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Opinion: Why the term ‘Real Women’ should cease to exist

Posted July 10, 2012 by Laura in Ramp Specials
Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty

Women’s magazines are amongst the worst of the accepted evils in society.

These bitchy, abusive, cruel and yet thoroughly addictive magazines don’t just indulge in schadenfreude, relishing the collapse of the personal lives of celebrities while simultaneously pointing out their cellulite in unforgiving pictures taken stealthily on the beach. They attack their own readers, declaring that if we don’t have the perfect job, perfect partner, perfect clothes, perfect friends, perfect house and perfect face, we’re doomed to die alone and presumably be eaten by cats. Women’s magazines are your childhood bully in a handy paper format.

They may claim to be our friends but, in truth, women’s magazines hate women.

In recent years, publishers of women’s magazines have begun to realise that we’ve growing tired of being barked at. They note that maybe, just maybe, we want to read about scandals (that we know in our hearts of hearts are probably not true), without being made to feel miserable about ourselves. Their retaliation was to launch a new ‘positive’ message which, unfortunately, was merely a cunning business ploy with the potential to have an even more harmful impact on the insecurity-saturated sponges that are the female of the species.

Cue the alarming emergence of the mythological creature that is the ‘Real Woman’.

‘Real woman’ is a phrase popularised in media marketed at women and in films like Real Women Have Curves (2002). It has been adopted in advertising campaigns for companies like Dove. ‘Real Women’, according to these campaigns, are naturally voluptuous beauties embracing their landslide wins in the genetic lottery.

It’s a term passed off as a message of comfort to those of us fed up of the borderline-anorexic waifs in fashion and advertising, to us ‘Real Women’, who look like we’d only grace a cover if we happened to shoot someone. Those who can? Screw those bitches, they aren’t ‘real women’ anyway.

However, rather than appear to be expanding society’s royally fucked-up view of beauty, a view shaped mainly by women’s magazines in the first place, this term actually narrows it even further. They’ve simply gone from telling us that we need to look one way (“Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” – Kate Moss), to another (“I have no desire to be super-thin” – Beth Ditto), which doesn’t exactly eradicate the problem of women feeling pressured to change who they are. It just gives us something new and unattainable to aspire to. Furthermore, why turn the vicious tirade against the models? Underneath the layers of Photoshop, there is a real (read: actual) woman with real insecurities just like anyone else. She is no less a woman than any of us, so redirecting the criticisms thrown at naturally (or otherwise) bigger women towards naturally (or otherwise) skinnier women doesn’t help anyone.

Curves are fantastic, which is why lots of women aspire to look like they are carefully sculpted Greek statues. If you have natural curves then good for you. We’re surprised you don’t take up nudism and go frolicking in a garden somewhere. But what if you aren’t blessed with curves? What do you do if you lack the desirable child-bearing hips or you have a flat chest or arse? Is it just a case of a trip to the plastic surgeon?

As a teen, my friends all enjoyed the precious few benefits of puberty, namely growing into themselves and developing boobs. Sure I got the acne, the frightening hair growth, the excessive sweating and the unholy menstrual cramps, but I was yet to be blessed with feminine curves and my figure was as boyish as it had always been. The crippling insecurity that came from my believing I was somehow ‘less feminine’ than my friends is a feeling so gut-wrenching that it still sits with me as I stumble into my late twenties. If I had been told then, as the gullible youngling I was, that my skinny frame somehow forbade me from being considered a ‘real woman’, I would never have left the house.

If the media decided overnight that ‘real women’ were 5’0 exactly, people could no more conform to that than a skinny girl could conform to being curvy or a curvy girl could to being skinny. Why must they single out one body shape as the body shape to be when bodies are so wonderfully diverse? All this achieves is leaving us all gazing longingly at the greener grass on the other side, hot prickly tears streaming from our eyes, whispering ‘If I only had an arse you could crack walnuts on, I would know true happiness’. Or something.

Adele was once quoted as saying,

‘I represent the majority of women and I’m very proud of that. I don’t want to be some skinny minnie… I really don’t want to do it and I don’t want people confusing what it is that I’m about.’

It’s terribly nice of Adele to take it upon herself to represent the majority of us. I didn’t realize that underneath her make-up she was actually a 28 year old Asian man. In any case, no harm to Adele, but it’s a lot of shite. Do we all honestly look like Adele? Of course we don’t.

