When faced with the challenge of explaining non-Victoria’s Secret bodies to the world, brands rely on two words: “real women.” The problem with this vocabulary is that the idea that some women are “real” is nonsense. Our perception of how women look should be broader than “model” and the “real” people. The pervasive use of “real women” is wrongheaded for several important reasons.
Saying “real women” is a way of throwing the more peopled category of women a bone in an industry that obviously favors shapes that simply aren’t in the cards for nearly everyone. It makes sense that brands want stick a flag on those rare moments when they decide they’re all about us women who don’t find a lot in common with a supermodel like Karlie Kloss’s in a gold bird costume. When that Triumph Lingerie real women campaign or the Dove real beauty campaign put the spotlight on women who we’re not used to seeing in ads, it was the right move. But enough already with this label.
Let’s look at the fantasy women. Yes, again. When the Victoria’s Secret parade is in town, it doesn’t matter how much heart-melting cheerleading there is around body acceptance.Alessandra Ambrosio’s armpits can make smart women feel inadequate. Or as the Herald Sunwriter puts it, they make “real women feel awful.” Size-wise, the paradigm is shifting to include difference. Even Calvin Klein is making changes. But the Victoria’s Secret show isn’t really a place to look for any trace of yourself. Remember, you’re the “real” one.
Victoria’s Secret models can suckerpunch women who don’t have that chest or don’t have those abs into self-loathing. Inevitably, this parade can generally mark the end of selfies for a bit as you consider downsizing your boozy hot chocolate intake to one day a week. Instead of forging ahead and concentrating on the gorgeous way you have all your teeth, some women feel the Victoria’s Secret angels are robots specially designed to make you consider the benefits of napping in the oven. Yet these celebrated women don’t determine your health, and they shouldn’t determine your self-image. So it might make us feel less inadequate to call these women outrageous and otherworldly. But they’re real.
About the “real” people like you and I. Proportionally, if you’re looking around, there are less people who are spray tanned and wearing a fantasy diamond bra. Naturally, boy shorts and ugly sweaters need to be made in different sizes and we need labels for these sizes. Plus-size, petite, curvy can be helpful accommodations for the normal, mortal people even if it sucks to put women in boxes, but the title “real women,” is damaging to all women. The women who are curvier or older deserve to feel like a glittery Photoshopped fantasy too. The few modeling opportunities they do get aren’t down to earth PSAs telling everyone it’s O.K. to eat more than your fair share of almonds. They’re also projecting a beautiful, confidence fantasy. There’s no denying that it’s life-affirming and exciting to see yourself on that stage for a change, but all women are real. All of them. Wiping out a model’s right to be real because it’s convenient to say they’re ridiculous is delusional.
It’s the shameful lack of diversity that that is to blame. That’s what’s leading brands to feature women who rarely get play on the runway by calling them real. Because they’re the exception to the rule. But it’s time we put a moratorium on “real women.” Having more a percentage of body fat might feel realer to the world because life isn’t a Victoria’s Secret carnevale. We don’t need a term for those gutsy trailblazing women who have the audacity to be photographed in their underwear with love handles. They’re no realer than anyone else. Even women with the ability to wear six different garter belts. A decent place to start would be continuing the sexy inclusion trend, but don’t call us real just because we don’t all fill out a butterfly bustier the same way.
Reprinted with permission from Styleite.