By Laura Finley
Laura Finley
Laura Finley

I am an unreal woman, evidently. A fake, a fraud, an alien-woman of sorts. At least that’s what I keep hearing and reading. Because evidently, real women have “curves,” “back fat,” “bass,” and “booty.” Real women struggle to lose weight after childbirth.  They have droopy bits and wrinkles, so I am told.


I am 42 years old. I am 5’10 and weigh 110 pounds. I do not have an eating disorder, I am just naturally tall and thin, I eat generally healthy foods, and I am a lifelong runner who paid for most of my college by competing in Division 1 track and cross country.

I lost all the weight I gained with my healthy (7.1 pounds, 20 inch) baby within one week of delivery. According to popular culture, this makes me not “real” at best, and, if you listen to popular music, it might make me a “silicone Barbie doll” or a “skinny bitch.”

This focus on so-called “real women” may sound nice, but in actuality is as divisive as the excessive emphasis on being model thin. When former super model Cindy Crawford released an untouched photograph showing her beauty but also her flaws, people went crazy, claiming that this made them love her even more because she is now more “real.”

Dove has lead the “real” women movement with its “Campaign for Real Beauty,” featuring several supposedly “real” women in their bras and panties. While these women definitely don’t have typical celebrity or model bodies, it was revealed in 2008 that these photos were also photoshopped, hence not actually real at all.

People magazine recently featured the photography of Jade Beall, who captured “real” women after pregnancy. The focus, of course, is on those who struggled to lose their baby weight. Because that’s what “real” women do.

When pregnant model Sarah Stage released pictures of her small and still muscular stomach, she suffered from skinny-shaming, with many asserting that somehow she was delinquent because she didn’t gain enough weight. Yet Stage’s baby is by all measures so far completely healthy.

Maria Kang, now known as “fit mom” ignited an online war when she photographed her very fit body asking women “What’s your excuse?” Kang is the mother of three children under the age of three, and has argued that many women use children, work or other obligations as an excuse not to take care of their personal fitness and health. Women accused her of fat-shaming, of bullying, and demanded that she apologize.

Don’t get me wrong—I appreciate any chance to open up a conversation about women’s many body types and the strange and oppressive pressures placed on us (and that we place on ourselves) to meet these socially constructed standards. I fail to see, however, how skinny-shaming is any better than fat-shaming.

It is unclear to me how poking fun of women who are thin and fit serves to challenge the excessive focus on women’s bodies.

Film star Maggie Gyllenhaal offered a more nuanced understanding of the complexities of women in her commentary about the roles for which females were being considered for Oscars. She noted that “these women who are sometimes powerful and sometimes not. Sometimes sexy, sometimes not. Sometimes honorable, sometimes not.” In sum, not “real” or “unreal” by some visual criteria but instead different from one another in many ways, physical and otherwise.

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Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology in Miami, FL,  and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.