SINCE THE deaths of two South American models caused by complications related to anorexia, the weight of models and other aspirational types – actresses, TV hosts, singers, reality TV stars et al – has come under fire and rightfully so. The British Fashion Council set up the Model Health Inquiry. Madrid Fashion Week banned models with BMIs under 18. Essentials Magazine has decided to use REAL WOMEN instead of models and actresses in all future issues. But, man, is it about time we women -- REAL WOMEN of all shapes, sizes, colors, creeds -- took issue with the misuse of that term -- real women.
Because a woman is scarily thin doesn't make her any less of a real woman, in my book, than one who happens to be scarily overweight. It's true that the relentless march of under-nourished, under-aged and over-airbrushed girls that peer out at female-kind from every nook and cranny of visual popular culture is un-nerving at the best of times and horribly damaging – even fatal – at the worst..
But, is the backlash against them – this defining non-skinny women as the sole real women – the right way either? Sure, it's easy to indignantly smirk at the wafer-thin women as pawns in male master-minded industries, reducing them to mere objects in our minds, open game to our hate and scorn. But does being clinically obese make you more real than a woman who suffers from starving herself? How about those who don't happen to be the average size (14) but don't fit into sample sizes (0) either? Those who pleasantly fall into that no-man's land of size 6 to 8 (what I grew up believing was the ideal thanks to my Sweet Valley High books in Junior High)? Are those in that category also not considered real? And why such a narrow bloody definition based on nothing but an arbitrary (and believe me, they are arbitrary) trouser size?
It's time to stop the binary thinking, ladies.
An either-or mentality has never gotten anyone anywhere in this world. Being underweight can be unhealthy and wreak havoc on the collective female psyche when constantly championed as the female ideal. But, on the flip side, when the average size of a nation (I'm looking at you in all your sweatpant-clad glory, America, and a population where 6 out of every 10 people is overweight) starts to cost healthcare upwards of $150 billion annually, we need to man (and woman) up and realize there's nothing inherently better or more real about being bigger either.
It seems while our ideal keeps shrinking, our idea of what's average keeps ballooning so that our sense of normalcy is bordering on surreal. The bigger we get the smaller we want to be, making our aspirations and our state of reality equally dangerous.
I often hear the name of Marilyn Monroe invoked in defense of the plus-sized American woman – "Marilyn Monroe was a size 16. That says it all", said Rosanne Barr, giving women on the top end of the spectrum carte blanche to continue scorning smaller women. But she's wrong. Not only are vanity sizes de riguer (a size 4 of 2010 is approx. the same size as a 1980s size 8 and so on) but Monroe had a 22-inch waist on a good day and 23-incher on a bad day. Clearly not the measurement of today's average woman. So stop it, ladies, and face the music! We all come in different shapes and sizes and there's no justifying one's weight and worth as a real woman because of a number on a scale or invoking the name of Miss Monroe to assuage delicate egos!
You're no less of a woman if you're a size 2 than a size 12 than a size 6 than a size 24. End of story.
I agree that airbrushing, the cult of skinny (esp. paired with bolt-on boobs, surgery, injections et al) and all that nonsense is, well, nonsense, but so is pretending that you have to fit an equally absurd set of criteria to be deemed a REAL WOMAN.
Because you know what? We're all real women or so said that very crucial anatomy lesson in high school health class (and if you don't know what that means, I can't help you). Some have been more blessed by the genetic gods than others and some (many nowadays) cheat. So what? Some might have eating disorders. Some might be naturally thinner or thicker. Some might be athletic, short, tall, round, lean... whatever. There's no one-body-fits-all for womankind so this bandying about of the term real women is as mystifying as it is damaging and delusional.
Help me think of a better term for women who don't work as models or actresses. Vain, eating-disordered, carved-up-by-a-plastic-surgeon's-knife as all those ladies might be, they're still real women so let's cut the bulls**t use of that term as a way to grab the public's limited attention and find something a bit better suited, shall we?