Home BeautyBody Image Dismantling “Real Women Have Curves”

Dismantling “Real Women Have Curves”

by Erika Nicole Kendall

Hanne Blank on “real women have curves:”

Excuse me while I throw this down, I’m old and cranky and tired of hearing the idiocy repeated by people who ought to know better.

Real women do not have curves.   Real women do not look like just one thing.

Real women have curves, and not.   They are tall, and not.  They are brown-skinned, and olive-skinned, and not.  They have small breasts, and big ones, and no breasts whatsoever.

Real women start their lives as baby girls.  And as baby boys.  And as babies of indeterminate biological sex whose bodies terrify their doctors and families into making all kinds of very sudden decisions.

Real women have big hands and small hands and long elegant fingers and short stubby fingers and manicures and broken nails with dirt under them.

Real women have armpit hair and leg hair and pubic hair and facial hair and chest hair and sexy moustaches and full, luxuriant beards.  Real women have none of these things, spontaneously or as the result of intentional change.  Real women are bald as eggs, by chance and by choice and by chemo.  Real women have hair so long they can sit on it.  Real women wear wigs and weaves and extensions and kufi and do-rags and hairnets and hijab and headscarves and hats and yarmulkes and textured rubber swim caps with the plastic flowers on the sides.

Real women wear high heels and skirts.  Or not.

Real women are feminine and smell good and they are masculine and smell good and they are androgynous and smell good, except when they don’t smell so good, but that can be changed if desired because real women change stuff when they want to.

Real women have ovaries.  Unless they don’t, and sometimes they don’t because they were born that way and sometimes they don’t because they had to have their ovaries removed.  Real women have uteruses, unless they don’t, see above.  Real women have vaginas and clitorises and XX sex chromosomes and high estrogen levels, they ovulate and menstruate and can get pregnant and have babies. Except sometimes not, for a rather spectacular array of reasons both spontaneous and induced.

Real women are fat.  And thin.  And both, and neither, and otherwise.  Doesn’t make them any less real.

There is a phrase I wish I could engrave upon the hearts of every single person, everywhere in the world, and it is this sentence which comes from the genius lips of the grand and eloquent Mr. Glenn Marla:

There is no wrong way to have a body.

I’m going to say it again because it’s important: There is no wrong way to have a body.

And if your moral compass points in any way, shape, or form to equality, you need to get this through your thick skull and stop with the “real women are like such-and-so” crap.

You are not the authority on what “real” human beings are, and who qualifies as “real” and on what basis.  All human beings are real.

Yes, I know you’re tired of feeling disenfranchised.  It is a tiresome and loathsome thing to be and to feel.  But the tit-for-tat disenfranchisement of others is not going to solve that problem.  Solidarity has to start somewhere and it might as well be with you and me.

I tried damned hard to not excerpt the entire thing, but it’s really good and needs to be written. A lot of women cling to the notion of “real women” having “[indiscriminate] curves” in response to the women we see glamorized in print, but what about women, like many here, who are, in fact, rail thin naturally? What about women who’ve always been built like, say, a ruler and have never had “[indiscriminate] curves?”

The real magic – that’s sarcasm – happens when you watch women who classify themselves as BBWs who use the phrase against women who are, well, not BBWs. That’s how I know it’s not simply about a social campaign against print, because… um… it’s taken on a whole new meaning.

Technically, the phrase is from the title of a play by Josefina Lopez about Latina women, and is far more complex than the trope we keep seeing beaten over our heads about what “real women” look like. And while I’m trying really hard to not comment on the misappropriation of something of Latina origin by American society being used to make money, someone sent me this lovely little clip from radicallyhotoff‘s tumblr:

Actually, Real Women Have Curves is the title of a play written by a Latina addressing the racism against Mexican/Mexican American/Chicana women and girls and how it plays out in every aspect of their lives, including their bodies. The stereotype of Latinas is that we have big ass big hips, marking us as hyper sexualized objects begging to be f-cked—and along the way marking us as inferior to white women who are slender and *not* sexualized (i.e. virgins, pure, ladies, etc). The “real women have curves” thing acts as a manifesta in this sense—claiming humanity and a feminine humanity at that, for working class poor brown women—who have been told that because of their bodies, their working class roots, etc, the only way they can be feminine is to be f-cked—as in raped by white colonizing men.

