‘Real women’ are really having a moment. They are used by companies to advertise clothes or products, in articles to praise one particular body type over another, and on Facebook in memes shared by users in an attempt to define what exactly a ‘real woman’ is.
I can see the appeal of the ‘real women’ trend. Firstly, many who utilise the term are doing so in order to have a positive effect - they want to praise women, to lift them up. Secondly, the majority of the ‘real women’ that are featured in adverts or photos are women that aren't traditionally considered "beautiful" by the standards of the western world. I put "beautiful" in quotation marks because our western culture defines beauty in the narrowest terms possible.
However, there is a major problem with this trend. By its nature, it is exclusionary. Those who don’t fit the ‘real woman’ stereotype aren't considered to be ‘real women’. Whilst many excluded do fit into the narrow definition of western beauty, this is a negative and demeaning development in women’s relationships with their bodies. Having ‘real women’ and ‘not real women’ pits women against each other, it divides us purely on the appearance of our bodies. There are clearly defined battle lines between those who are real and those who are not. I believe that there has to be a way to celebrate all body types, hair types, and ethnicities without criticising or attacking those who don’t share those characteristics.
The other issue I have with the ‘real women’ trend is that it reduces women to their bodies and their bodies alone. Nothing in the ‘real women’ campaign speaks of intelligence, or humour or kindness. You are a ‘real woman’ (or not) purely based upon your appearance. This is a drastic step back in terms of feminism. The message of many of the Facebook memes I have seen on my feed is this: ‘real men like curves, only dogs go for bones.’ This message is problematic in a number of ways. Firstly, it implies that a woman’s worth entirely depends on whether men find her attractive. Secondly, it suggests that men have absolutely NO free will when it comes to what they find attractive in a partner. And thirdly, it suggests that there are such a thing as ‘real men’ - a concept as ridiculous as ‘real women’.
Finally, the nerdy part of me wants to ask; what on earth is a fake woman? Are they imaginary or just a feeble imitation of a real woman? The phrase itself makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. The implicit message of this trend is that a woman is a woman because of her figure, and her looks. This is not only misogynistic but also transphobic and reductive to women and their many varied achievements that have absolutely no connection to their physicality.
I actually agree with what I think the core intent of the ‘real women’ trend is: all women, regardless of body shapes, ethnicity, sexuality, disability and any other factor, need to be celebrated in the mainstream cultural media. However, putting down another girl because she is different from that isn't a celebration and nor is it progress. All women are real, and to say otherwise is a disservice to women worldwide.