November 29, 2011 | fashion, life

Can We Quit the Term ‘Real Women’ Already?

Women are constantly divided up into factions, by society and increasingly, by ourselves. But the one group that seems to have been gaining ground over the past few years is ‘real women’. This term is constantly bandied about, lest we forget how ‘real women’ should look. But the more I hear it, the more irritating I find it. ‘Real women have curves’? Oh really? So, any woman devoid voluptuous hips and a cup size that runneth over is faking it? Enough of this madness!

I get it, I do, the big backlash against the supermodel era, the uber slim women we see in magazines every day – since we have a growing obesity issue in this country, it all seems slightly unrepresentative of what’s really going on. After years of being told we should look a certain way, the ‘real women’ movement is almost like a big middle finger to the fashion and beauty industry – ‘we’re here and you can ignore us no longer,’ Kudos for that – I get it.

However, there’s a whole sinister underside to the term that really doesn’t sit well with me. If ‘real women’ have curves, that automatically suggests that if you’re ‘skinny’, slim, have an athletic build or are anything other than curvaceous, you are somehow less than. You’re not feminine or womanly enough to be considered a ‘real woman’. There’s a real smugness in the term. And there’s also a validation in it. For women who may have been trying to lose weight, being part of this ‘real woman’ wave validates their ‘curves’ which may actually legitimately be weight they really need to lose. I touched on this in a post I did earlier this year called The Great Weight Debate – I mentioned the words ‘overweight’ and ‘fat’ so needless to say, I was deemed a judgmental bitch by many in the comments, though thankfully a few read the post properly and actually understood the point I was trying to make.

Then we have the scary end of the spectrum where young women are having all sorts of surgeries to enlarge certain areas of their bodies to give them these ever elusive curves, so that they too can be classed a ‘real woman.’ This year there seem to have been a crazy number of botched surgery stories, mainly involving buttock implants, in which a number of women died. Just last week, a story emerged of a woman having a botched surgery in which a complete cowboy injected her with a mixture of cement and tire sealant to give her bigger buttocks. Just like the trend of people getting liposuction, tummy tucks and all manner of other ‘slimming’ surgeries in the past, the tide now seems to have turned as we now stigmatise slimmer women into thinking their bodies are unacceptable.

*sigh* I don’t know y’all. What we gon’ do? A certain body shape does not make you a ‘real woman’ – we’re all real women for God’s sake, and one’s size or shape does not make you superior. Perhaps it’s a well intentioned term, but am I the only one who finds it a bit condescending?

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34 Comments

The Jaded NYer

I hate that my booty is non-existent, but when I read that story last week I all but died. CEMENT??? In my A$$? No thank you, sir!

Besides, a real woman has 2 x-chromosomes. That’s it. JADED, OUT! *drops mic*

angel_dee

I have enough body hangs up of my own to be even trying to hear this. Not directed at you Bangs.

Actually sick and tired of this and now I’ve become a runner (listen to me say that and mean/own it) and decision to take myself off and study to be qualified as a Personal Trainer I’m hearing women I thought were supportive now have a sinister tone when I mention my ambition and although I don’t usually give a rat’s tookus what people think it does upset me. Especially as I have always given support/tips from kindness to some of those same people when they ask what I do to workout and some of those women watched me at school and beyond when I was a sprint runner. *sigh*
So much I want to say but won’t. This has kinda opened up some wounds for me, but I back this post 100%. Thank you for bringing this up. xx

Mummy Whisperer

My Mum told me that I’d never be a ‘real woman’ until I had kids – a bit harsh considering the doctor told me I was barren when I was 19!

Having rather miraculously suddenly fallen pregnant twice at 36 and 40, I can now understand a little about what she means – I think that she meant that I’ve gotten in touch with something kind of ancient woman thing (sorry got brain freeze due to that ancient thing that means I’m knackered too!). However, I’m pretty sure that other women without kids could have got there.

It’s most important that we feel sexy and beautiful. I think that is possible at any weight or size. BUT the media can make it bloody difficult.

Personally I think that you are gorgeous having seen you at several events now – you might have legs I would die for an be gorgeously slim, but I’m not going to have a go at you for it!

Katie Vale

I like this post. I hate the phrase “womanly”. I get told I have “womanly curves” or a “womanly body”. This frustrates me & my usual response is that I’ll be “womanly” and I’ll be “a woman” irrelevant of my shape or size. And I feel no less of a woman now with my size 12 hourglass (argh!!!) than I did when I was a size 6 ballet dancer waif (double argh!!!!).

