What is a “Real Woman”?

Project Runway Season 10 airs a little behind the US here in Canada. Canada is airing Episode 4 while Episode 10 airs in the US this week. There is an episode airing in Canada soon where the term “real woman” gets used during judging. Heidi Klum responds, “What is a real woman?”

I have used the expression “real women”. Usually in regard to a store that makes clothes in my size that fit me well. Example, DKNY. The Soho jeans are wonderful for women with a thick waist and a curvy backside. They also come in tall which adds length not only to the legs but also to the rise so your waist band sits a little higher. For tall people, where your waist likely is. I have said that DKNY has clothes for “real women”.

I don’t use that expression any more. I’m one shape of woman but my friends with flatter backsides, short legs and thin hips are real women too. As are women with full breasts, small breasts and those who have had a lumpectomy or mastectomy. Who am I to say that one shape of woman is “real”?

I was an underweight kid and teenager and gained my weight post-marriage. I hated my body. I felt like a failure despite anything else that I accomplished. It was like my weight invalidated anything positive about myself. I was a good friend, wife,employee, daughter and sister. But it was as if none of that counted because I was fat. A couple of years ago I realized that my mother was still unhappy about her body. She was overweight and hated it. She has since lost weight and looks and feels great but I remember my mom dieting, and complaining about her body, my entire life. She came by it the same way as her mother was unhappy with her weight also. I thought, “Am I still going to hate myself in 30 years?! What if I never lose the weight? Will I never love myself again? Do I have to continue to punish myself into my 40’s, 50’s, 60’s?”

Because I was punishing myself. I didn’t deserve certain things or to go to certain places. I could dress myself up but I couldn’t call myself pretty because I was overweight. I waited for my husband to pack up and leave. Why would he stay? He had put on at least as much weight as I did but it was different, for some reason. I love him for himself but he deserves a thin (or at least thinner) wife, I thought. My husband has never expressed anything but pure love for me. I was projecting my words onto him.

I started reading Already Pretty and started talking to myself as I would to a good friend. You’d tell your friend that it’s a good for her to exercise, but you wouldn’t berate her and call her fat and lazy because she stayed in and sewed instead. You would tell your friend that she looked better in a boot cut jean than she did in a skinny jean, but you wouldn’t tell her she didn’t deserve to go out to an event because she wore a size 14. But we are more than willing to talk to ourselves this way. It is not about pretending that we are thrilled with the shape or weight we are but it is about loving ourselves anyway. It is about loving the way our bodies get us around, some of them having carried little humans inside them, loving our shapely legs or our nice shoulders or our freckles. It is about loving ourselves as we love our spouses and children and mothers and friends. We don’t stop loving because they aren’t a perfect size or shape, or because they don’t have a certain skill or talent. We are proud of them if they accomplish a goal or learn a skill, like losing weight or learning to play guitar. But we don’t love them more. We love them because they exist. And we are all real women because we exist and we are deserving of love. Especially from ourselves.

What I’m listening to: At My Most Beautiful by R.E.M.

27 thoughts on “What is a “Real Woman”?

  1. What a great thoughtful post.
    I’m one of those skinny women. I’m lucky that I have never had to battle my weight but I have had to battle my self esteem when I get people commenting on my appearance – and not always in a nice way. I understand it’s nto about it, it’s about them but it does kinda crush you in a shop changeroom or when you walk into an event thinking you look pretty smashing to be told you look underfed or like an undeveloped teenager.
    I’m OK about how I look, there isn’t much I can do about it so I just accept that my cleavage is never going to be anything to write home about.
    I managed to give birth to two enormous babies (9 pound each) despite my small frame, I’m a wife, an employee, a crazy stitcher and at the end of every day I’m just me – for better or for worse. My family love me for who I am – not how much or little I fill out a pair of jeans. And I’m OK with that.
    I do feel a litle sad on the inside when bloggers talk very passionately about pattern companies and that they should be making patterns for ‘real women’ my little voice inside says… well they fit me – am I not real?? But that’s a brave thing to say out loud some days…
    If only I had to know how to do a FBA…

    • Thin women are open targets for comments it seems. My coworker gets told that she has an eating disorder in fitting rooms. By strangers.
      I’ve learned we all have things we don’t like about our bodies but it’s about not focusing on that to the exclusion of everything else. My body did a 22 KM hike in the Rocky Mountains to Burgess Shale (my geo friends will know where that is). How dare I disrespect the body that did that?!
      And when you don’t have to do a FBA you can probably sleep on your stomach! Isn’t it awesome? 🙂

      • LOL there is always an up to every situation isn’t there!
        What makes me really furious is when I hear other mothers commenting about my eldest daughter who has inherited my slender frame and her father’s lanky height (he’s nearly 6 foot 6) She’s not skinny, just v.slender – naturally – eventually she will be the envy of all her friends but she already draws comments from other mothers – and she is only 9. She’s just lucky/unlucky enough to have won the genetic lottery. And they should know better.

      • I don’t have children but when I speak to girls I try to compliment them on something they worked to achieve. Like if they are an excellent reader or are good at something. Not just, “You are so cute” or “what a pretty dress” (unless they sewed it…LOL). It seems to come more naturally to compliment boys on strength and ability. Not so much with girls.
        Let’s change that!

