Saturday, October 3, 2009

"Real" Women

I love Stuff Mom Never Told You, one of the three podcasts I listen to from How Stuff Works. Not as much as I love Stuff You Should Know, where Josh and Chuck's banter makes my workday so much more fun and interesting than it would be sans banter, but I still love it all the same. It's cool to have two girls discuss girl stuff, like why it is important to talk about dating violence, burlesque, women changing (or not) their names after they get married, and so on and so forth. Molly and Cristen are usually calm and even-handed, even when I would prefer it if they weren't, and truth be told, I can handle that because it reminds me not everyone wants to hear the rantings of a feminist about women's issues. That's what I listen to RH Reality Check with Amanda Marcotte for.

With all that being said, though, there is a problem with how they talked about women's bodies in their recent (otherwise fabulous) podcast about women's magazines. And it was in this way - the way they talked about 'real women':
CRISTEN: There was a huge, you know, outpouring of praise for Glamour for showing a real, real woman's body with actual, not - they didn't photoshop out her belly flap, she actually had a little, a little thigh fat, and it reflected more of a normal woman's body than, say, Kate Moss.
CRISTEN: Oh, yeah, it was very positive. They were saying, 'Oh, thank you so much, Glamour, for actually, you know, showing a real woman's body. We can actually relate to this'. And Lizzie Miller got all this wonderful attention and Vogue has also promised to, like, start showing more 'plus-size' models in their magazines as well.'
CRISTEN: If there was such a huge outpouring of love for a single photo, Molly, in Glamour, what does that say about women's magazines and where we are today? I mean, if it was such a breath of fresh air to actually see some semblance of a real woman's body, what kind of messages are we getting from these magazines?
MOLLY: I remember this one time [17 Magazine] put in this chubby model - not, she wasn't chubby, she looked real, but they got just as many letters, they said, from people who didn't like seeing someone who looks like that in a magazine as people saying, 'Thank you, that looks like me'.
Four 'reals' and one 'normal' in the course of the first 4 minutes and 34 seconds of the podcast to describe women's bodies.

That is not good. It isn't good, because it's not like Kate Moss isn't a real woman. She is. She is a flesh and blood woman. She isn't an automaton. She isn't a cyborg (I don't think...). She counts as really being a human being and really being a woman.

Delineating which women's bodies count as real and normal and should be shown because they are real and normal and which women's bodies are fake is just as much as a problem and only showing women like Kate Moss as THE type of body that is acceptable for women. Women come in a profound amount of shapes and sizes. Women should be shown to come in a profound amount of shapes and sizes, without one body counting as good and real and worthy of attention and one being sick and bad and not normal.

I'm not saying this because I look like Kate Moss. I'm not saying this because I look like Lizzie Miller. I'm saying this because women as a group can't make progress by delegitimizing another woman's body. Every time we talk about how one body type isn't 'real', isn't 'normal', doesn't make up a 'real woman', we are implying that the women who are that body type are fake, are freaks, aren't women. That is the problem with the title, "Real Women Have Curves". Yes, a lot of women have curves. Yes, more women with curves being given prominent roles in various forms of media would be good. No, there is no such thing as a 'fake woman'. Women with curves? Women. Women who are more angular? Still women. Trans women? Also still women. Just women. Not 'real women', because there are no 'fake woman', no 'false women', no women-who-just-don't-count women. And every time we talk in those terms, we alienate those women who aren't immediately enveloped by whatever stipulation we've placed on womanhood.

This is the same problem I have with articles like a recent one linked on Feministing, called 10 Ways to Teach Kids About Sexism. Number 1?
Take direct action: make a small bonfire of Bratz dolls. As their creepy baby doll- faces, collagen'ed lips, wisp-thin waists and fishnet tights begin to melt into a toxic blob, encourage your daughters and her friends to clap and chant "Burn the freaks!"
Yes, the best way to lead your daughter and her friends to body acceptance is to make freakish other bodies. It's not to explain that most people don't have lips like Bratz Dolls (Tina Thompson, basketball player extraordinaire, excluded). It isn't to explain that no, a preteen cannot be dressing like the Bratz dolls dress, for X,Y&Z reasons. It isn't to make your daughter and her friends feel comfortable in their own skin and with their own bodies by continually stressing how bodies other than Bratz bodies and Kate Moss' body and so on and so forth are also beautiful. It is to create an Us-vs-Them dichotomy, a 'normal' body and the body of the 'freak'. And that, if we come across a 'freak', we can and should see them as subpar. And maybe try to roast marshmallows over them.

Tip number 5?
Explain to them that though many young women idolise Victoria Beckham and want to be as thin as her no man in the known world finds her attractive.
Except, one assumes, her husband. Who married her and has three children with her. And here's the problem with this (as well as the Bratz example and the constant pickings on Kate Moss): we're still teaching girls (because even though the article's heading talks about teaching 'kids' about sexism, apparently only girls need to know) that being attractive should be an end goal, and that there are certain body types that are prohibited from being attractive. If Lizzie Miller is a 'real woman', then Kate Moss and Victoria Beckham are not. If I'm allowed to have men attracted to me, then Victoria Beckham, with her body and hair oh-so very different than mine, loses out. It can't be that attractiveness is all relative, that Victoria Beckham is beautiful and I am too; it can't be that there is a guy who will like me and think I'm pretty and Victoria gets Becks to do the same for her.

There is an end game, and some women count and some women do not. That does nothing to lessen the sexist lessons. All it does is supply new sexist lessons; all it does is change up some of the victims of these various sexist practices. And though I know (or hope) that Cristen and Molly - two cool girls who have taught me how to make my own lip gloss - don't mean for the take away of the 'real women' description to have an inherent 'as opposed to those other not-real women we've been exposed to in magazines for years and years', it is still there. And we need for it not to be.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've always been a fan of plus-size models! There's a great site with many images of plus-size models here:

They're all gorgeous.

The site's forum also has thought-provoking discussions about body image and the media.