Soapbox: Real Women

Dove-Real-Beauty-CampaignSick of being defined by no more than her dress size, Aoife Valentine tells the fashion industry to get real

With the new fashion season just beginning and fashion weeks taking place across the globe, there’s been a resurgence of the term ‘real women’. It’s in advertisements, it’s in TV shows, and it seems like the world has decreed that women’s magazines must use it at least ten times in everything they publish.

‘Real women’, of course, are those who find themselves buying clothes in any size from 12 onwards. We’ve chosen to skip past the definition of ‘real’ in any good dictionary, and instead have decided, as a society, that it must mean ‘anything but thin’, more commonly phrased as ‘curvy’. ‘Curvy’ doesn’t even mean anything anymore: its definition has been blurred to the point where it rarely means having curves in the right places, and mostly acts as a nicer way of saying spherical.

All we know about ‘real women’ is that they are defined by their appearance and not much more, while all we know about ‘fake’ women is that they need a sandwich, stat. It’s an obvious backlash against the waif thin models that have been paraded around for the last 15 years or so and in a lot of ways, it makes perfect sense.

Models should be more representative and there have been positive changes in that respect. Increasingly more varied body shapes and sizes are being used in ad campaigns, and the organisers of fashion weeks the world over are banning unhealthy or underage models from their runways.

Encouraging women to stop starving themselves to reach an often unrealistic ideal is an honourable intention, but promoting it by defining women solely on their dress size or their cup size is not the way to inspire healthy body image across the board. Those women who are thin, slender, skinny or whatever other way you want to describe those under a size 10, are not fake or artificial, even if they aren’t naturally that size.

‘Realness’ is a way to market products to those who were sick of hearing that they weren’t skinny enough, and to connect to women who were fighting back against the unattainable image of the ‘perfect body’ that was being thrown in their faces at every turn. We’ve just reached the opposite side of the same coin, though.

Now, instead of being told that we’re not sexy unless you can see our hip-bones from the moon, we’re being told that we’re not sexy unless we’ve got so many curves Jessica Rabbit would be jealous. Why is it necessary to pick one or the other? Demonising one, no matter which one, isn’t beneficial to anyone.

Women aren’t, and can’t possibly, or at least healthily, be one or the other. Those who have a naturally athletic build can’t suddenly get wider hips, and vice versa. Fashion houses may prefer to showcase their designs on slimmer women but they still produce them in a range of sizes because we aren’t all the same. If they can do that, they should be equally able to hire people creative enough not to have to rely on bullying and patronising half of the female population to market and sell their clothes.

Healthy should be the aim, and should be what we promote.  That, however, won’t fit into one easy size and shape. Maybe once the fashion industry figures that out, women can be defined by more than just their dress size.



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