What Does a 'Real Woman' Look Like?

If you have curves, celebrate them. But there’s no need to put down other women who are thin in a healthy way or naturally skinny in the process. The point is to love our bodies, in all of their beautiful shapes and sizes.

| September 30th, 2013
Body-Shaming Women of Any Size Is Not OK

Zero is not a size. Real women have curves. Men want something to hold onto.

These phrases are meant to empower women everywhere and show them that being thin isn’t the only beautiful body type. The intentions are pure and honest, but for anyone out there who would consider herself thin or skinny, these “positive” phrases become insults. Putting down other women for their bodies in any way is wrong. Phrases like “real woman” are becoming an accepted part of our culture, but in the end, they only add to the prevalent female body-bashing and unrealistic body expectations that plague us every day.

MORE: Start Appreciating Your Body Right Now

After she was named Rookie of the Year in the 2011 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue (and then proceeded to snag the cover spot in 2012 and again in 2013), Kate Upton quickly became America’s go-to example of female perfection. She was a blonde bombshell: fit, with serious curves, and an even more serious rack. She was deemed the ideal “real” woman that we all should strive to emulate.

But who gets to decide what a “real” woman is? Wouldn’t that technically mean someone with ladyparts and two X chromosomes? The phrase is meant to celebrate women with curves and fuller figures, but in doing so, it implies that those with small, skinny frames and A cups are somehow less womanly.

Heather Quinlan, YouBeauty’s Body Image Expert, notes that although stigmatizing women for being overweight is much more prominent, making someone feel ugly or less womanly for being thin is just as wrong. “Why would it ever be OK to criticize somebody based on her appearance?” she says. “Some of it comes from each person’s own questions about her own body or her own lower self-esteem or body image.”

It’s also important to remember that people of every shape and size share a lot of the same self-esteem concerns, Quinlan notes. “I’ve met plenty of beautiful, thin girls who feel like crap about themselves,” she says. “Just because somebody is objectively attractive or thin or beautiful, doesn’t mean that they see that in themselves and doesn’t mean that they feel good about themselves.” When you tell someone her body isn’t “womanly,” you might be hurting her self-esteem more than you know.

MORE: How to Rise Above the Criticism

Ann Kearney-Cooke, Ph.D., a psychologist at The Cincinnati Psychotherapy Institute who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders as well as self-esteem and body image issues, points out that another underlying cause of this body-bashing is our society’s focus on women’s bodies and the contradictory messages we get about how we should look from the celebrity world, filled with gossip and criticism. “I think that this sometimes creates competition and jealousy that’s not necessary between thin, average weight and overweight people,” she says.

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