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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

(Image credit)

19 thoughts on “because skinny women are “real women” too

  1. I think, for me, the difference between sizing is just ‘differences’. I’m a bigger girl and I’m aware of that. Everyone, including men has one or two bodily or image issues in their life time. It’s what naturally happens when we spend far too long looking at ourselves, rather than into ourselves. Good post, Megan. xx

  2. Thanks Amber! I did had a guys perspective but not enough room for all the stories I that people shared with me! Firstly, I had never thought of you as a bigger girl (if that even matters). Secondly, I agree! I feel like I spend half my time saying that ‘most things aren’t good or bad, just different!’ Thanks for reading x

  3. Agreed. But the heading photo is very unfortunately titled. Some real women don’t have vaginas and some never will. They’re still just as much women I am.

  4. Thanks for the great feedback, folks.

    While I don’t think Megan intended to offend anyone with the image, I can totally see why it has.

    It will be changed today.



  5. Wow, I’m so sorry guys. While that did cross my mind very briefly when I selected the image, I thought that after reading it, people would see that its intent was tongue-in-cheek. I now realise I should trust these instincts!

    Definitely didn’t mean to offend anyone xx

  6. I understand that most people, meaning all genders, experience body issues in trying to attain the body that will be most acceptable. The use of ‘real’ is ridiculous, every body is real. However I think that author needs to recognize her own thin privilege. Yes she has body issues, as I do, but she isn’t discriminated against by doctors, insurers, random people on the street for having a fat bum, or being too fat. I’m sorry that thin people feel bad about themselves some times but honestly I can’t see how they can even compare that to the years of emotional torment I’ve gone through because my body, no matter what I eat, no matter what I do won’t be small enough for society. I’m sorry but thin people don’t have it nearly as bad as fat ones.

    • Katherine, you are mistaken on some points. As a natural size 0 I am discriminated against by doctors and insurers (they view me as unhealthy though I am not). And I know random people on the street think I am too skinny. The point is people look at both of our bodies as incorrect. Yes I’ve never had to worry about being overweight, but I bet I have just as much trouble finding clothes that fit me and look good as you. Nobody makes clothes for my short/skinny body type. Our problems are different, but they are two sides of the same coin. Yes skinny people have some privileges, but not as much as you would like to think in many cases. I will never live up to societies standards of large breast size which is a common thing for skinny girls as mentioned. And I never felt the author was claiming to have it as bad as “fat” people. She doesn’t need to apologize. She was just observing how much of society has now decided to turn on skinny girls as the enemy.

  7. Hi Katherine, thanks for your comments. I did write a paragraph about thin privilege, but edited it out (due to word count restraints) and that I thought that by being upfront about my own size, this privilege was implied. I see that launching straight into the criticisms about being skinny would seem like I was making out like it was just as bad as the problems that bigger people face. I do get it – it is a far easier situation to be in and I wasn’t meaning to suggest otherwise.
    By sharing the voices of girls who are all different sizes, I’d intended to present a more well-rounded opinion. I also stated that the bullying is far worse when targeted at that those being called ‘fat’ than those that are skinny. I tried to back that up with Sarah suggesting that these issues aren’t similar at all, and Katie saying that skinny-girl problems “aren’t worthy in comparison”. To me, it seems the only thing that these issues have in common is that they fall into the category of ‘body image’. I tried not to push that concept too far as I feel it’s a whole other can of worms.
    The entire piece’s intent was simply to say that being ‘real’ has nothing to do with what shape we are (hence the original poorly-chosen image), and that despite the severity of it, body policing shouldn’t occur for anyone. I guess since I discussed the issue extensively with other people prior to writing, I and they knew that these were minor issues in the scheme of things and I wasn’t coming from a place of privilege denying, but it would have been best to make that stance clear within the text.

    • I completely agree with Katherine.

      And if you really felt like you were unable to properly cover the issue within the word limit, perhaps the piece shouldn’t have been published.

