because skinny women are “real women” too
Real women have curves: the unfortunate slogan of the backlash to a media dominated by stick-thin girls with flawless skin and either disproportionate or no curves. To a fashion industry creating ideals that are near impossible for women to live up to, without sacrificing their health. What was once a stance against heavy Photoshopping and promotion of unhealthy body image has become an indirect stance against girls who aren’t curvy.
Facebook pages like ‘Hips and Curves not Skin and Bones’ attack both naturally and unnaturally thin girls in an attempt to promote healthy body image. Quotes like ‘I’d rather be fit and healthy than skinny and hungry’ imply that you can’t be both. It’s intended to make curvy girls feel better about their bodies, but it seems we’re just shifting discrimination from one body type to another.
This notion of a “real woman” as being plus-sized and curvy stuck with me from a relatively young age. I’m a size 8 and have always been pretty small. I come from a family with fast metabolisms; my sisters and I constantly get comments on our weight: ‘You should eat more’ and ‘You don’t need to exercise or worry about what you eat’. In school there were jabs about being anorexic, comments on bones that stuck out. And of course it is less hurtful than the bullying that can come with being overweight. Why, though, is it OK to tell someone that their natural shape is too skinny, but not that they’re too fat? Aren’t both unacceptable, regardless of their intent?
When I lose weight, usually due to stress or hormone fluctuation, it’s unwanted. When I do, though, because I’m very pale, I am told that I look unhealthy. Is it OK to tell an overweight person to eat less? If I mention to friends that I’m trying to put weight back on, I am scoffed at. Regardless of the severity of issue, I have been made to feel like my body didn’t matter and my feelings about it weren’t valid.
I raised the issue through social media to gather other perspectives from girls of all sizes. I had an overwhelming response from both sides of the issue.
Sarah* identifies as ‘short and not skinny’. I spoke to her about her perceptions of being a skinny girl. ‘As a bigger girl,’ she says, ‘I imagine skinny girls getting ready to go out. They check their makeup and hair but don’t even have to think about what they’re wearing; they can just wear anything. They’re comfortable that how they sit or stand in an outfit doesn’t make them look bad.’
She admits that it’s not all bad being curvy, though. ‘Most men like big boobs,’ she says. ‘Bigger women play a trade-off in their minds – I’m a bigger size but at least my boobs are great. What do skinny women trade off? Flatter chest but still rocking a bikini? If we are all women then, to differing degrees, we all work the same. So are we facing the same issues?’
Erin*, who is around the same size as me, confessed: ‘I am a massively insecure person when it comes to body image, but because I’m small people seem to think my issues are invalid. To me they’re very real. People seem to think that because I’m small I don’t eat. I get told off quite a lot for that, but I think I eat pretty normal serves.’
Katie* admits her bias, being naturally tall and curvy. Despite having never experienced this “skinny-girl pressure” she acknowledges that it definitely exists. ‘We always seem to compare ourselves with others and want to look different,’ she says. ‘I definitely identified with the “real women have curves” mantra when I first heard it, but I didn’t even think about what it indirectly implied.’
Earlier this year I interviewed the founder of a self-proclaimed “fat burlesque” troupe. We had a great phone conversation about size acceptance in the performance industry, but I was surprised at my own relief that it wasn’t done in person. I didn’t want her to see how small I am; to think I couldn’t empathise with the issues being discussed. It was then I realised that I had always felt guilty for being skinny; that I saw myself as part of the problem. My interviewee was far too intelligent and aware to have treated me any differently, but I felt like my questions were hypocritical coming from someone who has been skinny her whole life.
I found her perspective on the issue of indirect discrimination refreshingly aware: ‘I think it’s more that the Curvy Army have a bigger voice, and more righteousness thanks to all the other crap that comes from the pressure to be skinny. There’s also been a huge groundswell of support for the size 14 woman in the last decade which gets news coverage, but there would never be an equivalent for a size 8 woman. When a skinny girl stands up and says something about what they feel, they get shouted down like their opinion doesn’t matter [and] isn’t worthy in comparison. This is unfair, but true. How is a skinny girl meant to make her voice heard amongst all that?’
Maybe it’s not a case of making ourselves heard over this Curvy Army. I’d like to see plus-sized models as a norm, not a novelty; a size 6 next to a size 16 without an article next to it about the difference in their body shape; references to women as women and not sizes.
Since women come in all shapes and sizes, how about we just focus on achieving an even representation across the media, and move away from an exclusive definition of a “real woman”?
By Megan Hanson