What’s a real woman?

I, of course, fly the flag for curvy women – I’m one myself and the celebration of having a full figure is what this blog is about. But the debate about what constitutes a ‘real’ woman makes me shudder. We are all real women, whether we are flat chested or blessed with an impressive cleavage; someone with slim hips is as beautiful as those of us who are more cushioned. One is not better than the other.

The conversation about what is attractive seems to me to veer into quite nasty territory sometimes…

There’s an awful Nigella Lawson vs Gillian McKeith image floating around on the internet and on Facebook at the moment which really gets my back up, the premise being that one is the most attractive and desirable.

In her photo Nigella is seen in a gorgeous evening gown (wouldn’t mind one like that myself, it’s beautiful – and very flattering), wearing full professionally done make up, hair coiffed gorgeously and she’s well lit. The photograph was taken at a public event and she’s made an effort, to put it midly.

The Gillian portrait contrasting Nigella’s is a still from ‘I’m A Celebrity (Get Me Out Of Here!)’ She wears no make-up and surprisingly enough hasn’t had time to do her hair, probably because she’s been doing things like diving into tanks of fish eyes and kangaroo boy bits to earn food for her fellow camp mates. Oh, and she’s been living on rice and the odd courgette for God knows how many days at this point so forgive her if she doesn’t quite look her best.

It’s unfair to compare the two with these photographs, and it muddies the waters about beauty and body shape.

This isn’t some sort of competition where one type of woman comes out on top. What we should all be aiming for is that us curvies get an equal deal from retailers, magazines and so on, and that skinny women aren’t represented as the only ideal. Being horrid about a slim woman not looking her best isn’t the way to go, we need to celebrate all women and encourage acceptance of all shapes and size!

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  1. Nicole Helfrich

    Loved your blog, Cath! Well, hate to say it, but the press in the UK is so vile these days and like you said, comparing these two images is just ridiculous! Hate to say that it was a shallow no brain WAG wannabe woman who would point something like that out and compare these two images in the first place! And that sometimes really makes me ashamed for being female myself!

  2. It doesn’t do us any good, does it – criticising other women? Thanks for your comment, Nicole

    • Going to school , girls was girls biggest fighters ….always puzzling but i love when the mothers of creation are togather in equal rights and justice….i love a burly woman …but love all women for what they are…

  3. I’ve seen the photos but this is the first time that I’ve heard them discussed from this perspective. You don’t get a lot of ‘fairness’ in the media; it’s usually black or white, good or bad.
    Putting anything into a real context is an improvement on sensationalism.
    Well done Cath for pointing this out in a non-confrontational manner. Keep it up!

    • Thank you for your comment, Tracey. There seems to be a curvy= good, thin = bad almost campaign by some which does none of us any favours!

  4. Where is feminism these days. I think we’re in a worse state than we ever were. Thanks Cath for bringing this to light and for doing your best to stop the misogynistic media…but tis too late. The tsunami of women and pushing onto them a tidal wave of self loathing is HERE! From airbrushed images everywhere of unrealistic beauty/size/skin/teeth. To the upselling of plastic surgery to these mass emails. We are expected now to not only look perfect but be bread winners, model, sexy and wives…Have we come a long way baby? Good talking points Cath Bore!!!

  5. It would be interesting to see if the articles written where there’s an element of bitchiness are written by men or women. Working in a female dominated office it’s frightening how nasty they can be about each other for no good reason. It would seem that the application of the concept of sisterhood is selective at times…

    • Mark, I had some roofers doing some work on my house recently and some of the gossip they were coming out with about other blokes was amazing. I reckon it’s an ever so slight myth that it’s just women who indulge in bitchiness!
      Thank for your comment, I appreciate hearing from a man on this subject

  6. This shows us still the inherent struggle of the us perceiving ourselves as the depowered, disenfranchised, and exploited sex. So it is in the hierarchy of all groups in society , the ones fighting for equality are the ones who fight amongst themselves – socio-psych 101 – as we see in race, class, professions, etc…and now here with gender.

    It’s the same as when we display our difficulties in fostering healthy and supportive competitive spirits for the successful women. Instead of heralding them, we tear them down with adjectives like dowdy, bitchy, angry – or – diminish their beings by summing up their worth according to physical attributes (or ‘lack’ thereof) like too fat, too thin, too whatever, and with an extra twist of sadomasochism we ‘assess’ whether these physical traits have been aptly presented or not. Sigh.

    If we could just dig in and see the root here – that by tearing our sisters down this way we only achieve depowering our entire sex – we would stop the nonsense and get on with the business of empowering by acting as equally beautiful beings worthy of recognition at the same starting line….the way men do.

