Have you ever uttered one of these statements?

“Real women have a little meat on their bones.”

“Real women don’t need to depend on anyone.”

“Real women don’t sleep around.”

“Real women know how to take charge.”

“Real women know how to treat a man.”

And my personal favorite, “Real women do real things.”

If so, stop.

While these catchy phrases seem to give props to sisters who are handling their business and owning their self-worth, they actually do little more than continue to set up contentious relationships between women. Inevitably some of us will be left out of whatever definition a “real women” is intended to encompass.

Case in point, “Real women aren’t a size two.”

Recently, I was watching The View and Beyoncé and her mother, Tina Knowles, were on the show promoting their newest ventures. Mama Knowles was hawking her affordable fashion line and had brought along a few outfits for a mini-fashion show. During the show, which featured models of varying sizes, Sherri Shepherd remarked that she was impressed that Tina Knowles used different types of models.

“Not many people will show you, they usually will have the slinky size two model, and we never know how it will fit on real women. And the fact that you bring up two different sizes, kudos to you Ms Tina.”

Co-host, Joy Behar, quickly jumped in. “Well the thin models are real women also.”

Sherri countered, “The thin models are real women, but the average size is bigger than a two.”

Although I knew what Sherri meant, that the fashion world rarely presents realistic representations of what the average-sized American woman looks like, her comment still made me wince. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one.

After hearing her comments, several petite women in my Twitter timeline expressed offense at what they felt was Sherri taking a jab at them for somehow being less than “real women” because of their size.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the average woman in the United States is 63.8″ tall (about 5’3″) and weighs 164.7 pounds, so if we were to measure what a “real woman” is by those standards, a lot of us would be left out.

The debate over the ideal body type of a “real woman” continues to divide us. From the “skinny bitches are evil” meme, to the line of thinking that overweight women are lazy and advocates of poor health, we continue to lose if we take sides and buy into the mentality that some of us are “real women” while others are not worthy of the title. Not only does this thinking do little to build real self-esteem, it causes us to diminish our collective power as women.

When conversations like these occur, I’m reminded of the power, and problematic nature, of generalizations. If we start to classify certain types of women as “real women,” what happens to those of us who do not fit neatly into the box? And moreover, who decides who is and is not a “real woman”?

Historically, women have had to live within rigid ideas about femininity. Compared to men, we were considered naturally weaker, less intelligent, and unable to perform tasks that involved physical strength. In pre-industrial societies, for example, women were relegated to domestic tasks, leaving more physically demanding tasks, such as hunting and plowing, to men (although Black women were often times forced to handle such demanding tasks as well).  Moreover, women have also had to operate under double standards that seek to strip them of their sexual freedom.

Although such unyielding ideas about women were primarily created by men and a patriarchal society, many of us continue to perpetuate these antiquated ideas that do more to oppress, and little to uplift.

But why?

Some sisters cling to the label, “real women,” like it’s some sort of banner that sets them apart from those they consider undesirable.  For instance, some of us who rock natural hair mistakenly consider ourselves more “real” than our sisters who relax or alter their hair. As if how we look determines our “real woman” status. Another sticking point for many of us is how other women behave. We sometimes label those who are sexually free as “wrong” (or whores, or sluts), and those who are more “pious” or less open about their sexuality somehow “better” because they’re behaving more like a “lady should.”

This “I am a ‘real woman’ but you’re not” attitude repeats itself over and over again in terms of how we look, dress, how we act, and how we view each other, but it needs to stop.

The media constantly focuses on the supposed cattiness and jealousy of women, but most of us are to quick to point out our love for our girls. However, we need to be aware of how we treat the women we don’t know, and, even more, how we talk about ourselves if we are to foster any sort of true and lasting bond as women.

When it all comes down to it, all women are “real women.” No matter our age, size, race, attitude, sexual history, or body type. And whether you’re discussing Nicki Minaj, Jada Pinket, Oprah, Lil’ Kim, Michelle Obama, your mother, or yourself, we are all women and we no longer need to separate ourselves by false barriers in order to feel good about ourselves.