America Ferrara and Lupe Ontiveros, from the film "Real Women Have Curves"

Now, of course, there’s all sorts of problems with defining “women” in the way that Lopez did, especially first and foremost in my mind, that not all Latinas have curves, not all Latinas are feminine, not all latinas want to reclaim ‘feminine’ and then—saying “real” women look a certain way makes the other women NOT real—BUT—I strongly believe that if we’re going to address “real women have curves” it must be addressed from where it came from—from a position of *making space* for working class poor racialized criminalized hypersexualized colonized *objectified*, *dehumanized*, and *degendered* women to claim their humanity—and having that imperfect attempt to claim their humanity *stolen* and *appropriated* by corporations as a way to *reinforce* gender binaries (i.e. the very white supremacist heteropatriarchal violent stereotypes the manifesta was originally *meant to challenge*) and sell product.

PS—I think it’s also important to address that in Chicana culture “having curves” is often a polite way of describing “fat”—like, most of us grew up being told we “had curves” or “were big boned”—because “fat” had such negative cultural connotations connected to immigrants “draining “our” resources” and “being a burden on society” etc. so here’s the other thing— “curves” can mean multiple things in the sense that it was written—“real women have curves” can actually mean, “real women have fat” (although that’s an imperfect translation—and again brings us the “what is does “real” mean here?” problem—but again, addressing it from *this* perspective* is going to bring us to very different places than starting with the false idea that corporate marketing systems came up with this clever idea all by themselves)

I’m annoyed that radicallyhotoff had to post this in response to an American feminist who summarily dismissed the Chicana origin of the phrase. I’m annoyed by the erasure of Lopez, a woman of color, and her contribution… like the phrase just grew legs and walked right into the mouths of “American” women. I’m annoyed that that erasure also dismisses the need to discuss culture and how it contributes – tacitly or otherwise – to the actual issues in Lopez’s play (and the subsequent film), like the dehumanization of the working poor… as if their attempts to regain power are invalid and not worth discussion. Complete and total erasure. I’m annoyed… but not surprised.

I guess the question is why am I so personally invested in this, in a weight loss blog? I mean, by theory – and depending on what your definition of curves is – you’d think I’d be perpetuating the “skinny b-tch” mentality, huh?

That’s the reason why I’m so invested in this. Hanne says what my feelings are in ways I wouldn’t have been capable of saying them. A culture that allows body policing of one side of the spectrum… is still a culture that allows body policing. (What is body policing? Body policing is a collective – of one person or of many people – trying to make decisions for others regarding what their bodies should look like.) If we want to adamantly declare that no one should be telling non-size-2 women to lose weight, we need to adamantly declare that no one should be telling size-2 women to gain weight. If we want to adamantly declare that no one should be telling non-size-2 women to slide some of their food off their plates, we should be declaring – with equal indignation – that no one should be telling size-2 women to eat more. If we’re willing to protect non-size-2 women against silly sayings like “get off birth control so you can lose that weight,” we shouldn’t be suggesting to size-2 women to “go on birth control so you can gain weight.” No one’s reproductive health should be on the line because of their weight. Seriously.

I’m invested in this because where I write a blog about my changing body and how others can change theirs, there is a point where you realize that we don’t all have the same goal. While my size is one thing, there are lots of women who could – and will – be happy stopping somewhere around a size 10 or 12, and we need a culture that accepts that. We need a culture that allows women to choose their own fates for their bodies, and we need a culture that doesn’t encourage women who do want to change their bodies to hate those who cannot or will not. My blog isn’t geared to morph anyone into size 4 robots. It’s geared to make sure that I – and anyone like me – have the tools I need to do whatever I want to my body in a functional and sane fashion. Not meant to satisfy some fat-thirsty culture that loves to rip women apart and break them down. Not meant to say “this is undesirable, get like us.”