  2. Wow! Well said. I think we age comes a sense of acceptance – or maybe it is a gift of acceptance because, you are right, some women struggle with hating themselves forever. ANd while the act of overcoming is each ours alone, I think one must place blame on the corporations and unreal ideals of women’s bodies on society. I hope the next generation of women don;t have to struggle with accepting themselves – as you have and I still struggle with. But that hope is only fleating unless we do something to change society and you know, simply by sewing clothes that make us feel good and look good has an impact. Refusing to give our money to corporations that promote stereotypes is another…

    • Some blame goes to society, for sure, but like our mothers said “If everyone jumped off a bridge, would you?” We can’t continue to blame our mothers and corporations once we know better. This is the same society that has made some kids vacationing on a beach in the eastern US into huge celebrities despite deplorable behaviour. On the other hand, Oprah has struggled publicly with her weight and is one of the most successful woman in North America (the world?). Same society.
      It’s up to us to decide how we are going to be treated, by ourselves and those around us. And it’s up to us who gets our hard-earned money! Great point!
      Thank you so much for your comment.

  3. How wonderfully written! I can relate to a lot of what you said. I finally decided to embrace my body for what it is and the changes it is about to make. You should always love the body that helps you live your life.

  4. A very thoughtful and well written post indeed 🙂 This is a topic near and dear to my heart, as it’s something me and my mum and sister, have struggled with all our lives as well. I always felt fat, from the age of 12 onwards, and thought if i could only be skinny, i’d be happy. I was not a fat kid. I just happened to go to school with a whole bunch of very skinny kids, and was teased for being fat by comparison. I have often wished I could think of a way to help change society, so that other little girls growing up didn’t have to feel the way I did, and just enjoy their childhood.

    You’re right, it’s up to US to change what’s within us, and stop all this destructive self hatred. Trouble is, when we are conditioned to feel this way from a very young age, how do we counteract it? We can make healthy choices and positively reinforce our behaviours, but when the negative image of ourselves is reinforced by society and media, it’s an uphill struggle at best. I see and hear people criticizing actresses who are a size 6 for being “fat”. What does that make us feel when we are far from that “ideal” to begin with? The psychological impact is so severe that there are countless women who have lost weight but still see that hated “fat” self in the mirror, indefinitely.

    I have a friend who marches up to strangers and tells them they are beautiful. I love this. I’m a shy person by nature, but I’ve done this myself a few times even though it makes me really nervous, and the surprise and smile on the person’s face is definitely worth the effort ^__^ Maybe if women supported other women and loved each other, we could get past this terrible phenomenon and start loving ourselves too 🙂

    • Thanks for the comment!
      We also need to stop focusing so much on what we look like and recognize who we are. I like to present myself in a certain way, for sure, and I put photos of myself on the WWW. But I like to think that I’d be remembered for my kindness, sense of humour and passionate rants (as seen above) after I’m gone. Not for my waist-hip ratio, or worse, cup size. 🙂
      As for actors, they only get our attention because of the type of work they do. A nurse in my father-in-law’s palliative care unit did more for my husband’s family and myself than any “celebrity” ever has. I often think of her when I think my job is difficult. Nurses are tops in my book!
      Let’s find our heroes somewhere other than on TV or in movies. And great idea, let’s tell a woman today that she inspired us/helped us/made our day better.

      • There’s no question that it would be ideal if we could all focus more on what’s INSIDE than out, and surely the world would be a better place if we did. Sadly, the world judges us on appearance first, so we have to go out there with a pretty strong opinion of our image in order to weather that. Bolstering self confidence by focusing on health and personal strengths and talents is crucial, but I think it’s really healthy (and essential!) to feel beautiful inside, and out, for exactly who we are and what we look like, as we were created – not how society wants us to be 🙂

  5. Great post! It’s a good reminder to focus on accepting and appreciating the body you have. It seems that no matter what your size, there’s someone who will comment that you are not right, be it too skinny or too heavy.

    • Thank you for the comment!
      Of course it’s always a work in progress but it was also a lot of work to focus so negatively all the time. Might as well put the effort in for positivity!

  6. This is an awesome post and I can’t believe I missed it! I’m having such a hard time keeping up my blog reading now I no longer have a two-hour train ride every day…

    I am generally pretty comfy with my body, but then it’s a pretty easy body to be comfy with—I wonder how I’ll cope with “middle age spread” etc. On the other hand, I’m not so thin I generate a lot of random negativity, either. (Or perhaps I’m just oblivious…)

    Having a daughter on the cusp of adolescence is pretty terrifying, though—how to balance messages about eating right and exercise without creating body negativity? How to help her stay okay with her changing body? (She’s going to be a pear). And, yes, definitely about focusing on accomplishments and personality.

    • What our moms express about their own bodies makes a larger impact than anything else, I think.
      My mom’s comment on the post was that she hated to hear me talk badly about myself because she thinks I’m perfect.
      Completely unbiased, right? 🙂 I never doubted that my mom thought I was pretty but I knew that my mom hated her own body. That was the pattern that I repeated.
      Have fun with the parenting teenage girls thing! 😉 Seriously maybe this next generation will have it figured out.

  7. Pingback: Health at Every Size | Falling Through Your Clothes

  8. Pingback: Your Body Is Not Your Masterpiece | Falling Through Your Clothes

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