  • Emelyne

    @Carol & Sloane: Here is the point I am trying to make, obesity may be a social issue, but it is a medical one as well, one that costs this nation several hundred million dollars each year and many deaths. Whether the nation and even the world has been “conditioned” to “hate” them or not, iit’s not a conditioning that’s going to go away when obese people (in general) got this way through gluttony and sloth. Sloane, you quopted my statement, “I also never said that thin= healthy, in fact not one commentor did. My exact words were, A thin person may not be healthy, but it’s not something that’s generally assumed by looking at them unless they are grossly underweight”, but then went on to imply that even as I said that, I must be saying that all thin folks are healthy. What bothers me about that statement is the hypocrisy that perhaps even you fail to realize. If a person is normal weight or thin, do YOU thin they are unhealthy at first glance? What about a woman about 5’9″ who is about 85 lbs.? She’s definitely unhealthy! That works both ways. Maybe an extra 15-30 pounds doesn’t have jaws dropping and this person could be at the peak of health, but when the average person sees someone 75-200+ lbs overweight, we assume unhealth and rightly so. As I said, compulsive overeating/emotional eating and anorexic/bulimia are all eating disorders and I will view them the same way. Not, Carol, as for why fat people (and I mean very overweight/obese, not just a bit plump) are highlighted as love interests and such, well, the demographic as a whole does not want to see that. The media’s job is to cater to trends and what is considered socially acceptable. Back to my hypocrisy comment, many commenters here would have had an anurysm to see an emaciated 80lb. Nicole Richie on the cover of a mag and told the editors to get that sick, skinny girl off of there, but enter grossly obese Gabby Sibide and women are defending her left and right. there are always exceptions posing as rules for reasons besides overeating that a woman can get to her size but we all have eyes to call anorexia/bulimia what they are. I will NOT defend extreme body types or the fat accpetance movement anymore than I’s defend someone’s right to kill themselves through anorexia/bulimia. The sad part is, overeating and the obesity that comes from it kill several thousand more people a year, so it kills people faster. Accept unhealthy as if it were unavoidable? No. Accept something life-threatening as “beautiful” when I know better? No. Try to get myself and others to find said unhealth aesthetically pleasing? No. Just because there are more obese than anorexics doesn’t somehow make the condition healthy now. As for politicians passing anti-fat legislation, I’m of two minds about that. If it cost the nation money (and it does) than it’s a problem that needs to be rectified. But everyone deserves to live and I’m not an advocate of subhuman conditions for any person. The fact is, Carol, how much of that legislation is actually passed? The world does not hate fat people, so stop trying to martyr yourself, but as I pointed out, obesity is an outer reflection og inner character flaws such as gluttony, lack of self-control, sloth, and often depression and self-hatred. Is this suppose to be tooted as normal now? Bottom line: Most people are against obese people for the same reason we’re against anorexcis; last I checked, a 80lb woman gets just as many pitying, dirty, and even hateful looks as the 400 lb one. These body extremes are BOTH seem nationwide as unhealthy and our animal instincts teel us that unhealthy=unattractive. Sorry, if that’s hard for you to deal with, but it’s a mentality that has gotten the species this far and I don’t see it changing.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Carol-N/1157910509 Carol N.

      Emelyne, you are twisting my words. I never said that unhealthiness wasn’t a problem. I said “fat people aren’t the problem. Unhealthy living is the problem. Last time I checked, people of ALL sizes can suffer from unhealthy living.”

      Difference between an 80 lb woman and a 400 lb one? You’ll see the former on the cover of an international magazine with a multi million dollar modeling contract, while the latter is shamed and ridiculed for even thinking about putting herself in the public eye, despite any talents or personality.

      So fat people being in love is socially unacceptable? Glad to know that so many around the world are slapping society in the face every day by loving each other.

      Most people assume thin people = healthy. Don’t act like this assumption isn’t true. We are classically conditioned to believe this. Add on the fact that we don’t show fat people in any other situation except apologizing for their fatness, and you got a dichotomy set right up.

      I also like how you conveniently ignore the health at every size mantra that I mention nearly every time I respond. That very study shows that improved health can be attained independent of weight. HAES focuses on eating right and engagement in activity. Is that not what folks want to improve health? Eating right and activity??? It just doesn’t treat weight loss as the panacea for health. It’s not.

      And don’t apologize for me. I will not change my stance. HAES and HAES only.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Carol-N/1157910509 Carol N.

      Emelyne, you are twisting my words. I never said that unhealthiness wasn’t a problem. I said “fat people aren’t the problem. Unhealthy living is the problem. Last time I checked, people of ALL sizes can suffer from unhealthy living.”

      Difference between an 80 lb woman and a 400 lb one? You’ll see the former on the cover of an international magazine with a multi million dollar modeling contract, while the latter is shamed and ridiculed for even thinking about putting herself in the public eye, despite any talents or personality.

      So fat people being in love is socially unacceptable? Glad to know that so many around the world are slapping society in the face every day by loving each other.

