Society, Beauty, and the Myth of the Real Woman


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I have a beef with society’s concept of beauty.

I know that many people do and many people before me have blogged about it.

My take I feel is probably going to be somewhat unique.  And it might rub people the wrong way.  Bear with me.

Today’s culture is definitely putting a lot of pressure on women, teens, and tweens to look a certain way in order to be beautiful.  In order to be beautiful, you must be a certain height, have a certain bust size, and be thin.  I find this shameful.  Our daughters, and even ourselves, should not feel that kind of pressure.  Makeup, hair dye, cosmetic surgeries, eating disorders…..personally I think all of those are far too common.

But….that being said, I have a beef with society’s response to that push.  There is a vast movement of people (rightly) attempting to counteract the stereotypes and negativity.  Their campaigns run something like this, “Real women have curves.”  “Real women aren’t a size 0.”

My beef is two-fold.

First off is the use of “real women.”  In their attempt to not shame the average woman, they instead are shaming the real women who are thin.  There are real women who have skinny waists.  There are real women who have fast metabolisms.  There are real women who have small busts but their curves are no less gorgeous or sexy.

To use the term “real women” implies that the women who fit those labels are fake women.  False women.  I have seen so many blog posts or comments on social media in response to these fake women.  Accusations galore of eating disorders or photoshop or plastic surgeries.  Don’t get me wrong…eating disorders are a very serious reality for many people.  I do not at all mean to downplay that.  And I do recognize that a lot of these “perfect women” in the news are photoshopped or have had surgeries to achieve their “perfect bodies.”  But not all.

I have been ruminating on all of this for years.  I have always been thin.  I have been accused of having an eating disorder.  I have memories that are both awkward and painful because of what people have said (either directly to me or what people have said online to “my kind”).  I have had to overcome a lot of things in my personal life to accept that I am a real woman.  I have had to overcome a lot of feelings of shame about myself.  Some of it I am still working on.

God creates real women of all shapes and sizes.  So my first beef with society is that they limit real women to anyone greater than a size 6.

And now for my second beef with society.  And here I tread lightly, knowing this could be taken the wrong way.  Please know that I am not trying to be offensive.

I find it concerning that we have this big ban on saying anything about (whispers) overweight people.  I understand that bullying is a real and, unfortunately, not uncommon problem.  I understand that society is trying to correct the horrible trend of bullying.  But the answer is not to swing the opposite direction and jump on anyone who says anything about anyone being overweight.

There are some celebrities today that are plus size.  They receive a lot of accolades for accepting themselves the way they are and being a role model for the younger generations.  In some ways I totally agree.  I do not think that anyone should try to change themselves just to fit in with society.  It is hard to be different from the so-called perfect body size.  So I do applaud these celebrities.

But my question is this.  Is that really the kind of role model we want?  Do we really want to just unconditionally accept others or ourselves as overweight?

Again, in a way, yes.  Yes, we want our daughters to see people who are not bending to what culture says is hot.  We want role models who are women who aren’t afraid to embrace their talents because they aren’t what culture says is beautiful.

But, and again I tread lightly here…..being overweight is a problem.  Being overweight can lead to diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes, sleep apnea, liver and kidney disease, and pregnancy problems.

It’s ironic that in our culture it’s ok to call a thin woman anorexic (because they aren’t real women, remember?)  but if someone is overweight or even dangerously close…the polite thing to do is say nothing.

To be fair, I know that there are many things other than over-eating that can cause a person to be overweight.  Sometimes medications for other health problems can cause someone to gain weight.  Some people just have big bone structure.  So I definitely would not want to narrow the discussion down to just diet.

But at the same time….to be honest, the polite thing to do is not to just keep silent.  Being overweight can have serious consequences.  So can being underweight.  Being underweight, having anorexia, over-eating and obesity all can be life threatening.  Why are we so worried about offending people that we would rather watch them slowly fade away or die of a heart attack than to just lovingly communicate?

I am not advocating that we just approach people and confront them about their weight.  That would be rude and highly offensive.

My suggestion is that rather than society talking about “real women” or what not….we should be talking about health.  The goal for every person should be health, not a specific number on the scale.  What is healthy for one woman may not be healthy for another woman.  Being underweight is not healthy.  Being overweight is not healthy.  What I think that all women (and men. and kids.) should be working toward is overall health.  Eating healthy.  Exercising.  Following good sleep patterns.

This post hits the nail on the head.  The goal is not to be skinny.  The goal is not to be large.  The goal is to be healthy.




6 thoughts on “Society, Beauty, and the Myth of the Real Woman

  1. Well said, Bonnie. This is one of most balanced and most respectful to both sides posts Ive read on the topic.

    The ‘not a real woman’ for thin women thing bothers me. Some woman are naturally thin and have to try to keep weight on. God has made them that way, and they are no less real or lovely (which Bonnie- you are beautiful.)

