An article I wrote for Base Magazine issue 4!! I am so grateful for the opportunity to write for such a rad magazine.
What Makes a Real Woman?
What we’re supposed to think when we see Dove present us with yet another image of able-bodied, symmetrical and curvy women is this: “Wow! This company totally gets me. I’m a real woman and real women have curves!” Without critical assessment these images seem to reassure us ladies with stretch-marks and pudgy bellies that we are worthy of love and adoration. But the message is not so simple or clear-cut. Dove’s advertisements and others like them have added fuel to a fiery battle between women of different sizes to be named a “Real Woman”. As if that title grants you leverage over the rest of the people who have been claiming womanhood (gasp! but they aren’t nearly curvy enough!). Ok, maybe women don’t actually think that the size of their thighs determine their status on the gender-scale, but this phrase has been used to mercilessly body-shame those who do not fit the mold for women in society (which happens to change according to what sells). The issue with this approach to selling beauty products is that it gives the appearance of a broadening definition of beauty while actually just adding barbed-wire to the fence around what is deemed feminine and attractive. (Oh you thought you were unattractive before? Now you’re not even a real woman.) If we can reject the idea that all women are better with kids or worse at driving or any of the useless stereotypes that only fence us in, why is it that we struggle to reject the notion that all “real women” look a certain way? The fact is that women look all sorts of ways. By going from acknowledging only skinny attractive cis-women to acknowledging skinny and curvy attractive cis-women, society is telling us what qualifies as a “real woman.” And surprise! They left a lot of people out.
Capitalism’s use of the term “real women” is dangerous and dismissive to those that do not even enter the equation during this battle between sizes. By labelling a new set of body-types as “real,” these campaigns dismiss other entirely unrepresented bodies (like those of disabled and trans*women) as unimportant or less real. While advertisements starring big beautiful women give the impression of embodied diversity, they are reinforcing many of the traditional (and patriarchal) understandings of beauty and the body. Some women are physically disabled, some have penises. Some women embrace gender roles while others reject them. By completely removing these women from the discussion of “real women,” capitalism (and those of us who continue to argue over the attractiveness of skinny vs. curvy) have neglected the experiences and physical beauty of many women with very real bodies.
Capitalism tricks us into thinking that they want the best for us. Commercials tell us they want us to be healthy, confident, successful. Dove wants us to love the bodies that we’re born with. But is that really what they want? To put it simply: does a person who is satisfied with their body, mind and societal placement continue to buy things they don’t need or strive for an unattainable appearance? No. These campaigns aren’t without motives. They are trying to sell you the new image of attractiveness and we need to stop buying it. All women are real women – no quotations needed. No body should be relegated to a lesser status and no body should be made invisible. By not including bodies that significantly deviate from what society deems attractive or feminine, capitalist society is actively dictating to us what an authentic female body is. This overwhelming preference of able-bodied and cis-women in these advertisements speaks volumes about our society, but it doesn't have to speak for us. Do not let society tell you who you are and how you can and cannot identify. Beauty is so much more than our bodies – but even our physical selves should be embraced and celebrated for their diversity.