      Most people assume thin people = healthy. Don’t act like this assumption isn’t true. We are classically conditioned to believe this. Add on the fact that we don’t show fat people in any other situation except apologizing for their fatness, and you got a dichotomy set right up.

      I also like how you conveniently ignore the health at every size mantra that I mention nearly every time I respond. That very study shows that improved health can be attained independent of weight. HAES focuses on eating right and engagement in activity. Is that not what folks want to improve health? Eating right and activity??? It just doesn’t treat weight loss as the panacea for health. It’s not.

      And don’t apologize for me. I will not change my stance. HAES and HAES only.

    • Emelyne

      LOL! I’m twisting your words? More like you’re avoiding the issue, Carol. You avoided comparing overeating to other eating disorders. You’ve avoided admitting that many obese (yes, OBESE, not just plain fat) people got their from chronic overeating and no exercise. You avoided the fat the excessive body fat is just as unattractive to most as none at all. You avoided the fat the obesity related illness id real and costs this nation hundreds of billions of dollars a year. And where exactly have you seen an 80 lb woman on a magazine cover? I know for a fact that top modeling agencies like Elite, Wilhelmina, and Ford models actually have a weight minimum for models 5’9″+(which is the only height range they manage) that is 105 lbs. That’s already really thin for a woman that height, emaciated even, but a far cry from the 80 lbs you’re claiming. and yes, i’d like to see the legislation as well. Seems you’ll do just about anything to make obese people appear to be victims of society when the only person victimizing them is themselves. SMH.

  • moriko

    @Emelyne ;I think you re speaking the truth ,you said exactly what most people think ,unfortunatley alot of people are on denial with what you ve exposed.
    Quoting you” Do you think most people want a person whose taking shitty care of themselves as a life partner or parent for their child and pass on these atrocious habits. THAT is why fat will never be socially considered beautiful, because it’s a physical display of character weaknesses and flaws.
    And yes, it’s strange that saying a fat person has a gut or cellulite, all of which are true is offensive and bashing, but bashing a thin person with profanity is turnabout”

    I dare anyone saying thats not the truth.if you re overweight you know its only your fault you got to that stage,you eat the wrong stuff ,you OBVIOUSLY dont burn enough calories and IF YOUR METABOLISM is HIGH then you ,again,obviously taking for granted eating TOO MUCH food.Portion control is VITAL for weight control.
    For those of you who cursed Emelyne out or disagree with her,you are completely DELUSIONAL.
    Fat is not healthy :FACT
    Cellulite is not necessarly associated with obesity however those who SUFFER FROM THIS CONDITION are more prone to have it as its caused by water ristagnant in deeper fat cells.
    If you re overweight you are doing something wrong,you re not taking good care of your body,screw society think about HEALTH,its YOUR BODY !take care of it and nourish it well ,you only have one and then you re gone.

  • http://www.Akai.com **Akai S.**

    Carol N: “How is insisting that fat people are disrespected regularly “unfair?””
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    What I referred to was how some FA adherents avoid discussing certain issues i.e. obese people living lives of reduced quality where they can barely get around, can’t walk without assistance, bound to an oxygen tank etc. I did not write “insisting that fat people are disrespected regularly” was unfair; I wrote that it is unfair to lump everyone into the boxes of ‘enemy’, ‘oppressor’ and ‘culpable’ simply because they are not overweight or obese.

    For some reason you sometimes twist what I clearly convey and often argue things I (and, as far as I can see, no one else) never addressed or stated but I maintain that, all day everyday, it’s unfair to judge all “skinny people” based on appearance. Additionally, it sounds strikingly close to things you insist have been done regarding the obese (automatically judged as smelly, lazy, unhealthy etc.) and, once again, just because someone is not attracted to an obese individual does not mean they wish them harm or couldn’t form a friendship.

    And why do some people act as if #1) the only options are being obese or stick thin or #2) the BMI seeks to hold everyone to one particular weight or an impossible small size? There are tons of ‘wiggle room’ and the BMI has a 15-20 pound range for each height. Additionally, for each height there exists small, medium and large frame categories each with their own 15-20 pound weight ranges.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Carol N. wrote: “Why shouldn’t fat people be shown on television as love interests? …why are we so opposed to showing the same on television?”
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Television and movies are about that bottom line and profit – point, blank – not humanitarian work, charity or counseling. And, unless marketing studies reveal stories featuring obese love interests as something large numbers are interested in seeing, including indicating it’s potential to be wildly profitable, I don’t see it happening or becoming the norm.

