When the 2018 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show aired in December, the broadcast suffered its worst-ever ratings. And while the sparkly lingerie brand remains the definition of femininity for many women around the world, the viewership decrease—coupled with the company’s continuing drop in sales—signifies an important shift in the conversation around body image. It’s not that there is anything wrong with wearing a lacy bra and having that be the epitome of sexiness (if that’s really your thing), but gone are the days that tell us this hyper-marketed, cookie-cutter version of lingerie is the only way to feel beautiful. And disappearing are the days of “angels” with perfect bodies being the only accepted representations of a desirable woman.
A new crop of intimates brands are contributing to this change, promoting body positivity, inner confidence, and overall comfort—and Mary Young is quietly leading the charge.
Based in Toronto, Young designs the pieces for her eponymous lingerie label with real women in mind. Her products come in pleasing neutrals and soft palettes, combining interesting shapes, sensual lines, and soft materials. Notably, her underwear isn’t marketed as “slimming” and her bras aren’t touted for pushing up, flattening, or anything in between (they don’t even have underwires). Rather, Mary Young creations—all made ethically in Canada—focus on the actual bodies of their wearers, created to make them feel sexy just as they are.
“This is the first thing we put on in the day; it’s a very intimate purchase, on the most sensitive parts of your body, and yet it’s not comfortable, it’s not flattering, it’s not empowering,” Young says over coffee at Small Victory in Vancouver’s Yaletown on a recent visit. “And if you are uncomfortable all day, then that energy carries with you—so the whole focus of this is to empower women through feeling comfortable and confident in their natural shape rather than being told their natural shape isn’t good enough.”
Young, who grew up in a small town near Ottawa, studied fashion communications at Ryerson University in Toronto. During her final year, she discovered an interest in lingerie design—and a passion for shifting the archaic bedazzled-bustier narrative. “With lingerie and intimates, the messaging is so corrupt,” she says. “The imaging and the content is just so narrow.” That’s why Mary Young lookbooks include a diverse—both in ethnicity and size—group of models.
It’s also why Young’s bras now come with sliding backs instead of clip closures. “It’s like a shoulder strap but around the back, so it can fit you no matter what cup size you are,” she explains. “So if you’re a B cup, whether you’re a 32 or a 38, a B cup fits—you just adjust the band.” It’s one more way Young is embracing each woman’s natural form, telling her that no matter what she looks like, her perfect body is the one she’s in.