All Women Are Real Women

The more I explore body image and society, the more rotten layers I find to peel away. Here’s my latest discovery: I hate hate hate that the phrase “real women” is being used to describe ladies who are larger or curvier. “Larger or curvier than whom?” you might ask. Exactly. (Bonus points for your good grammar.)

Phrases like this pit us against one another, even if their original intent was positive. I know the idea that “real women have curves” is affirming for lots of girls who could really use that positive imagery – myself included – and so this idea should be a total “hooray”… except it boils down to self-acceptance in the form of pointing fingers at other women and saying, “It’s your turn to feel bad! You’re so skinny you’re not even real.”

Let’s just stop playing this stupid game. Let’s call it what it is. It’s dumb.

This is dumb:

Someone tried to make a valid point here, but it went off the rails about the time they turned it into a competition.

Yes, it’s ridiculous that Victoria’s Secret launched a campaign called “Love My Body” – which promises “A Body for Everybody” – and then marketed it with the image shown above. No duh. Those seven women are as representative of “everybody” as Andre the Giant is representative of the average male physique.

But it’s not doing womanhood any more favors to take the lovely ladies of the Dove “Real Beauty” campaign and compare them to the business-as-usual models in a way that makes the first body type seem alien. Yes, Victoria’s Secret has some serious thinking to do. Their message sucks. But their models represent very real women who aren’t anorexic or “plastic” just because they’re thin (which is what’s being implied here), any more than the women with body types represented in the Dove ad are lazy or gluttonous.

So, let’s stop the madness.

Dude, we’re all just people. Awesome women. (Unless you’re a guy reading this, in which case – you rock my socks off!) If we want to see real change in the way we’re portrayed in the media, we should stop diluting the strength of our message by calling each other “not beautiful” or “not real” for such shallow reasons. Our goal should be to see everyone represented in the public sphere. Every body type. All of us being celebrated as incarnations of an endlessly diverse human experience.

I’ll end by sharing a hopeful sort of light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel link, because there is a way out of this mess and some companies are leading the charge. Three cheers for Debenham’s 2013 Look Book, a clothing catalog chock full of images like the ones below. SO refreshing. P.S. They deliver to the US!

Good stuff, right? And P.P.S. – I’ll be back next week with a project I’ve been working on… my personal interpretation of a “beauty look book.”

Read more of my (productive) rants on body image here:


64 responses to “All Women Are Real Women

  1. What a fantastic post. I fully agree: instead of trying to make oneself feel better by putting others down, what really lifts a person’s spirit (and strengthens his/her heart!) is to help bring others up to the place we want to be ourselves. I LOVE that you posted pics from the very progressive lookbook – and I’m excited to see your personal interpretation/rendition! Very good stuff here lady; keep on!

    • Thanks for the feedback! That lookbook made me so happy. I’m actually having some difficulty assembling mine – when I search for images of diverse models, I just cant find a lot of different physical combinations.

      I’m trying to focus on “high fashion” becuse that’s what drives culture (versus department store catalogs), and I find thin models of all races, and even plus size models of all races, but when it comes to people of different ages or with unique facial features or with some sort of visible disability, there’s very little out there.

      • I was imagining you were creating a look book of people from your personal life (or community). I think that would be a lot more interesting…

        • Stef, that’s a brilliant idea!

          The original was much simpler. I was interested to see the work of “plus size” models and wanted more examples of what’s labeled as “plus size” in the industry. Then I realized how much I was enjoying what I was seeing, in large part because I’d never come across it before and it was so refreshing to see beauty in a different light. So, I thought I’d pull something together to share.

          Doing more than that hadn’t crossed my mind, but I’m really glad you spoke up! A community lookbook *would* be much cooler, and now my brain is whirring with all the awesome off-shoots that could come from it… it’d definitely have more actual impact on boosting the body image of my friends, too, which is reason enough!