As I draw this to a close, I want to admit that this is an evolution in my own thinking, as well. As I used to cling to the “no one wants a bone but a dog” mentality, I had to think about whether I said phrases like that because I thought I was “educating” the person I was talking to… or if I was trying to reassure myself. And again, while I was losing, I morphed into someone who believed there was superiority in getting to a certain point with my body… again, in dire need of self-assurance. At this point, I realize that over the years, as I’ve grown, I’m still the same person regardless of what my body appears to be: a person deserving of love and affection (dismantling the dog>bone foolishness), and there is a way for me to feel good about myself and the educated choices I’ve made about my body without putting anyone down (the “fit body” superiority silliness.) It took a while, but I’m actually getting the hang of this. Maybe someone else reading this can learn from my mistakes… or just realize that, in situations where you feel compelled about how undesirable another woman’s body is, it’s better to simply stay silent. Because, as mentioned earlier, “there is no wrong way to have a body.”

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Curlstar July 11, 2011 - 10:05 AM

Awesome post. There IS no wrong way to have a body. When it’s all said and done, we all are real. We have people that love us, we love and care for others, and we deserve to love ourselves unconditionally. Absolutely NOTHING wrong with that. 🙂

aisha1908 July 11, 2011 - 10:16 AM

Great use of excerpts! Great post. I am so glad to see this was about body policing. I’m used to the phrase “real women have curves” being used as justification to either attack plus sized women or attack slender and thin women. So I’ll admit, I was scared when i clicked the link

Tatiana July 11, 2011 - 12:35 PM

YAY! I’m so glad you wrote this. I am often ruffled at this idea that only real women were of a certain size, and that if you’re skinny, you’re secretly starving yourself or have some other malignant problem. I’ve been thin my whole life, and I hate that women feel they can take shots at me because of my body type.

And, by and large, it’s become acceptable to point out how thin a person is (whether it be a positive or a negative) without stopping to consider that EVERYONE has feelings, and pointing out what you think are flaws about my body are no less hurtful.

So – I like this. That all humans are real. 😀

BeaJae April 16, 2015 - 1:38 PM

Yes to your entire post.

Kelly July 11, 2011 - 1:57 PM

Thanks for this post. I couldn’t see where you got the first excerpt from! Do you mind sharing a link?

Erika Nicole Kendall July 12, 2011 - 2:03 PM

Whoops – my bad. There’s a whole paragraph missing from the post.

It was written by Hanne Blank, and the post in its entirety is from here: http://www.hanneblank.com/blog/2011/06/23/real-women/

Thanks for the heads up – gonna go modify that, now.

Biolobri July 11, 2011 - 2:49 PM

This makes me think of the excerpt from “America: The Beautiful” (thanks for posting, btw!) when the writer of the Vagina Monologues is telling about her experience in Africa and how much Eve, the African woman, loved her body. She could not understand the western perspective of not loving your own body because it did not look like another woman’s body. She compares bodies to trees and asks her if she does not love one tree because it doesn’t look like another tree. “You’ve got to love your tree!” may be the best line from the whole documentary.

Catherine August 19, 2011 - 12:09 PM

Lol. I was just about to mention that film. The part with the African woman was definitely my favorite part.

Catherine August 19, 2011 - 12:44 PM

So I watched a documentary some time ago called ‘America: The Beautiful’. It’s about the fashion industry, beauty perception, cosmetic surgery and how they’re all related.

I learned that, in order to save fabric, designers prefer their models to be skinnier.

I was reminded of this when I saw a special on television about a fashion designer that brought himself up from the streets. It was an inspiring story but one thing he said stood out to me, when it came to the models.

He said that he had a version of the clothes for the models and then he re-tailored them to be put on “real women”.

