I need to know about myself as a woman behind the plush pink doors of a Victoria's Secret fitting room.

The summer after my junior year in college, I balanced evening classes with a gig at the infamous lingerie purveyor. Despite the wench-work, which included doting on a few spoiled women with too much time on their hands, I fell in love with the job. Not just for the 30% discount, but for the role I got to play.

I was the quintessential Vickie's sales girl, with a swagger to match, and it made me part of an exclusive sorority of sorts. Strangers would raise eyebrows at the very mention of my part-time profession. But, above all, I was a key part of a delicate ecosystem made up of filmy underthings, women, and the latter's quiet—often desperate—desire to accept themselves.

Trust me, Victoria isn't the only one of us with secrets.

Women tend to vent when they're trying things on. And when it's something as intimate as a black silk teddy with matching garters, things get pretty personal fast.

"Do you think is too much boobage for the first date?" a thirty-something "client" (the preferred term for customer) asked me as she stood in front of me, puffing out her chest like a pigeon during mating season.

"Well, what message are you trying to give?" I'd ask.

"I'm a sexual, seductive diva. But only when I'm in the mood. Which is often, if you treat me right. And I'm not easy. But not a prude."

"Got it. Try this one." And I'd hand her the remedy, a Jacquard lace cleavage-enhancing push-up. It wasn't the most intellectual of talents, but after a while I got pretty good at matching what women wore on the outside with how they saw themselves deep inside.

And I did boast an impressive lingerie collection myself. It's a brilliant ploy, if you think about it: My paycheck—like those of my comely cohorts —was promptly recycled back into the brand. While we may have been scraping to pay rent, we owned our weight in thongs.

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The thing about lingerie is that it's often a lacy litmus test revealing how a woman views herself. I soon found out that age, like push-ups, is just an illusion. The lucky among us don't register sags and wrinkles, but get more and more comfortable in our skin with each passing year.

I once got a hefty commission from an 80-year-old hellbent on revamping her bra collection. Double D’s at that age are not a joke. I spent two solid hours helping this delightful woman lift, shift, and clasp. The thing that really tickled me was the fact that she had such a solid love for her every lady lump.

"Honey, I don't think this one will work. My husband, Morty, really likes the lace. Do you have this one in the lace?" she asked.

Ironically, the high school and college girls that came in and dropped dime on some of our priciest items seemed to be the most common victims of self-loathing. Not all, of course, but enough pretty young things were convinced they came up lacking.

"Ugh. Look at this flab. It's so gross," Claire, 22, would say, tugging on the side of her lithe stomach.

She was a regular, with a svelte coke-bottle shape that could put Gisele to shame. And the irony wasn't lost on me. Would she only realize how beautiful she was as she got older and doughier?

We’d often engage in conversation about what our ideal body type was, and that's how I learned the source of much of Claire's self-hate: The guy she was enamored with liked the Calvin Klein model-y types. You know, the ones who look like they’re too bored to eat. That sounded crazy to me, who, to this day, loads up on carbs so that I can have a more J.Lo-esque derriere. But, hey, different strokes for different folks.

I don't claim to know how it starts. I'm not blaming men—or the media—for this insanity. That would be a cop out. We can push out babies for pete’s sake, we should be able to squash the pain of physical insecurities with our pinky finger. If it were only that easy.

After a few months, I definitely detected a pattern. The women in their 40s and 50s complained a lot less about "cottage cheese thighs" and focused more on finding the perfect balance of comfort and beauty. I bet many of them would have been daring enough to try some crotchless stuff—had we sold it.

Meanwhile, with the twentysomethings, it was always something: Boobs too cone-shaped, too low, too high…

By the end of that summer, I concluded that love must really be blind, because the women who showed their body the most self-love were the ones who simply refused to see the dimples, the stretch marks, the pudge.

And that was a beautiful thing.