    • See what just happened there? You write an article that includes the point about how skinny girls’ problems are often dismissed by other people. Then someone who has the opposite body tells you that their/your problems should be dismissed, and you apologized for making her feel bad. Everybody thinks their issues are bigger than everyone else’s. In fact, it’s all about perception. Nice illustration in the point, though.

      • Totally agree with Keecia.
        Perhaps one of the unfortunate side-effects of over-checking your privilege is that it encourages a mindset that you’re not allowed to engage with critical commenters, if they’re a different body type, and instead you need to be apologetic and contrite.

  8. Megan, I really liked this piece — firstly, being a rather thin girl too, doctors will often judge my sicknesses to come from ‘not eating enough’ or ‘exercising too hard’ without even bothering to ask about my lifestyle.
    While Katherine’s point is valid – thin privilege does exist – I didn’t read your piece to be about ‘skinny people have it as hard as fat people’ but the fact that this new body-image campaigns seems to be AGAINST thin people, rather than FOR all body types. I read the point here to be that we shouldn’t be putting down any body type — aren’t we hoping to make EVERYONE feel happy comfortable with themselves?

  9. I got quite emotional reading this. I’m 17 and I’ve never had a boyfriend, I get over looked for all my curvy friends. As an early teen I had to wear children’s clothes or adults with a LOT if allterations to fit in them. I’ve got called anorexic. Feel bad for sitting with my friends as they complain about their weight. I don’t get your lucky to be skinny I get you skinny bitch an a giggle when I can see the disgust in their eyes. No matter what my sickness is it’s you need to gain weight with a poke on the side. You’re no way cuddle Rebecca, I can’t lie on your shoulder you’re too bony. I get judged everyday for having an eating disorder by just walking down the street. You may think that you’ve had it hard I feel for you all I do. But youve never considered you’re being envied by the “anorexic” girl.

  10. Thank you. Just…thank you.

    I recently blurted out “Small girls are real women too!” in response to an ad on TV (yes I yell at my TV). I randomly googled the phrase and it brought me here.

    I’m a size 0-2 at best and at my heaviest I was 86 pounds. I usually weight around 78-80 or so.
    Strong gusts of wind are a problem. No jokes.

    I am super comfortable with who and what I am today but this wasn’t always the case and everyday I struggle with not just nasty looks but the dismissal of my opinion when it comes to weight issues.

    I could ramble but needless to say I identify greatly with this article and the various comments you’ve heard and I’m glad there are others out there that feel the same.

  11. Thank you. I’m a small girl, always have been. I’ve been told to eat more or that I obviously don’t eat much by strangers, I’ve had a person contact me to talk about anorexia and the doctors would not believe anything other then an eating disorder when I was young and fell I’ll. guess what? it wasn’t an eating disorder, it was a simple virus that could have been treated and diagnosed over night but because of my weight and size they refused to see it as anything but an eating disorder, I’m 21years old and can still wear children’s clothes. my friends make jokes about holding onto me when the wind picks up so I don’t blow away. people scoff at me when I say I want to put on weight. apparently I don’t need to exercise, but thin does not equal fit. I’m thin and I’ve been prejudiced and teased ever since I can remember. now I am starting to come into myself. now I’m starting to gain confidence.

  12. yeah i ve always been about the same size aboutish yeah im slim but i dont go around wearing an “Skinny Bitch ” t shirt just becouise majority of woman are bigger an guys realise thats whats on offer at an bar does nt nessarly mean they like big booty bitches its jst whats avalible an yes im an d cup

  13. I’m a big girl and have been most my adult life , i have big and slim friends and all have body issues , i want to loss weight, i’m short and have a back injury , my partner is tall and wants to put on weight , he and i have the same problem : food and exercise ! He struggles to eat when stressed , i struggle not to eat when stressed , so we are not so different , our main goal should be to be healthy , i feel scorn for models on tv and magazines and i know i shouldn’t . We are our own worst enemies , my motto is : be happy, healthy and strong 🙂 and strength comes from within

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