Now as the author said, every woman is a real woman. So what’s the difference between models and non-models? Or even plus sized models?

There are models that don’t even look like they should be labeled as “plus sized”. However, that’s how the industry works.

Vee March 6, 2012 - 9:10 PM

^5 to your entire post.

Tonya November 6, 2012 - 2:07 AM

What an awesome post. I like the way you acknowledge your growth from; “dogs and bones” & “fit bitch superiority” to understanding that those were coping mechanisms you (we) were using until you understood “there is no wrong way to have a body.”

Lisa December 12, 2012 - 12:13 PM

This message needs to be repeated to the nth power! I am so sick of seeing posts/pictures of the “Real Women Have Curves” ilk. When I call women out on the hypocrisy and inaccuracy of this message, they say, “Well, I don’t mean you; you’re real, but you know what I mean.” These are usually women who knew me when I was much heavier than I am now.

I could say real women don’t wear fake hair or nails or shapewear, or they don’t straighten their naturally kinky/curly hair, but I don’t because real women do these things. I just don’t do them, and I will not demean or question anyone else who does.

Cindy July 10, 2013 - 7:29 PM

AMEN. All women are real.

JJ July 29, 2016 - 10:16 PM

Real Women Have Curves has an implied (too) at the end, just as Black Lives Matter does. Responding to it with All Women Are Real has a similar effect on the discussion as All Lives Matter does. The point is to include curvy women, not make it entirely about them.

Erika Nicole Kendall July 31, 2016 - 12:31 PM

So, I thought long and hard about this comment because, on its face, I want to agree. The point is to include curvy women and declare that it isn’t wrong to see them and their bodies as appealing, desirable, worthy of being seen. I get that. Not only that, but I don’t want to be a part of contributing to them being excluded.

That being said, I’m not convinced that saying “real” women is the same as saying “black” lives, especially with regard to the way “real” is used. If the phrase was merely “women have curves,” then your “too” would make sense. But “real” is a qualifier; “black” is a description of the kind of lives people are forgetting about. Using the term “real” in this way ignores the women out there who DO look like the women in the ads in their every day lives which, ultimately, does “make it entirely about them,” as you put it.

Because of that, you’re making a false equivalency. “Black lives matter” is a full statement that doesn’t need a “too” at the end, implied or otherwise. Black lives matter. Period. In order to believe that “all lives matter,” you have to be able to reply “Yes. I agree,” to the phrase “black lives matter.” People who can’t do that snitch on their true intentions.

Suppose I tried to do that with your example. “Real women have curves.” If the goal is to “include curvy women,” then why does your corollary identify curvy women as “real women” as opposed to simply identifying them as “curvy women?” They are a group of people, valid in their own right and existence, and have the right to remind people of their humanity. They are no more real than anyone else. “Curvy women deserve to be seen.” “All women deserve to be seen” doesn’t ring true unless you agree, on its face, with “curvy women deserve to be seen.”

Furthermore, it *doesn’t* have a similar effect on the discussion as “all lives matter,” because every single one of us who are challenging the idea of identifying “curvy” women as “real women” are STILL, in the same breath, calling out purveyors of harmful body image standards, advocating for the respect and appreciation of women of all sizes, and cheering on pears, apples, rulers, light bulbs, hourglasses and every other shape and size of woman. We’re just not willing to ALSO do that under the guise of the term “real.”

I can understand the desire to rail against the images we see every day. I’ve been writing about the absurdity of it for years. But I can’t get behind the idea of using a term like “real” with regard to women, especially considering the way it can be patriarchal and transphobic.

Sorry, it just doesn’t work for me.

Kelly December 3, 2016 - 3:24 PM

I’ve read a lot of posts about this topic, written by an array of women but I have to say that I think yours is the best I’ve ever come across because of your inclusion of the origin of the phrase! I never knew that it came from a play by a Latina playwright. It adds a whole new dimension to the conversation and I’m so happy you shared this! I have some thinking to do.

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