Grrr!!!! Go Bangs! Bangs for PM!

Honest Mum

Bloody well said. I wonder if there’s a group of misogynistic ad men somewhere creating all this bollocks. I’m sure there is. Yes, we’re all real women (whatever that means) and we need to keep pushing to get the equality in representation we deserve. Over and out.

Andrea

I appreciate the point being made here, and agree that the term ‘real women have curves’ somehow implies that those who are skinny or otherwise are not ‘real women’ when we know all women are ‘real women’, whatever their shape. However, I think the use of the term has also been necessary in the backlash against our obsession with thinness – to the point of it us viewing what is ‘unreal’ to be how we should look. Airbrushed and photoshopped images of stick-women without curves (or with strangely disproportionate curves) are still overwhelmingly the norm, and anorexia and other eating disorders are still on the increase as many women and girls continue to think they can achieve what is unachievable in a healthy way.

I really don’t think that the term ‘real women have curves’ has had any kind of impact on the way most women view themselves in terms of wanting to change their bodies to be curvier – most women still want to be thinner than is natural, and many will aim to achieve this whatever the cost. Maybe we should start saying ‘real women come in all shapes and sizes’.

my honest answer

No, it annoys me too. I wouldn’t mind if it meant ‘not-surgically altered’ but as you are saying, people are getting surgery to look ‘real’! Madness.

This is why I don’t read any women’s magazines. I can’t bear the smugness and ’embrace who you are’ bullshit, when on the next page they tell you if you spend thirty quid on a new product it will get rid of your cellulite. I didn’t even know what cellulite was until I read those mags. They have invented a problem, now they’re selling us the cure. Ridiculous. It’s not cellulite, it’s friggin skin.

helen

real woman – anyone who has past puberty and is female. Not real woman – Barbie and les dawson in a frock!

Lauren

I can completely appreciate where they are coming. Women shouldn’t feel pressured into putting strain on their body to make it a different shape to what is natural for them. However. It does annoy me how people use it as an excuse for being overweight! You may well be ‘curvy’ yes, but there comes a point where being curvy also equates to being unhealthy. Surely this is just as bad as being too skinny?
Real women come in all shapes and sizes and if we’re really accepting ourselves as much as magazines would have us believe, then slim women should get just as much of a look in.

Be On It

Great post. I hate the term “real woman/women” with every fiber of my being. Especially when it’s used to justify some narrow (& often sexist) idea of women & womanhood. My lankiness & slimness are womanly because I am a woman. My ability to cook (or lack thereof) are womanly because I am a woman. It is not okay for a group of women to throw me under the bus to attack people/systems that shortchange us all.

Be On It

@ Andrea:

Just to offer an example, I often struggled with accepting being slim with an athletic build because the idealized body shape in my culture is voluptuous. So I’ve been hearing negative comments about my shape since before the “real women have curves” meme popped up.

jenna

I wish women could just be encouraged to be healthy and fit whatever their body shape rather than the media paint these ideas that you should need to be curvy to be a real woman or skinny to be a sexy women. Every woman is a real woman, it doesnt need to be a label.

Kash

I like this post. I also like the weight debate post. As a woman who is “curvy” and trying to lose weight, I’m often surprised when I see pictures lambasting models and celebrities for not being “real”. I don’t feel any more real than them. I also never understood why the fashion world views plus size at about half the size of a clothing store plus size. None of these idiots make any sense.

Chloe

I think my biggest issue with the term “real women” (and I feel the same about “posh”) is that it doesn’t really have any meaning. We are in fact, all real, with presence and a 3rd Dimension and everything, be that slim or curved.

Miss Kitty Plum

I think the main problem with the term ‘real’ is that’s not inclusive. I prefer to use the phrase every woman when talking about stocking a wider size range of goods. The term real for me refers to women who aren’t airbrushed within and inch of their natural selves in the pages of a magazine but it seems it has changed to have negative connotations. I definitely think we need to have a more positive attitude that focuses more on health and self confidence.