    On the otherside, I have to work very hard to stay as small as size 10. I thought I was basically an anamoly growing up. I really appreciate seeing the plus sized actresses. It is very healing to see these ladies who take up more space and are proud of their figures. I truly hated as a child how I took up twice as much space as my friends.

    We need to emphasize health. Which will look different on everyone. Emphasize health and value- all men and women are made in the image of God and valued by Him.

  2. Well put Bonnie – I hope this becomes a more common theme of blog posts. Maybe Dove and other companies with similar campaigns will start featuring thin women too so that their photos of “real women” encompasses all women since “real women” come in all shapes and sizes.
    We need to work on eliminating emphasis on being any type and instead work on accepting what is natural for us as individuals. Teach our children to focus on beauty, the true version of which has nothing to do with exterior appearance, and not on “hotness.”

  3. Great thoughts Bonnie! I agree with you! Real women are all shapes and sizes and designed by the same Creator who made the marvelous stars, glamorous galaxies, and the very concept of beauty.
    I feel for both ends of the spectrum. Because, what they’re really trying to say is real women are only a small middle section of that spectrum. I know some people are naturally made to be petite for life, and others, like myself will always struggle with gaining. Skinny does not mean unhealthy, just like overweight doesn’t always mean unhealthy. We are meant to care for our bodies. That means taking personal responsibility with hygiene, diet, etc. Doing the best you can is what is expected. It’s less about a mode or specific way.
    Here’s my perspective on the overweight portion:
    I’m a fat lady. Actually, I’m obese. I look in the mirror, especially without clothes after my shower and see the rolls that make up my love handles and the cellulite that devours my upper thighs. I see the way my thighs are dramatically scalloped because of my body fat percentage.
    No one has to tell me I’m fat. I see it. Unless you have dysmorphia or other body image issues, you can see what’s right in front of you. I step on a scale and again, it reads a number too high for my 5’5 frame.
    I go to the doctor and the always chime in about the risks associated with obesity. I get rude looks when I occasionally stop for ice cream or sip a starbucks.
    I sit down to eat and the lady at the event in her mid fifties loudly exclaims. “Oh, dear, now I have to watch what I eat. I used to be able to eat whatever I wanted and not gain in ounce in my twenties!” I’ve never had that privilege.
    Why is it so hard for someone who will willingly accept that someone with a “fast metabolism” can eat whatever they want, and overeat, and not gain, but be so quick to point out caloric means and portion control to overweight people? I typically ate no more than 1800 calories and still watched numbers rise. But you know what? I’ll also admit that I had a carb loading problem and didn’t realize what carbs were doing to me. And I had an unaddressed thyroid issue I didn’t find out about until college.
    And just like it took years to become the weight I am today, it will most likely take months, and probably, years, to work myself down to a weight that is easier on this frame of mine.
    In the meantime, I don’t need scowls and people to tell me I’m fat. If they have true concerns, that’s fine, but why can’t we love our bodies where we’re at? The true message I think of this plus size attitude is, it’s okay to be where you are. You know what needs to change, but you are also great the way you are.
    Because no one, at any point in life, should hate themselves for being who they are. You can work out things like weight, but we should see people as people.
    And when half the stores at the mall don’t carry your size, and you can hardly find gym clothes large enough, sometimes you just need messages that say it’s okay.

  4. I like this a lot!! I am on the thin side as well and my goal is to just be healthy. The sad reality is that all of the advice and expectations of us out there aren’t really for our benefit at all. Everything is out to make a buck on beauty products and food that isn’t good for you. If health was the objective than some businesses would suffer. Yes, you should accept yourself but should we accept ourselves as unhealthy? Well, said!

  5. I couldn’t agree more! Even though I’m on the other end of the weight spectrum, health is the key thing. I’ve been working towards getting healthier because number one I don’t feel good. Number two, I don’t recognize the person I see in the mirror anymore.

  6. I agree with you on this. I’m skinny like you… I’ve been told I have the body of a model or a dancer and that’s just my genetics. I haven’t had to work really hard to have this body. Yet as you say, both being underweight and overweight is a problem, and neither should be ignored (or applauded). We should be encouraged “real women” to be healthy… and that might look different for each woman. I think you’re skinnier than I am, but we’re both healthy (well, I could lose a little bit of belly flab). Applauding an obviously overweight woman for being “real” and confident in herself isn’t helping her… she should lose weight. (This is a bit of beef with me because my husband is overweight, and while I want to respect and boost his self-esteem, I also want him to lose weight… it’s a fine line.) Anyway, thanks for sharing. 🙂

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