          So. I might take you up on this. It will take more than a week, though… but seriously, thanks for the idea! Any chance you’d want to try something similar? Now I’m envisioning getting lots of bloggers to join in. We could have a mini-revolution!

          • I agree that you community-based book would take longer than a week – but I think it would be totally worth it. As for me participating…. here’s what I’ll do: I’ll post a “call for submissions” in my three most-visited social media sites (my 2 active blogs, and my Facebook page), and see if my friends/family/readers want to participate. If I get at least, let’s say, 9 submissions, I’ll create my own ‘book’. How does that sound?

          • It sounds stellar! I’ll do the same. I’m taking the GRE this weekend (inset Cathy cartoon “Ack!” noise here) so I’ll get back to you on Monday about the response. Thanks for setting up this little adventure.

          • Glad to hear the GRE wasn’t too traumatic. If I’m ever in a bind and need to know how to complete some crazy math, I know the gal to call… 🙂


  3. “It’s your turn to feel bad! You’re so skinny you’re not even real.”
    My daughter is thin and healthy. She has been thin all her 17 yrs. Others girls are always harassing her calling her anorexic. Sadly this issue is definitely a two-sided coin.

    • Lori: that sucks. I’m so sorry. Being seventeen is hard. Hopefully she’s learned from you that healthy and happy are all that matters (although that’s hard to believe when you’re in high school).

  4. Great writing….why do I continue to look forward to each new posts? It’s because your words seem to flow so easily and I grin/giggle at your humor! I just read the Debenham Blog. They’re definitely onto something here. Can’t wait to see your personal beauty look book. Jill

  5. Very interesting read. I had never thought of it this way, but now that I have I definitely agree with what you are saying. Unfortunately, I kind of think everyone is crazy to some extent and there will always be some sort of issue like this. I actually get a hard time from people at my job because I choose to eat healthy and work out. I know, crazy right? Kudos to you for pointing this out!!

  6. I think all marketers need to take a cue from Debenham’s choices of models. It’s brilliant!

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  9. This is fantastic and I could not agree more. I’ve always had a weird feeling about sayings like “real women have curves” and you put perfectly why it makes me feel icky. I have a friend who is rail thin and cannot gain weight to save her life, in fact she cries when she gets sick bc she knows she’ll drop more weight. She is one of those girls that hates those curvy sayings.

    Thanks for your insight and a great post!

    • Courtney, thanks for your comment! I look forward to reading more of your writing, too. 🙂

      I have a friend who, at one point in her life, was advised by her physician to drink a quart of whole-fat milk a day as an effort to put some weight on. She did it diligently and gained a little bit, but clearly some body types really do shed calories like hungry baby birds.

  10. Very nice post, Jennie! I quit some time ago using the words “beautiful” or “beauty” to describe anyone’s looks, regardless of what they look like – curvy, thin, six foot blonde, or anything else. To me, beauty can only be from the inside out. It has nothing to do with being pretty or handsome. You can’t fake it or describe it, and it doesn’t age, or it gets better with age.

    • Oh, Safia, that’s really an interesting approach. I think I’m still pretty tied to the word “beautiful” to describe aesthetic qualities, but in my mind it also encompasses personality traits, amazing ideas, events that seem “meant to be…” basically, any time something makes me feel good, I think of it as beautiful, as opposed to it being some objective standard. If it’s beautiful to only me, it’s still beautiful. Ditto for you. 🙂 But, I love what you said about it being indescribable – I completely agree – and getting better with age. Thanks for visiting, and for the (beautiful) words.

    • Thanks for posting the link to your article, D. I hadn’t seen your piece before, but the line “If you’ve got a vagina, you’re a real woman,” is one for the ages. (Although I’ve met some absolutely real women without vaginas as well, but that’s a different topic.)