Lioness

This was such a great post, the topic has been bugging me for a while. Whenever I see that word in a magazine or on T.V. I want to hit something. We, as a country and women in general need to step away from these extremes. The term ‘Real women’ is constantly used in magazine propaganda these days to justify ‘real curves’, but often to the extreme of 16+ sizes which I think is, in most cases, medically considered to be overweight. You cannot promote something like that in the same way that it is dangerous to promote the other extreme, size 0. We need to find a middle ground, all stop trying to justify ourselves as women to other people, eat a little bit more healthily and all do a bit of exercise. And for gods sake just be happy! Flaunt what you have! Whether it be a boyish or curvy figure! We all have different natural body shapes which cannot be altered even through diet and surgery! Despite being a size 6/8 I have naturally bigger hips and a bum that I have had to learn to embrace over the years! But coming to terms with and the gradual acceptance of your figure is one of the most liberating feelings! And if you are overweight or just unhappy with your figure, get off your posterior and do something about it. Another reason these articles are so awful is because in some people’s minds they can justify being a bigger size which is just not healthy. I don’t care what anyone says, being a size 20 is not ‘loving your curves’, as I saw through one celebrity endorsement in a recent magazine which I shall not name. Running is free and the most effective way to become leaner and trimmer! Away with all the terms and excuses, we should celebrate we are all different HEALTHY sizes; how bloody boring the world would be otherwise.

PlanetKimbo

Well said, Bangs. Wouldn’t it be great if we could celebrate difference without creating different factions of womanhood? We should be concerned about what is healthy rather than what the media tells us is the look du jour for our bodies. It’s tragic that some women’s self-esteem is so fragile they think these things are real or that they matter. Body fascism is on the increase in our society as a whole and it’s dangerous because it’s so pervasive and addictive. I guess the only way to fight it is to speak out.

Smarty P. Jones

First of all, I love that Beulah chimed in at the end there. Secondly, I think a lot of these terms that have “real” attached to it was orginally intended to bring some luster to the things frowned upon or otherwise forgotten. And you’re right, it is condescending but what are folks to do? What you’re suggesting is for people to take responsibility for their own actions and inactions that have led to their unhealthy weights and bodies they don’t like. When in the hell did we start doing that?

And let me just add as a woman with all these curves, full cup sizes runneth over and all that, it’s all fun and games until you can’t find clothes that fit. The worst thing in the world is shopping for jeans and dresses that fit in some areas and fall off in others. Embrace the body God gave you. Somewhere somebody is attracted to the very thing you despise. Learn to love yourself, afterall, confidence is everyone’s most attractive quality. #SmartyOut

nux vomica

Thank you, Bangs. Along with that can we also ditch the american ‘size 0’, used in this country just to sensationalise our uk size 4 ladies.

I am genuinely offended when i see men and women in the media saying things like ‘yeah none of that size 0 stuff, that’s disgusting, women SHOULD have curves, i want a REAL WOMAN’ (a particular episode of Loose Women springs to mind, with an italian chef man expressing his disgust for thin women, and the female panel agreeing furiously)…i am confident in my body and believe i am physically attractive, but i’m sitting there on my sofa, my 5 foot 0, petite yet proportional, feminine size 4 frame, and i am being made to feel inadequate, less of a woman! how dare they. and i’m sure a minute ago, they were talking about getting a beach-perfect-bikini-body…?! what’s going on?

Why must we insult our sisters?
And why are we allowing men to insult us?
Why is it acceptable that the first thing my new boss said to my colleague about me, in my presence, was ‘tell her she should eat more’. He could never get away with telling someone to eat less… (And as a medic, I disagree with the positive reinforcement of being 16+ as in a lot of cases that is not healthy, but that is another topic altogether)

Enough hypocrisy already. There is no standard beauty ideal. I think women are amazing, and so beautiful in their different forms, whether we are size 4 or size 14, AA or DD cup…

Dear ignorant people, i don’t care whether you think i am beautiful or not, that is up to you; but you cannot deny the fact that i am a woman and as real as any other woman out there.

Co Co

I just want to say, if you go to someone’s house to get a major cosmetic procedure done, you deserve EVERYTHING bad that accompanies said decision. If you have a botched surgery by a real surgeon, then that’s awful. But all of these stories about women getting ridiculous things injected into their asses by random people on the street, deserve no sympathy whatsoever.
Also, people need to learn to love their body and themselves. We’re so jaded into thinking we need $800 shoes and a shape like Beyonce if we want to be considered worthy. We need more women to understand the term “Do You”. Just be who you want to be, to hell with what everyone else thinks.

Jen

‘Real women’ is a marketing term. It was invented by a team of advertising people sitting in a meeting room, trying to invent a way to connect with an audience who were largely ignored by the media. I’m not sure where it originated, but it definitely came into public conscience with the Dove adverts. And its use in those adverts was spot on – the women in those ads were real in the sense that they were all different shapes, sizes, ages and races. There were slim ladies and curvy ladies. Young and old. Black, white and Asian. All under the header ‘real women’.

