Body Image Bugbears. A More Meaningful Post.

Don’t panic, this won’t be a post about how I wish my thighs were smaller and my breasts bigger. Or vice versa. It’s a post about the generalisations made about women and body image and the buzzwords we are expected to use.

“Real” women?

Sometimes we see in the papers and glossy magazines headlines singing the praises of one of these illusive Real Women. These are usually the people who, if it were a month earlier or later we would see on the front pages in shock ‘before and after’ diptychs (sometimes triptychs for a true shock factor), accompanied by headlines either shouting about how admirable it is that they lost those two pounds, or alternatively comdemning them for commiting the crime of putting on those two pounds. But somehow, they occasionally make it into those fabled realms of Real Woman-dom. Try as I might, I’ve yet to work out the exact balance between weight, height, dress sense and occasion to understand how they’ve made the transition.

An example: one month, Christina Hendricks is the “body all women should aspire to” and “a perfect female figure role model”. The next, she’s a “big girl in ruffles” – the suggestion being that someone as ‘big’ as Hendricks should not be drawing attention to herself in something so ‘big’ as ruffles. One month we can’t get enough of her, the next we want her to cover up again and put her figure away because it is no longer “Real” enough.

My point being: It’s contradictory. It’s confusing. It’s nonsensical. And it’s plain unfair.

Women today are subjected to body policing from all angles, and in an attempt to get the balance right media, health advice and politics have created this fickle image of the Real Woman which is at best contradictory and at worst offensive.


It may surprise you to learn that I am not in fact a Real Woman. It certainly surprised me. The first five times I heard it, that is. After claim #245 that women like me are not in fact “Real”, it began to grate. Now, it just downright annoys me. The constant body-policing and the constant use of this the “Real Women” buzzword really do annoy me.

I know what they’re trying to do with it. They’re trying to say that it doesn’t matter how big you think your thighs are or how flat your stomach is, diversity is good and you shouldn’t have to change yourself drastically or make yourself unhappy over something which is ultimately flexible and self-correcting. The body knows what it’s doing. You can help it out, you can craft it, but don’t become obsessed. You’re fine just the way you are. You don’t ever need to be a certain way.

Unfortunately, this isn’t what happens. Instead, what we get are these contradictory headlines celebrating the mythical “Real Woman” – which by default condemns the very many un-Real Women out there. “Real Women” are always of an average height, never too fat, never too thin. They have feminine faces, shoulder-length hair and skin free of blemishes or tattoos.

Women in the Real World (as I think un-Real Women should be referred to) can be all of these things. Of course. But they are also fat women, thin women, butch women, bald women, tattooed and scarred women, disabled women and probably many other women which I haven’t mentioned. Women who didn’t start their biological lives as women!
Anyway, the point is that Real Women are not these mythical beings. We are all Real Women. I would like us to be able to step back and leave women alone to just be themselves. How can we cultivate this image of diversity and not the polar opposites of Real and un-Real? We should be cultivating acceptance and what we get is opposition. Fight the un-Real woman! Shun her for being too thin or too fat! Accept only the perfect in-between with the perfect ratio of wobble to muscle-tone! Accept nothing less than real perfection!

Ugh. This is potentially offensive, if not irrelevant, to everyone else. Because I am a 5’3″ size 8 woman (with breasts and legs and eyes and all the other things that make me a woman), I am in fact not Real. And I frequently get told as much to my face by people who are also not Real but feel that it’s ok to tell me that I’m too thin, or that I should eat more, or that it’s unfair that I eat cake, or how boring I must be to never eat cake because how else would I maintain my figure – which by the way is not Real. This is all irrelevant. Instead of pointing out each other foibles – with back-handed compliments or otherwise, why can’t we just be nice and accept ourselves and each other? Why is is now unacceptable to tell someone they’re “too fat”, but a service to point out that they’re “too thin”?

What brought all this on?

