I’d like to take a little break from this blog’s usual program of fashion and textile history, New Zealandia, cats and pretty pictures to talk about something really important to me.
I have a pet peeve. I hate it when I hear the terms “real women” and “real bodies” used, when what they mean is “women with a larger width to height proportion.”
Actually, it’s more than a peeve, and I don’t just hate it. I find it mean, and hurtful, and incredibly rude and ignorant, especially since it is often used by people who are trying to celebrate women’s bodies. I read that phrase recently in an interview with a New Zealand woman who is trying to improve women’s body image. She said that she wanted to show “curvy women, women like me, real women” that they were beautiful. I just sat down and cried my eyes out.
Who are you to say that I’m not a real woman, with a real body, just because I am a true size 10 with a slightly less than average bust? My body is just as worthy of celebration as all of the curvy bodies the phrase usually refers too!
My body is 100% natural. It’s the product of genes, a decent diet, and a bit of exercise. I’ve never had anything added or padded or cut off (well, except for that mole the skin doctor was a little worried about). I haven’t starved myself or exercised fanatically or stuffed myself with chocolate for this body. It just happened.
Mostly it happened because of my genes. I have plenty of friends who eat similar diets, and have similar exercise patterns, and are shaped completely differently to me. And I think their bodies are beautiful. But my genetic heritage gave me a bit of extra height and medium bones and a small bust and a big ribcage and a great bootie and substantial thighs and not a lot of extra flesh elsewhere. And that has to be beautiful too.
Women with tiny, dainty bones, and tiny, dainty amounts of flesh on them, are beautiful, and real. Women with spectacular busts and hips to match are beautiful, and real. Women who can eat anything they want and still put on no weight are beautiful, and real. Women with tiny ribcages, and generous hips, and dimpled elbows are beautiful, and real. Women with stocky, muscled torsos and sturdy arms and legs are beautiful, and real. We’re all beautiful, and we’re all real.
As long as you are eating a decent diet, and getting a decent amount of exercise, and aren’t ill, you are going to have a normal, beautiful, real body.
Celebrate it! And celebrate other women’s bodies, whether they be slender or sonsy, pear-shaped or petite, broad, busty, buxom, or bony. We’re all beautiful, and we’re all real.
It’s really important that we celebrate all of our bodies, because most of us will have insecurities about our bodies.
I know I do.
I also know, rationally and objectively, that by the fashionable standards of 2011 I have a ‘good’ body. It’s easy to shop for. It very close to the proportions of my dressform. It’s not model proportions by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s reasonably close to the 21st century ‘ideal’.
That doesn’t change the fact that irrationally, and unobjectively, I have body issues. I’m not happy with every thing about myself. I prefer not to expose some parts of my body in public. I only drop the towel just before I step in the water. And I know I’m not the only one. I’ve talked to dozens of women whose bodies I’ve admired and envied, and every one of them is self-conscious about her body, and most of them were as astonished as I was to discover that the other also worried about her body.
The media is hugely responsible for our insecurities, but in some ways it’s getting better, and helping. There has been a lot of attention focused on curvier figures and more irregular figures, with countless blogs and magazines celebrating them.
In a strange way, that has made it harder for me. I don’t have the body these blogs and magazines are lauding. And when I see them called ‘real bodies’ or read articles about clothes for ‘real women’, the sense of rejection is acute.
Am I not ‘real’? Stuck in a no-mans land of less-than-fashion-ideal, but not quite genuinely-womanly? Rejecting all the bodies that don’t fit into these two categories is just as unfair and cruel as asking all of us to be shaped like models.
Instead I’d like all of our bodies to be celebrated, and admired, for what they are. Bodies of every shape. Normal bodies. Real bodies. Bodies that show that there is not one real, or normal, but a whole range of shapes that make clothes and fashion so interesting, and exciting.
For every body, no matter its shape, there is a cut and style that makes it look fabulous, and a culture and historical period that celebrated that body as beautiful, as ideal.
My privilege as a historic costumer is to study all these periods, and to put models with a whole range of shapes into clothes that were made to highlight just their shape, to show just how fabulous it is. I want my models to feel fabulous in a historical context, and to go away knowing that they can be just as fabulous in modern life, because their body is beautiful, and real.
And whatever shape their body is, whatever shape my body is, that’s a wonderful thing.