But as is the media’s way, they honed in on a new buzz word and used it ’til it lost all meaning. Now, the term ‘real women’ doesn’t mean what it set out to mean – women who aren’t airbrushed, starving themselves or surgically altered. It’s a term used to describe whatever kind of woman the media now think is ‘real’ – the curvy girl, the single mother, the career woman – whatever. And I find it condescending too.

Elsie Barley

Well said, Bangs, you speak for a lot of us and you say it brilliantly.
I agree with Jen, “real women” is a fascist marketing term alongside “bloating” which “real men” don’t seem to suffer from. It’s just to foster our insecurities and sucker us into buying stuff we don’t need. Obviously “real women” eat more to get their “real women” curves and then experience bloating so have to buy probiotic nonsense.

Danielle

One of my friends sent me your site last month and I’m so happy she did – I truly enjoy reading every single thing you post – you are fabulous!!

Now for this post in particular – THANK YOU! “Real Women” is such a BS term and I 100% agree with you. Very well said.

-Danielle

Jet

My thoughts EXACTLY. The term ‘real women’ is offensive to anyone who isn’t curvy. There’s also the big issue of women who are overweight and putting their health a risk justifying it because they are curvy.

Ondo Lady

From a slim lady’s point of view who has been subjected to stupid comments from men such as ‘I don’t like skinny girls’ or ‘I prefer women with meat on their body’ I think those ignorant remarks are just as damaging as the offensive ones aimed at fat people. The term real women has been made up to placate larger ladies and make them feel better about their weight. Very strange how these real women diet like mad to lose weight and cannot wait to show off their new skinny bods.

Reena Rai

I’ve been thinking the same things for a while, it’s getting to the point where the term ‘real women’ makes me angry. Instead of the media dictating unrealistic aspirations, how about showing women that it’s ok to just be how God created them? Too fat, too thin, too big, too small, too short, too tall…I’m sick of all of the perceived imperfections.

On a personal note, I’m naturally slim and eat a hell of a lot but have a high metabolism. I’ve had to deal with nasty comments pretty much my entire life, to the point where supposed friends told people I was bulimic. And now, I constantly read about people condemning size 0s and applauding real women. Ok so I don’t have Kim Kardashian’s figure so I’m not real?! I’m so thankful that I have my head screwed on enough to know it’s ok not to fit some media stereotype. But so many people simply aren’t that comfortable in their own skin. I really do feel sorry for those who feel so down about themselves that they put their lives at risk, all in the name of ‘perfection’.

Tahirah

Brilliantly put Bangs. I’m big and I wholeheartedly reject that nonsense term. Being fat or thin has no baring on what makes us “real” women, and it’s unhealthy when seriously overweight women clutch onto buzz words like curvy and ‘real woman’ to pacify and ignore their bigger issues (no pun lol). I also hate any term which influences women not to support and accept each other for what we are, as this ‘real woman’ foolishness.

Jocelly Harey

I haven’t read this yet, but I have an idea that it is aaaaamazing! I have a healthy living blog called Peel and I’m doing a body image series. One of the posts I’ll be writing tonight is why we should move away from the term “real women.” I don’t want to subconsciously plagiarizer your work, but I’ll be coming back to read it later tonight ๐Ÿ™‚ For awhile I thought I was the only one who was truly irked by the term. Glad to see I’m not alone!

Kat

If you have a vagina and milk ducts, you are a woman! ๐Ÿ™‚ I hate all the labels. We should just be promoting health and positive body image, which in turn will decrease eating disorders on both ends of the spectrum (both anorexia and obesity)

Nadia

Excellent post Bangs, on a subject that has irritated me for a long time! While I think the ‘plus size’ movement and campaign against size 0 is very important, I think there’s a danger in the phrase ‘real women have curves’. It almost always presents a sexualized image of women which plays straight into the hands of the patriarchy we should be trying to avoid. And while the intention might be to halt the notion that women should all be stick-insects, this term ‘real women’ defeats the object and actually entices competition and hatred towards skinny/petite/athletic girls. Women lose weight for all sorts of reasons – eating disorders, stress, health issues, free will – and they should not be deemed any less real because of their shape.

D-money

This is exactly what I’ve been saying for years about this “real woman” statement. I hate the term.

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