      I hope there are no hard feelings that we came up with the same title, as you clearly did so first. In my eyes, it’s wonderful to find more and more people writing about this. I’ve also come across a pretty excellent tumblr called, “All Women are Real Women” –

      • Absolutely no hard feeling whatsoever. Your blog was brought to my attention because of the title, but it’s a pretty straightforward enough title, so — YAY for us. And, I loved your blog, so even more YAY!

        Good to know you, sister. 🙂

  11. Reblogged this on Corporate Skirts and commented:
    I think this is a brilliant idea. Can’t wait to see how the blogger’s own interpretation of a “look book” develops. Check out the post for more details 🙂

  12. Great post! As a male, I feel the same way about media representation of what a man should look like as well, admittedly, it is not as open a debate as women. “So we can all be celebrated as incarnations of our endlessly diverse human amazingness.” this is what it’s all about!

    • Oh, I absolutely agree with you! There’s definitely a male standard of beauty. It tends to be less blatantly sexualized, and there’s more diversity within it, but I know women aren’t the only ones with insecurities brought about by the media.

      I dunno if it’s up your alley, but I’d be fascinated to read a post about this from a guy’s point of view. I’d try and address it myself, but I just don’t have the insight.

      Anyway, if you come back in a few weeks I’ll have my “Model Community” project finished and posted (you can read more about it here: There are several gentlemen participating in that and some of them shared choice quotes. 🙂

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    • You guys. Go read Kody’s post. It’s a beautifully written and very open piece about his thoughts on the portrayal of ideal men in the media.

  14. Love. This. All of these women are real—they’re not mannequins for crying out loud. Some are thinner, some are fatter, and nobody should freaking care. Men aren’t having these sorts of discussions, it’s always women who end up pointing at other women and saying “not real!” or something. Can’t we all just get along?

    • Perfectly said! I completely agree. I’m pretty much in the camp of, “Let’s all be happy and nice!” More people should come over here; there are comfy couches and fresh lemonade. And nobody cares what size you are because we’re all too busy doing *much* more interesting things.

  15. I totally agree with this, I am naturally skinny and there have loads of times when I’ve been made to feel ashamed or embarrassed about my body (whether directly or indirectly) usually indirectly but I won’t ramble, I could discuss this thing forever. I think one of the prime examples of this is when I saw on Facebook one day, an image that one my curvier mates posted. It had the tagline ‘You wouldn’t order a steak if it was nothing but bone, so, why would you want a woman that way?’ with a image of a curvy woman. And whilst I’m glad she seems happy in her own body, it spawned lots of comments along the lines of ‘I’ll never be a skinny no boobed girl!’ ‘Yeah, we’re REAL woman!’ etc… I guess I would have originally agreed with the message (I think everybody shape should be celebrated excluding those that infringe on health e.g morbid obesity and/or anorexia) but the comments just ended up slightly upsetting me.

    There are many more examples but I totally and wholeheartedly agree with this message. Glad to read.

    • Thanks for reading! And you got it – there’s definitely a way to celebrate whoever you are without dumping on someone else. We all just need to be a wee bit more thoughtful, which really isn’t that hard. Meanwhile, rock on with your bad self!

  16. What also steams me is the message seems to be that the only thing that is worthy about a woman is being ‘beautiful’ – is that the best we can hope to achieve is being beautiful? I understand what the message is – that all of us are beautiful (and we are) but why is that THE defining thing about us? I always want to scream when I hear this if a woman dies tragically “It’s such a shame, she was so beautiful” – so if she was ugly, it wouldn’t be a shame? All of us are more than what we look like.

    • You’re absolutely right. And I agree that the message that we’re all beautiful in our own way can totally co-exist with the idea that physical beauty is just one part of the much larger whole that makes a human.

  17. Reblogged this on Tip of My Tongue and commented:

    Day 3 of Body Image Week: Once I’d gotten mad about the media’s manipulation of body image, I started digging deeper. I found a wonderful community of self love supporters who were saying the words that need to be heard… but they were also so zealous in their support of women considered “plus size” that they were throwing their smaller sisters under the bus. Ever heard of ‘Real Women Have Curves?” What about “Men like meat; only dogs like bones.”