    The cold hard truth is it’s not what most want to see and, when I say “most,” I’m not just speaking of those who are of a normal and/or healthy size. That is because there are extremely overweight and obese males/females who are not even attracted to (and do not date) other extremely overweight and obese females/males. Many of us have heard big females proclaim how they prefer dudes who are muscular/have nice bodies as well as known big dudes that only chase and try to holla’ at curvy/healthy-sized chicks.

    Also, I remember an article a couple of years ago which included a discussion about the mannequins and models used by outlets that cater to overweight and obese women. It addressed some people’s complaints that the mannequins and models used were not “fat” or “big” enough and the response referred to studies that indicated bigger mannequins and extremely obese models were not appealing, marketable and “didn’t sell” — even to that targeted audience. I remember finding it interesting that a lot of fat people themselves didn’t want to see huge mannequins and models.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Carol N. wrote: “As for privilege, what is your solution then? What is the way to make this fat vs thin war stop?”
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    I’d have to buy into the concept of this “privilege” (which I don’t) to offer any “solutions,” but I don’t know that there is a “fat vs. thin” war. At the end of the day, most solutions are the same with a lot of things: check yourself and treat people how you wish to be treated and don’t allow strangers space in your head for free. It is crass and mean to say insulting things to someone’s face in order to hurt them and while there are decent individuals that don’t behave in this manner, there are those who aren’t/do and that’s the way of the world.

    You (general) can’t control the mass media or television nor force the movie industry to feature obese individuals as “love interests” and totally disavow what it finds beautiful. The one thing anyone can control is themselves and the only options are: #1) accept the fact that society has it’s idea of the type of body it finds beautiful, or #2) decide to lose weight and fit within it. That said, if the obese are as happy, healthy, confident, booed-up and well-adjusted as claimed, why the desire/need for the media to validate them?

  • fraulein17

    oh wow! so first i was called transophobic…. now i’m being called a TROLL just cause i dont agree with certain people on here? WOW

    first off with the whole gender thing i’m over it already… i dont care anymore what you people are saying doesnt make sense and is definitely what akai was saying.. just people trying to make stuff up to accomodate their lifestyle.

    hell i told my parents,best friends, and boyfriend about this whole gender/sex/transgender debate and they feel like it makes no sense either.so i’m not the only one.

    dont go throwing around terms just cause people dont agree with you. i’m being called stupid,ignorant,a troll, and transphobic (wtf?) just cause i dont agree with their theory. shame on you supposed “intellectual” ladies!

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Zoe-Ellen-Brain/1036085884 Zoe Ellen Brain

      You’re no transphobe – any more than someone who thinks African Americans aren’t really human is racist. They may not know any better, if they’ve been taught that and have never met anyone who wasn’t white. Not their fault, either.

      The Sound byte about Transsexuals: Female Brain, otherwise Male Body at birth.

      The longer version: 1 in 60 people have some sort of Intersex condition. Often not obvious, they may not even know themselves. “Intersex” means “neither wholly stereotypically male, or stereotypically female, anatomically speaking”.

      For example, a mother who’s given birth to three children may not know she has the 46XY chromosomes usually only found in men. And one in five hundred men have 47XXY chromosomes rather than the usual 46XY.

      I’ll just quote the abstract of one scientific paper on the subject – it says it all, really:

      “The fetal brain develops during the intrauterine period in the male direction through a direct action of testosterone on the developing nerve cells, or in the female direction through the absence of this hormone surge. In this way, our gender identity (the conviction of belonging to the male or female gender) and sexual orientation are programmed or organized into our brain structures when we are still in the womb. However, since sexual differentiation of the genitals takes place in the first two months of pregnancy and sexual differentiation of the brain starts in the second half of pregnancy, these two processes can be influenced independently, which may result in extreme cases in trans-sexuality. This also means that in the event of ambiguous sex at birth, the degree of masculinization of the genitals may not reflect the degree of masculinization of the brain. There is no indication that social environment after birth has an effect on gender identity or sexual orientation.”

      Here’s another paper on the subject : “Male–to–female transsexuals have female neuron numbers in a limbic nucleus” Kruiver et al J Clin Endocrinol Metab (2000) 85:2034–2041

      It’s not a psychiatric, spiritual, ideological, or political issue. It’s one of anatomy.

      The cure for the distress this causes is to align bodily anatomy with brain anatomy, as much as possible. The differences are on the cellular level, within the cells, so changing the brain isn’t practical (as well as being ethically dubious).

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