This quote, passed off in the papers as Adele’s declaration of independence from the obsessive weight culture possessing our media, just turns the nasty spotlight towards skinnier women. I’m proud to be like this, I would never want to look like that. It doesn’t matter which kind of body is being demonized and which kind is being celebrated. This culture of pitting one body type against another is cruel no matter what way the media spin the overall ‘message’. Yes, Adele is perfectly content with herself and that should be commended, but why was there a need to direct venom against another body type? Adele is only ‘real’ because she, like everyone else possessing the delicate ecosystem that is the human body, experiences fluctuations in her weight – be it due to hormones, illness, pregnancy, a worrying habit of eating chocolate spread from a jar without a spoon, going on a diet, coming off a diet, joining a gym, quitting the gym, feeling guilty about quitting the gym, joining the gym, ignoring the gyms calls, deleting the gym off Facebook, food poisoning, allergic reactions and having a fairly big Sunday dinner.

You may remember the photographs taken of Adele following her illness and subsequent surgery. Her dramatic weight loss was shocking because she was but a shadow of her former self. Did that sudden change in weight make her any less of a ‘Real Woman’?

Cast your eye over your female friends. If we are to be kind and assume that by the phrase ‘real women’, the media loosely mean  ‘the average woman’, how many of your friends fit snugly into that ‘average’ box? Are they any less ‘real’ if they don’t? If you can smack them in the face, they are real enough.

Women’s bodies are as individual as fingerprints. We are real in that we are flesh and blood and regardless of our shape or size, we are women with or without the decree of some glossy magazine. We need to stop letting the media convince us that we are divided into two opposing weight groups that can never mix. We need to stop allowing them to tell us that we should all look the same according to whatever appearance is particularly fashionable that month because this is what pushes women to either extreme on the weight scale, both being equally unhealthy in their own ways. This is how eating disorders develop and we can no longer stand for it.

If the media must employ sweeping statements to be applied to us all, they should preach that the only woman we should aim to be is the ‘Healthy Woman’, whatever our size or shape, with a weight that comes naturally to us.

About the Author


Laura likes stuff, enjoys things and hates surprises.

  • http://twitter.com/beatingblog Karen Mulreid

    Excellent piece, well done.

    • http://twitter.com/ElleEmSee Laura C

      Thanks Karen. Cheers for reading it :)

  • Sinéad

    Hear, hear. 

    Making people feel bad about themselves so that you can peddle products that will supposedly improve their fetid carcasses is big business. I recently attempted to buy a magazine and could find nothing on the shelves that I was actually interested in reading (well, there was The Economist, but they don’t have any health tips). Point being, there’s definitely a place for self-improvement in the world. There are things we should want to do for ourselves. There’s a ready gap for some level-headed title to slot in with tips on things that will make you feel good – irrespective of which product you use or how many pounds you need to lose – but I guess the happy medium doesn’t sell.

    • Tara

      When you actually take a step back and look and what people are being paid to write, it’s so true that there is literally nothing interesting to read in magazines and women are being treated like fools. A few months ago there was an article in Cosmo called “25 things to do with a thong” one of the suggestions was “wrap it around your wrist as a sexy bracelet” what?!!

      • Sinéad

        Have you ever seen the list of genuine Cosmo sex tips on jezebel.com? How they can publish it as ‘advice’. Magazines are shocking unless you are reading them with a hangover or in a chocolate haze. Presumably those are the only times when women read magazines.

        • http://twitter.com/ElleEmSee Laura C

          The only time I read them is at lunch because I need something to keep my eyes busy when eating. I hate them and yet I cannot stop buying them.

        • Tara

          The day I read “allow him to insert his big toe inside you” was the last day I ever read a sex tip.

          • http://www.lisamcinerney.com Lisa McInerney

            I’d be horrified if I wasn’t crippled with laughter right now.

  • Tara

    I always wondered why Oprah got praised for saying “nothing tastes as good as slim feels” years ago while Kate Moss got vilified for saying it years later. Maybe it was her choice of the word “skinny” which seems to have gone from being a negative description to a desirable one. Even as a food lover I think Oprah made a good point as she was referring to over-indulgence.  But as the French say, everything in moderation, even moderation itself.

    • http://twitter.com/ElleEmSee Laura C

      The only thing I can think of is that perhaps it’s because young girls looked to Kate Moss rather than Oprah for fashion (etc) inspiration. It’s stupid though because it’s basically the same sentence.

    • http://twitter.com/ElleEmSee Laura C

      *double post*

  • http://twitter.com/notRuairi Rú Hickson

    Well said. I, too, want to live in a world where there exist women who fill the gap between Kate Moss and Beth Ditto.

  • frecklor

     “If you can smack them in the face, they are real enough” hilarious :D

    excellent piece!

  • http://twitter.com/ElleEmSee Laura C

    Thanks for the comments and for reading this guys – it’s greatly appreciated.

  • http://twitter.com/ElleEmSee Laura C

    Thanks for the comments and for reading this guys – it’s greatly appreciated.

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