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“Girls try to look sexy. Real women know they are sexy no matter what.” “Girls eat salads. Real women eat whatever they want.” “Girls wear makeup. Real women are confident with their flaws.”
I recently read an article that attempted to give women the freedom to love themselves without reservation. It ended up being more harmful than empowering and is exemplary of the ways the body image movement can go horribly wrong.
First, any article that tries to define a “real woman” is problematic.
A “real woman” is anyone who identifies as a woman. This means “real women” can look, act, and feel however they choose to. It is ridiculous, and even offensive, to assume being a certain way makes someone more or less of a woman. Womanhood cannot be defined, because that inherently places limits on who a woman can be.
These articles are also problematic in assuming all women have the tools to be body positive.
Unsurprisingly, not all women are confident about their appearance. With our culture’s Eurocentric, Photoshop-obsessed beauty standards, women receive the message that we have to live up to an unrealistic ideal in order to be sexy or attractive. Moreover, our culture tells women sexuality is shameful and dirty. Body positivity in our society is not an easy lesson to learn, and it does no good to make women feel ashamed for not always loving themselves.
That being said, body image just isn’t as simple as these “real women” articles make it sound.
By saying “real women eat whatever they want,” the article is essentially saying anyone with an eating disorder is not a real woman, which is rude and offensive. Apart from those with eating disorders, all women face a diet-crazed culture. Weight loss is consistently synonymous with happiness, while “fat” is feared. I am distraught by how our society places guilt on food, but I cannot help but empathize with women who fit in with our fat-shaming society. If a woman cannot eat without shame, it is not her fault, and it certainly does not make her any less of a woman.
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In order to near body positivity, women need to feel ownership over their bodies.
If a woman chooses to wear makeup because it makes her feel good, let her. Women can shave or let their hair grow out. Women can dress up in tight dresses, basketball shorts, or anything in between.
Only the owner of a body is allowed to dictate how much it will fit into society’s beauty standards.
Nothing else, especially an article attempting to empower women, should ever control how women feel about presenting their bodies.
The bottom line is simple. Every woman feels differently about her body, her sexuality, and how closely she follows beauty standards. However, none of these factors make her any more or less of a woman. Articles that generalize the definition of “real women” completely defy the body image movement by stating women have to be a certain way in order to be “real” or “true.”
The reality is there are no requirements or limits to womanhood.
When discussing body positivity and self-love, always remember the body image movement is trying to reaffirm body ownership. If you’re dictating what makes or breaks the authenticity of womanhood, you are only undermining a woman’s authority over her body.
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