I’ve been reading a lot of posts about Adele’s recent Vogue covershoot. They always begin by stating how beautiful Adele is. Then they go on to say that it’s nice to see that she didn’t feel she had to reinvent herself as a Christina Aguilera-style sex bomb to get her music out there, she just sang it. Then they go on to say how good her singing is. Then her writing. Then they say again that it’s great that she still looks ‘Real’, that she’s not let the peer pressure of fame get to her body image.

Then, they go on to say how terrible Vogue are for censoring her too-fat figure by cropping her pictures below the neck. They go on and on about how unfair it is that someone ‘fat’ like Adele is only given lip service by the two-faced glossy magazines because what they really think of her is clear.

Isn’t this a double-standard? We can’t celebrate her figure one minute and then blatantly declare it unfit for fashion magazines the next? Surely by saying that the only reason Vogue used Adele was not because she was a good singer, or popular – although both of these things may be good and true – but because she would make them look like they catered for ‘fat’ people too, as long as they cropped her just right, is just reinstating the belief that Adele is too ‘fat, isn’t worthy of her own front cover? It seems to me that by arguing against Vogue in this way, we are always arguing against Adele by just openly stating what we believe to be a case of false advertising. Vogue don’t need to say a thing, but all these articles saying that the reason we only see Adele’s face is not because it’s dramatic, or beautiful, but because the rest of her is not suitable, surely does it for them. I really think it’s cruel to say that – you’re not merely attacking the magazine industry, as you believe, but undermining Adele as well. I’d like to be able to accept her for what she looks like without that being a political statement.

More diversity, please. More acceptance. Less suspicion. And less underhand offensive behaviour.

That’s me done. Rant over.

Finally, a question: Are there “Real Men”? What do they look like and how to other men feel about them?

5 thoughts on “Body Image Bugbears. A More Meaningful Post.

  1. I feel your rant, Kim! And on the subject of ‘Real Men’, I don’t think they really exist… Aside from obvious examples like action heros or the models on the front of Men’s Health, generally in the media men can come in all forms and still be considered acceptable and even attractive (especially if they’re funny).

    A prime example are the movies where a nerdy sort of character ‘comes good’. A male actor can be truly nerdy (ie. Jay Baruchel) but the female actor will always be gorgeous, yet made supposedly hideous with something superficial like glasses or braces (ie. Anne Hathaway).

    Two specific mediums where the physical inequality of the men and women hugely grate on me are British TV advertisments (particularly when dealing with food or shopping) and American sitcoms (which I really noticed in Buenos Aires where there was a diluge!). The woman will probably be in her late thirties, she’ll be attractive, of a ‘Real’ size, but maybe just a bit of a nag (you soon understand why!). The man however will be in his forties, balding and overweight, and most likely grumpy and childishly selfish (“why won’t ‘his woman’ get off his back?”). [I guess the most obvious example here is Homer and Marge, but this ‘casting’ happens in live action too!]

    And I think, why does this woman put up with this? And if she – who’s probably more attractive (if older) than me – gets him, then what’s left for the likes of me? How can such a repulsive man get such a nice woman with apparently no effort? If she settled for him, what in heavens name should I be settling for??

    I hope you get what I’m saying. I guess I’m now feeling a bit rantish myself. But you certainly can’t imagine an unattractive woman with an attractive man getting any airtime whatsoever!! Hmmmm…

  2. * I want to amend my final comment by saying: except Miranda! But she’s the only glorious exception I’ve noticed. And not even an unattractive one in reality, just big-boned 😉

    • I’ve just realised how rude I have been in not replying – thank you for your mini-rant 🙂 It’s nice to know I’m not alone.
      It annoys me that in order to eradicate one kind of stereotype, we have to invent another, like in the case of the ‘nagging woman’. Sigh.

      Also, sigh in a different way – I love Miranda 😀 And lovely Gary.

      Miranda is lovely in that she is real in every way – sometimes foolish, sometimes badly dressed, cheating on her ‘diet’, lusting after lovely Gary and somehow managing not to be a cliche!

  3. Pingback: A Model Was Told She Was Too Fat? « Killsession Musings

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