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The Problem With Replacing One Body Ideal With Another

The Problem With Replacing One Body Ideal With Another

When members of the media or fashion industry talk about moving away from thin models in favor of "real women" they seem to forget that "real women" come in all shapes and sizes. While curves can send a signal of femininity, striving for perfect proportions and ample cleavage won't help any woman's body image. So when the UK's equality minister Lynne Featherstone held up Mad Men's Christina Hendricks as a healthy role model for young women earlier this week, she may have missed the mark: if women are going to embrace their bodies, they need to stop comparing themselves to others.

It's true that Christina's voluptuous figure adds more diversity to the often-underweight images we see on TV, and Featherstone later clarified that she just wanted to celebrate an alternative to "stick insects." But elevating Christina's look to role-model status does little to stop society from valuing one body over the other. And the common tendency to reduce the actress's talents to her body doesn't send a positive message.

If a government minister charged with boosting body confidence among young women wants to succeed, one Guardian writer explains, she "should throw out all notions of obsessing about feminine beauty and concentrate on helping young girls think about the size of their achievements rather than the flatness of their navel." And if we're going to look for body image role models, let's celebrate women because of their confidence or healthy lifestyles, not their bra sizes.

Image Source: Thinkstock
Join The Conversation
Francoisehardly Francoisehardly 7 years
Thanks for posting this. This is exactly the type of hypocrisy when it comes to body image that has been bothering me. And unlike others who are bothered by the "real women have curves" phrase that people love saying, I'm not even that slim or boyish in shape and it bothers me too because it's not as positive of a phrase as what people like to believe. People don't seem to realize that no matter what ideal we celebrate, not all women can fit into the curvy ideal just like not all of us will ever be able to have model-like figures or athletic figures, etc. Why should any women be defined as women specifically because of how they look anyway? That's all we are? Just bodies?
GirlOverboard GirlOverboard 7 years
*sigh* And after my long-winded post, I realize that this article, linked by FitSugar, is actually on TRES sugar. So, while I feel a little bit like a goof, I still stand by what I said in my last post, as I would hope that any person concerned at all about body image would be spending time on Fit as well as on the other sites. :]
GirlOverboard GirlOverboard 7 years
I'm going to step up and admit that I've been guilty in the past of making the "real women have curves; really skinny women look like 12 year old boys" comparison. I'm not proud of it. Since coming to Fit and since I've started working harder to be better to myself, I've come to realize that the focus should be on health. A friend of mind is part of blog that focuses on self-image and one of the articles is about whether "thick women" are a trend or a transformation. I think that a year or so ago, I would have been all over that bandwagon. Now, it just upsets me, and let me explain why. The article starts off using a few good examples such as America Ferrera, Jennifer Hudson, Christina Hendricks and.... Beth Ditto?! A woman who is not only very obese, but also clearly does not take care of her body or her health! I love The Gossip, but Ditto is hardly a good role model for any girl. I think that we should be embracing all body types and shapes, but we should be discouraging unhealthy habits - whether it's eating too much, eating too little, partying a lot or being addicted to excessive exercise (yes, there is such a thing). I think that it is great that it seems that more people are embracing curves, but to embrace obesity is no less messed up than embracing being emaciated. Unfortunately, instead of getting in on the Health movement, people are still jumping on bandwagons - even here, I've seen thinner, fitter girls lash out at those of us on the heavier end of the spectrum and snidely comment about how somebody that, to me, looks emaciated, looks fantastic. I've seen at least one person comment on a celebrity having "fat arms," because said celeb didn't exactly have cut biceps, despite clearly being in good shape. I've also seen a few of us on the curvier end unnecessarily call out perfectly healthy-looking celebs for being too skinny, for models not having "real curves," though last time I checked, no amount of diet or exercise (or lack thereof) can grow breasts or widen the space between hip bones to create curves on an otherwise lean body. What I'm getting at is that even here, in a fitness community, we are still always trying to find examples of what is "right." We, as a community, are still making comments about how we should look, when we really should all be agreeing that our common goal is fitness and health, and that's all that should matter. If we can't even overcome our dangerous expectations here, how can we expect the rest of the world to do the same? Should we not be leading by example?
isahrangme isahrangme 7 years
yea i hate how dove commercials are showing "real women" in their commercials. none of those women look like me. i'm asian, 5'6" (which people say is tall for an asian, but actually i know a lot of tall asians), athletic but also not. actually, my body has never fit into those "types" in magazines. i'm skinny but also athletic but not too much of either too! if they want to show REAL women, they should show more diversity! and even then, they won't be able to represent everyone because we are SO DIVERSE! but they should stop saying that skinny people are not real... they are just as real as the rest of them. what we should strive for are HEALTHY bodies. not everyone will have that either, because of genetic illnesses and such. but it is something that i feel everyone can agree we should strive for! it'd also be nice if looks weren't so important. i think hilary clinton looks perfectly great. her hair and her clothes are fine! it's not necessarily something i'd choose, but she's not even in the fashion/hair industry! she's working on policy, shouldn't THAT be the focus?! men can be all sorts of "ugly" and no one (by this i mean the media) cares, but women get judged all the time! TRAGIC!
postmodernsleaze postmodernsleaze 7 years
I totally agree with Anon 1. There shouldn't be a single figure type as an ideal. And I also agree that "real women" is a demeaning term to slender women. Whether skinny or rounder, your body shape plays a very little role in what makes you a woman. Live healthy, live happy.
bryseana bryseana 7 years
I agree with the article. No one type of body should be an example to follow. If everyone had the same genetics then it would be logical. It's good that Christina Hendricks is being recognized. It would be nice if diversity actually existed in the world of beauty. Not to sound like a broken record, but as one of the posters above mentioned, the traditional supermodel is tall and thin. That's all we ever see...even on this site. It's discriminating.
BeccaU BeccaU 7 years
Absolutely! I am so tired of having "skinny" jokes thrown my way. Apparently, I'm so skinny I'd disappear behind a grain of rice, be knocked over by a gust of wind, and could defend myself by impaling an attacker with the bones that stick out of my body. If I laugh at these barbs, no one will realize it's insulting, but if I point out it's insulting, I'm called out for being over-sensitive. I can't win.
neuromuse neuromuse 7 years
I am so glad you posted this! I've always been very tall, very slender, and about as curvy as a 12-year-old boy (yes, sourcherry, that comparison is very alive and well!) . I remember my friends in high school talking about "real" women with fact, the movie "Real Women Have Curves" came out my senior year of high school. This always wore on my self-esteem. Because I had a traditional "super model" body, I somehow wasn't real? Much like all the "real" women out there, I've always struggled with my weight...just in the opposite direction!
sourcherry sourcherry 7 years
Completely agree, with the article and with the above comment. I really hate that it has become acceptable to say that "real women" have curves and boobs, and skinny women look like prepubescent boys. It's insulting and people should stop going Amen when they hear something like that. Do we have to always put down one group of women?
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