After Birth

Heidi Klum’s postpartum strut at the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.

As any discriminating consumer of undies knows, Victoria’s real secret is that her lingerie sucks. It’s itchy, bunchy, and cheaply constructed, deliberately designed to obsolesce after one season so you (or more likely, your boyfriend) have to buy another drawerful next year. But the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show (CBS, Tuesday) had very little to do with showcasing this year’s innovations in panty-related design. Rather, it was a chance to ogle some blue-chip T & A, not to mention a good once-a-year opportunity to glimpse the national libido in its rawest, most barbaric form.

But for this viewer, currently 10 weeks away from delivering her first child, the perverse highlight of last night’s show was watching the supermodel Heidi Klum parade down the catwalk half-naked, showing off the body that, through some combination of starvation, genetic luck and Alberto-Gonzales-approved methods of torture, she hammered into runway-ready condition only eight weeks after giving birth to her son, Henry Guenther Ademola Dashtu Samuel. The speed with which women can “get their bodies back” after delivery has become one of the many arenas of gladiatorial competition among new mothers, but Klum took the cult of postpartum fitness to new heights with last night’s appearance; she wasn’t just rocking a carefully cut Oscar gown on the red carpet, she was rocking an electrified thong. On the runway.

In an interview with USA Today, Klum explains that whipping herself into Bundchen-grade shape for the fashion show was nothing, really: She “naturally” lost a pound a day for the first five weeks after the birth, turning to her trainer for a whirlwind exercise campaign only during the last three weeks before filming the show. The obvious question, of course, is why? Klum is one working mother who can afford an extended maternity leave, and even if she wanted to host the event (perhaps to promote the new season of her reality series, Project Runway, which premieres tonight on Bravo at 10 p.m. ET), she could have chosen not to strip down to her be-sequined skivvies. The only explanation I can imagine for the brutal speed of Klum’s slim-down is that she wanted to show the world she could do it. She wanted to raise the bar for expectant supermodels, snipping the umbilical cord with one hand while pumping her delts with the other.

The fact of her recent parturition was never alluded to, not even by Klum herself in the series of backstage vignettes that framed the runway show. I’d been expecting a sentimental background segment in which young Henry was paraded before the cameras by Klum and her husband, the British singer Seal. That’s a surefire crowd-pleaser, right? A cute newborn baby? (Er … perhaps we should shorten that to just: a newborn baby.) But there was nary a mention of the squalling 3-month-old result of Klum’s world-class sex appeal. Seal did appear from within a giant mirrored disco ball to sing “Crazy” while Heidi strolled by onstage, her chest and groin aglow in a bikini trimmed with light bulbs. Seal testified to the cameras that, in his eyes, his wife’s reproductive organs really are perpetually luminous: “Whenever I get to see her, on the runway or in our apartment, it makes my heart flutter.” He must have to be hooked up to a defibrillator when he watches her change diapers.

It’s as if the female body were divided into two completely separate, compartmentalized functions: being sexy (or rather, providing the ready-made answer to the Victoria’s Secret marketing slogan, “What is sexy?”) and propagating the human species. Any cause-effect relationship between these functions was neatly severed on last night’s show. Presumably, glimpsing Klum with her son even for a moment would have killed the audience’s lightly pornographic buzz more quickly than watching her scrub Seal’s toilet.

Last night’s VS fashion show also marked Tyra Banks’ retirement from the runway, as she kicks off her new talk show. “One thing I really admire about Victoria’s Secret,” Banks told the camera, “is that they’ve never told me to lose weight, ever.”  That’s VS all over—so accepting of different body types, even poor, pudgy Tyra’s. A fellow model, Karolina Kurkova, had some advice for the retiring Banks: “Take your time, have fun, have some kids, don’t go to the gym.” Yeah, that’s right, Tyra. If and when you do decide to gift the world with your genetic legacy, give yourself eight whole weeks off before you offer yourself up to the world’s scrutiny in your underwear.