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.
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.