Women are rarely satisfied with their appearances. I’m not. My mother isn’t. My roommate isn’t. I don’t think I’ve ever met a woman in my life who looked at herself and said “Nope, I wouldn’t change a thing.” And to me, that’s rather heartbreaking.

We are all constantly pushed into a quest for more, a quest for pretty, beautiful, or, sexy, a quest for different. We, as women, are beleaguered with constant media impressions saying “You are not enough. Buy this, and then you will be one step closer to being enough.” We have products that are anti-aging, anti-fading, anti-wrinkle, all to help you stay young, desirable, vital.

For many, many years, there’s been a great focus on bodies in our media and in our minds. Bodies that are too skinny or too fat are seen as unattractive or lesser. The perfect proportions, the perfect weight, the perfect size – these are things that women are conditioned to want for themselves, and things they are conditioned to seek.

In recent years, many women have pushed back against that trend. Curves have been embraced, women with large thighs and broad chests and wide hips have flaunted their curves rather than trying to hide them, enjoyed their bodies rather than trying to change them. This is incredible. This is amazing. This is good and right and true and should be encouraged for every woman. Enjoy what you have, flaunt it too. But with this acceptance of self, for many women, comes a habit of judging and putting down others.

I’m sure you’ve heard a woman say something along the lines of what “real women” do, or say, or look like, or act like. From the 2002 movie Real Women Have Curves to e-cards based on the behavior and looks of a real woman, we have defined “real women” in a thousand different ways. And while this may comfort women whose goals, appearances, or desires are considered counterculture or “other”, it is actually an incredibly isolating way of improving one’s own self image. By saying that real women have this or that characteristic, appearance, or habit, we are implying that all other women are fake, lesser. While we are real women, others are not.

How is this in any way different from skinny women disparaging larger women, or women of one race disparaging another? In fact, it isn’t. It creates a divide between women based on shallow differences that do not change your heart, your mind, or your soul. We are all real women. Real women have curves. Real women also have none. Real women are from Europe and real women are from Asia. Real women are tall, short, skinny, fat. Real women wear makeup, or don’t. Real women work out, or don’t. If you are a woman, you are a real woman.

It’s time to stop disparaging each other and subtly undermining each other by saying what’s real and what isn’t. Every woman is a real woman, and implying that some of us – any of us – are lesser based on our appearance is bullying, plain and simple. Alienating and isolating others may provide us with a quick boost of self-esteem, but it will never be a path to long-term happiness.


Well said! You are speaking powerfully from a place of deep concern and compassion. I truly believe that each of us ARE the media, and we have the power to shape messages, even if in subtle, small ways initially.

In those subtle, individual ways, in one conversation and then another, in community with each other – with the person standing right next to us, we can see the needle move on what constitutes REAL.

(I’m not sure the boost from alienating and isolating is actually self-esteem – it’s more like adrenaline, something jacked-up and unsustainable. It sounds like the tracker jackers from The Hunger Games in my ears.)

If we can experience REAL boosts in self-esteem, and other-esteem, from recognising the beauty in how we actually ARE, then we change the culture. We ARE the culture – no need to wait for someone else to do it for us.

You are a wonder. This is an important conversation. I salute your awesomeness.

“By saying that real women have this or that characteristic, appearance, or habit, we are implying that all other women are fake, lesser. While we are real women, others are not.”

No. When we talk about real women, we are rightly calling attention to the fact that the women we see everyday in the media are, quite literally, fake women – made of photoshop and airbrushing, to such a ridiculous extent that they couldn’t possibly exist in human nature (I’m looking at you, Ralph Lauren). I see nothing wrong with stressing the dichotomy between real women – that is, flesh and blood women who actually exist in the world – and the computer-generated trickery passed off as women (despite the fact that the resulting images don’t even look like the actual *real women* (OMG! I said it! I’m such a catty bitch apparently!) who’ve posed for the image. In fact, I think it’s important to stress, especially to girls and boys who aren’t yet media savvy, the difference between the fake women the media inundates them with and real women, a term I’ll continue to embrace, as it’s a very important concept in this world of poreless, kneeless, photoshop FAKE women.

I’m interested in what you say here. I agree with you in saying that the media that we are inundated with is not healthy, and that a distinction should be made between media impressions and real-life expectations.

Perhaps you have heard the phrase “real women” in different settings than I have. I have heard it used to put down women who do not have curves, or who don’t lift weights, or who don’t have a certain characteristic.

I’m not saying women should be striving to attain the unattainable appearances we see in the media – far from it. I’m saying when we call ourselves real women, we need to make sure that is an inclusive term, as opposed to an exclusive term.

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