    • Thanks for your comment!
      I do think that it’s a slight myth that the reason women have poor self image because other women are the first to criticise. I saw a photo of Cameron Diaz in a certain UK tabloid the other day, the headline claimed her to look ‘butch’ because she had a sleeveless dress on.
      To me, she looked gorgeous!
      Although we could say it’s a female journalist who wrote this, we can also argue that most editors and newspaper owners are men, who call the hots re: editorial policy who may put the pressure on.
      But I do agree – very much! – that women should support each other more and big each other up, in a major way

  7. Curves are not fashionable! I’ve learned to ignore the messages media gives to young women who are bombarded with someone else’s ideals of what they should look like. As a confidently curvy woman I’ve realized that having ‘a kick-ass attitude’ is a great buffer against the madness of image, women and media.

  8. Great article Cath. I agree that all women should be loved, regardless of their shape, size etc.

  9. Great article that has provoked a lot of insightful analysis. The media may be bias in what it presents as the ideal woman but we must always remember it is all about consumerism…the press will sell what the retailers who funds them need to be sold.

    It would be good though if as women we all support each other more and stop the senseless competition.

  10. You’ve got a point there, Fernette – about how the industry works. Thanks very much for contributing to the little debate we seem to have got going on here!.

  11. Sharon Marie Karen Gaehler

    Good day,
    I love your blog, I live in South Africa and we are really cool with women who are not thin, skinny etc.
    Our average size is 14, so we do not take magazines, tv and all the airbrushing seriously!!!
    I am a size 16, I rock me!!!! MY size does not define me as a woman.
    Have a great day.
    Best wishes,

    • Thanks for your comment, Sharon. I second the notion on your blog also – it’s such a cruel comparison, and unnecessary.

      • Thanks for your comment, Briana. I second the notion on your blog also – it’s such a cruel comparison, and unnecessary.

  12. Love what you’re saying here, Cath. I wrote a post about this awhile ago, back when I first saw it floating around Facebook: http://blisstree.com/look/nigella-lawson-karan-diwan-gillian-mckeith-health-nutrition-and-beauty-633/

    I think the photo is so damaging, not just because it’s disorienting when it comes to messages about beauty and health, but because it blatantly disrespects women by evaluating Gillian and Nigella solely on their looks, solely based on two photos (that are a pretty unfair selection, I might add).

    Anyway, just wanted to say good on you for calling this out, too. More people need to realize that these kind of messages are negative for women, and stop sharing them on Facebook.

    • Thanks, Briana – it’s easy to get an unflattering photo of one woman and compare it to a nice shiny one of another. But it’s also very unfair and nasty with it

  13. Fantastic commentary. Seeing that image reminded me enormously of the campaign that The Body Shop ran (must be 20 years ago now)… I was a youth worker at the time and TBS were running this campaign that said not all women are a size six or something, basically saying that only supermodels are, and that everyone else is larger – and they gave us some cash to put on an event to support young women of all sizes doing a sort of an anti-fashion show. I remember a young, quite thin woman coming along to one of our planning meetings and saying that that she felt really ‘funny’ about the campaign. Until then, as a curvy woman myself, I didn’t really get how exclusive this space is. As though any campaign has to focus at all on what you should or should not look like… it policed the boundaries of this space as much as it was saying the fashion industry did. Interesting with the image that you’ve presented here… I’ve had so many mates send it to me and I feel EXACTLY what you’ve expressed. Thanks again for it. I have a webpage to send them to to contemplate the implications (think of it as your virtual ‘naughty step’).

  14. Thank you, Sandy! Women are criticised so much for the way they look, there is no perfect or great ideal. I object to critical commentary about a slim women the same way I would a curvy one. All this curvy good, thin bad is so so wrong.

  15. You got a very wonderful website, Gladiolus I observed it through google

  16. It does kind of get me a little sick when I cant walk passed the magazine racks on my way to buy a choccie bar without seeing headlines such as – ‘X loses her babyweight just 3 hours after labour’ or ‘X eats a pie on the beach in her bikini’ I admit i am the first to try diet fads and also scoff an entire pack of biscuits BUT i do get fed up with the fact that the media cannot present a clear, honest and normal picture of female beauty – it literally is just feast and famine! as a mum of a little girl it does scare me – how can she possibly develop a positive self image if this is how the media continues? I laugh when model agencies and magazines say they want to help create a healthy image of women when they continue to blast these headlines! All we end up doing is striving to look like stick thin things then failing and binge eating digestives – the YoYo! diet is reinforced by the YoYo! Media!

  17. Josie-Anne Gray

    This is well put Cath. It’s unhealthy for women to buy into the media-promoted misogyny that is bad for all women. There is so much body fascism around in contemporary culture and active encouragement for women and men to be spiteful and malicious when judging others. It is galling that in 2012 women are still being judged in these hateful ways.
    We all need to grow up and reject this kind of malign so-called journalism and find ways of supporting and celebrating women for their achievements. I think that time is still some way off but it is something we should be striving for as a culture.

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