This post is inspired by a comment I saw recently on Instagram. Someone commented “this is what real women look like” on a post of a plus size blogger. Now I realize this was meant to be a compliment and it was meant as a way to uplift. I did not misunderstand the intent but still felt unsettled by it. Phrases like “real women” and “real bodies” are terms that have never really sat right with me because they are usually made in reference to plus size women or women who have a little more to love around the midsection.
As many of you know, I am a body positivity activist. I want people to love their bodies: period. While I do advocate for plus size people, that is mostly as a result of the fact that I am plus size myself. I recognize the need for people like me to see themselves represented in a positive way so that they can learn to feel the same about themselves. That does not mean that this desire extends ONLY to plus sized people.
There are many people who do not have positive body images of themselves. This problem is relevant to many people and is an issue that I recognize is not only relevant to one type of person. So when I hear or read things that emphasize any one body type as being “real” it makes me uncomfortable. It allows for a line to be drawn in the sand that helps no one but could potentially harm a lot of people. The image below is an example that shows just how diverse beauty can be. Which of them represents real beauty? Trick question. They all do. Every woman in this picture is a real woman that represents a real body that other women can identify with and see themselves in.
The body positivity movement was largely born as a result of a need for acceptance: self-acceptance and making society see that it needs to accept more body types as being beautiful. People who don’t fit society’s static idea of beauty wanted to see a shift in the narrative of what can and should be considered beautiful. The problem is, in an effort to fight for that acceptance, we isolate other people who fit into the traditional idea of beauty.
You’ve seen it before: skinny girl fat shames plus sized girl and/or plus sized girl shames skinny girl for being skinny. The fixation society has with pitting women against each other is sad. You see it all the time with movies. The skinny girl is made to be the bully and the fluffier girl is written as a character who is bullied. It’s no wonder that real life imitates this very toxic relationship. The difference is, now the bullying is being done by both parties and hiding behind a mask of positivity.
This leads me back to my original point about “real women” and “real bodies”. Who defines what real is? What makes me with all of my fluff, a more realistic version of what women look like? The very idea of what real women look like is flawed because we are all different. Not only that, but it rests more on the idea that women who don’t fit traditional ideas of beauty are flawed and therefore more authentic. It embraces the idea that a real woman is not the model you see on runways or on the cover of magazines. It excludes these women without considering their feelings and own issues with body image. It adds to the narrative instead of creating a new one.
I have a best friend who is skinny but eats like a horse. That is no exaggeration. She can eat me under the table any day and it’s largely because of genetics. Her metabolism is extremely fast so even if she slacks off from the gym for a couple of months, she’d be hard pressed to even gain a pound. By all accounts she checks off the list of all the things that make up a traditional beauty: thin but curvy, short but can photograph tall, gorgeous skin, and lovely hair. Still, as beautiful as she is, she struggles with body image. To others the very idea of someone like her not oozing self-confidence comes as a huge surprise, but it’s not uncommon for most women to struggle with body image.
Being plus sized does not mean we are the only ones who struggle to find the beauty in ourselves. Our struggle does not give us the right to insult other women or put them down in order to build ourselves up. A real woman is everyone woman. A real body is everybody. Our journey to self-love cannot be taken by putting down other people to do it. Body-shaming doesn’t just happen to women who are plus sized, it can also happen in the reverse. Placing your insecurities on others is unfair and whatever confidence is built as a result will be based on an extremely faulty foundation. All women are beautiful.
What we should strive for is inclusiveness not separation. I want to expand the idea of what is beautiful by helping others see their beautiful. You read that right. Their beautiful. Your beautiful. Own it and flaunt your beautiful. There is no one type of beauty, no “real beauty” or “real body”, but a beauty that is uniquely your own.
It’s possible to love yourself and not put down others in the process.