No matter what social media platform I turn to, I am inundated with articles about “real” women. From anti-thigh gap petitions to reimagined portraits of popular celebrities or fictional characters (possible headline: “Artist Depicted Disney Princesses as Real Women – and What She Found Was STUNNING”), the subject of Real Women is a popular and often viral one. On the surface, these articles provide a sense of belonging and empowerment for those who feel otherwise underrepresented in the media. However, at their core, these articles quietly promote a culture of exclusion and bullying that no one is willing to address.
Advertisements and articles that talk about “real women” with “real bodies” don’t often look at both ends of the spectrum. While the measurements of a “real body” aren’t clearly defined, these ads and articles generally focus on women who are overweight or obese. At their core, they disregard those women who are thin or underweight, dismissing them as “fake” or too concerned with how society perceives them. They claim to celebrate all body types, when in truth, they only celebrate the bodies of the women they deem real.
Some women are naturally thinner or fuller-figured than others. Some women struggle to gain weight, while others focus all of their energy on weight loss and still face challenges. Some women have hormonal imbalances or other health issues that lend themselves to unwanted weight loss or weight gain. Some women have eating disorders that cause them to be overweight or underweight. Some women eat whatever they want and are perfectly happy with their bodies, regardless of the size. Some women (of all sizes) are unhappy with their bodies. Who are we to judge which of these women are real?
Last year, J. Crew introduced the size 000 to its lineup, and the whole Internet lost it. Instead of considering the fact that this size 000 could satisfy customers’ demands, critics were quick to accuse the label of vanity sizing and contributing to the negative self-esteem of young girls. They ignore the fact that the smaller size allows J. Crew to expand its market and become more inclusive, particularly for smaller women who previously couldn’t shop at J. Crew.
If you met someone on the street who was overweight, you wouldn’t tell her how unhealthy she looks (and if you would, you’re a horrible person and should reconsider your life choices). But for friends of mine who are on the thinner side, hearing comments about their body, health or their need to “eat a cheeseburger” is a common occurrence. Our bodies are our own – should we really have to accept commentary about them from anyone? Is it our business to speak negatively about other women’s bodies?
In a world where feminism is the hot button issue we all cling to, I am especially appalled by the way we speak about women’s bodies on such a regular basis. I have never once read an article that discussed Real Men and delved into their body types or the extent of their grooming practices. We devalue women who place an emphasis on maintaining a certain standard of beauty that they perceive to be important, because it doesn’t line up with the more “natural” look that many have grown to prefer. We insult an entire group of women whose appearances don’t match a certain nebulous definition of “real” because, in a way, we feel that this places a greater value on the group we deem most worthy.
I absolutely believe in the importance of inclusion, and believe that women of all body types should feel beautiful and admired. In order to achieve that, however, we need to stop talking about real women and disregarding those who don’t match those ideals. Instead of focusing on women’s bodies, let’s talk about what those women have to say. Let’s talk about their accomplishments. Let’s be a little nicer.