“Real Women,” as Opposed to What?

Body-Shapescrop4Body acceptance has turned into a huge movement in the past decade or so. Girls’ realizations that they don’t have to fit a cookie cutter image is refreshing. Although society will never completely lose body issues altogether, people are finally starting to get it.

Despite the progress, we are faced with a secondary problem. And this comes with the “real women” phrase that’s risen to common use. There’s also the elaborated variation, “real women have curves.”

Real women. Is there a group of alien humanoid females running around that I’m not aware of?

The term seems to have sprouted from an effort to show women that it’s okay to have curves, to be over a certain size, and to not fit a perceived ideal.

The concept behind it is awesome– women absolutely should feel comfortable in their own skin. We should work toward our own ideals, and forget about the haters.

The problem: “real women” implies that there’s a group of women who aren’t.

It is true that the modeling industry, for example, carries a large level of pressure– a pressure that can lead women to do drastic things to maintain a certain size. There are hundreds of harsh quotes out there that put down models themselves rather than the industry that created the problems the women often encounter.

Isaac Mizrahi, fashion designer and a judge for Project Runway All Stars, once said:

You’re not working with models, you’re working with real women who have, like, anatomy. Models do not have anatomy.

Body-Shapescrop1Uhmm, ouch. Comments like that are ridiculous, and only exacerbate the problem. That industry is a whole ‘nother monster that can and has been explored and criticized exhaustively. It’s only a piece of this puzzle.

Eating disorders and unhealthy dieting methods are problems mainly fueled by society, though. It is an epidemic, really. We need to think of women who suffer from such things as people who need to be supported and helped– not labeled as an ‘other.’ Implying that they’re not “real women” is alarmingly insensitive. Passively bullying someone is not a moral or effective way to help someone get better.

Let’s put that aside for a moment, though. Lots of women are naturally curvaceous, lots are somewhere in the middle, but lots of women are naturally quite slim, too. Slim and small-chested, for example, does not automatically mean that the woman is unhealthy, it does not mean she tries to be ultra-skinny, and it does not mean that she has an eating disorder. Some people are just built that way, and may even wish they had a more curvy figure.

It feels disturbing and weird for more petite women to hear the term “real women” and realize that they’re somehow not included in that group. And this is for something they did not choose (their body type), and that they may not have even fully accepted yet.

Body-Shapescrop2Other women work amazingly hard to get in shape, and they lose weight in a healthy way. In other words, they feel they could lead a healthier lifestyle, and have decided to pursue it. They work for their shape, do so healthfully, and may lose some curves in the process. Does that make them less of a woman? Nope.

So the people being excluded from the “real woman” concept generally are either are slimmer by nature, they have worked persistently in the name of fitness, or they have a disorder that needs to be addressed. None of these circumstances are grounds for making someone an ‘other.’ The first two are blameless groups of healthy women living their lives, and the last is a group that needs love, not hate.

It can be awfully difficult to feel confident about one’s body when there are conflicting messages on both sides. Beauty is not conditional.

Some people have reclaimed the phrase, though. Mybodygallery.com boasts the slogan “What real women look like,” and they do include women of all shapes and sizes. The site allows people to see pictures of people by size, height, weight, age, and more.

Body-Shapescrop3Their ‘About Us’ reads:

In a world full of images of how we ‘should’ look it can get difficult to tell how we DO look. Our hope is to build a site where women can see what real women look like. What we really look like. Most women have spent so many years looking at themselves in mirrors that we can no longer see what’s really there. The My Body Gallery project’s goal is to help women objectively see what we look like and come to some acceptance that we are all beautiful.

Still, the term makes little sense, because “real” makes it sound conditional. It is an unnecessary description, if we’re talking about every type of woman.

“Real women” would be best left out of the world’s vocabulary. When discussing the females of the world, women is the most appropriate, the most encompassing word for our collective awesomeness.

Maggie is a music junkie, movie enthusiast, and a lover of useless knowledge. Her professional interests are technical writing, editing, grant writing, and extreme Scrabble playing… if that were a thing, of course.