    I’d counter with: ALL WOMEN ARE REAL WOMEN.

    Also: In this post, I mention a UK-based clothing company called Debenham’s that is doing some amazing work to change the industry. Updates since I first wrote this piece are that they now use size 16 mannequins in their stores to represent the average size of British women, and they have a policy to never photo shop their lingerie models. Rock on!

  18. Jennie, this piece was so great. Thank you for writing it. You are one, positive sister. I’m so pleased my six-year-old daughter has many, independent, creative, and strong thinking women to look up to. That feeling is reassuring to the nth degree. Your mama must be very proud of you. *smiling*

    • Can I be honest? There was a time when I found women calling each other “sister” to be kind of cheesy. But now, I love it. Really, really love it, and I think the change came around the time I started understanding that smart, passionate women banding together and making change is a force to rival any on earth. Maybe it’s also because I’m starting to think about my someday-daughter, and how I’ll want her to feel surrounded by a “by-choice-if-not-by-blood” family of amazing role models. So thank you for your friendship, and your comment, and your priorities in bringing up your daughter. You’ve warmed my heart.

  19. I doubt if I’ll ever feel confident about my body – but one of the benefits of ageing is that annoying as it can be to become ‘invisible’ it does let you creep up on people and surprise them! Keep up the good work Jennie,

    • May you never stop being full of surprises, Mary! You know, your comment about doubt doesn’t strike me as sad so much as it does very truthful – I also doubt I’ll ever be able to completely shake certain insecurities. But maybe that’s just part of the human condition, and as long as there’s enough that I love to keep me focused on that, I think I’ll be all right. It also helps to have examples like you, with your wonderful “creeping up”… 🙂 …and my mom, who says she’s more confident at 63 than ever before in her life – and it shows.

  20. This is absolute truth. It’s not good to shame someone period, no matter what they look like. Even if they do fit the “ideal” beauty standard, it doesn’t mean they tried to or advocate it, so to speak. 😛 I am really enjoying this week!

    • I am so glad! It’s strange to be reusing old material, but this material is the stuff I wish had gotten Freshly Pressed, and I want it to have its time in the sun.

      And, as to your comment, of course you’re so on point – I’m not sure why grown-ass adults feel the need to shame anyone. Hating a person because they happen to lie closer to a societal standard than you do is about as productive as gay people telling bi people they need to “pick a team.” Our voices are always stronger when they’re in harmony.

  21. Ah, this was great. I was a little thrown off by the VS/Dove photo when I saw it start circulating around facebook. We really need to stop drawing lines and defining things in a way that is exclusive. I love the last few photos as well 🙂

    • Aren’t they great? I especially love the one of the two models in bathing suits. The first time I saw it, my eyes kept flitting back and forth, like, “They’re so different! So who looks better? She’s gorgeous. And she’s gorgeous. Whoa… they’re equally gorgeous, in totally unique ways.”

      Typing that out, it sounds really dumb. But in the moment, I thought it was awesome that the photo was so well-arranged and really highlighted that. There’s no need to play favorites!

  22. Hey Jennie, so thought-provoking and beautifully stated. Loved the Andre the Giant reference. And I’m very pleased to note that Debenham’s was one of my clients when I worked as a consultant in London. They always impressed me and it looks like they’re on a good path. Thanks again for tackling this touchstone issue. ~Terri

  23. Jennie
    You go girl, you are so on the right track. Keep articulating this until we start to get it. And, yep, I’m a bloke following your stuff and I love it. Rd

    • “Keep articulating this until we start to get it.” <– I love it! I might have to borrow that to describe what the point of having a blog is to people who don't "get" it. And thanks for reading! You're a right cool bloke, you are.

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