If you came here today expecting or hoping to find a post related to writing and/or MadLIBS, I’m very sorry to disappoint you, but an issue has come up. And that issue is how we as women seem so happy to attack each other based on appearance. Yes, there’s definitely a certain amount contributed to this issue by men, but I’m not talking about men. I’m talking about how women all over the internet, Facebook especially, though probably also Tumblr and Twitter (though I don’t know those sites well enough to say for sure), will link the above picture and chortle with all their male and female friends about how curves are what define a woman as real, and no skinny woman in that picture is attractive in the least, and “Look at how malnourished they are!”, and “Oh, I can’t date skinny women; I’m too afraid I’ll snap their little chicken bones!”, and “C’mon! Eat a burger! Amirite?!”
They’re also perfectly justified in having the opinion that curves are beautiful, so don’t think I’m angrily turning around and saying “You’re all wrong, and shut up!” There are just as many curvy women I find unappealing as skinny, because I have opinions like anyone else, and we’re all welcome to share them. It’s when opinion starts crossing over into personal attack territory that I really start to protest.
When did it become okay for us to attack each other based on how much fat we do or don’t have? Why is this the last frontier in the fight for protection against discrimination? And why is it women doing it to other women? (Note: I don’t accept “cattiness” as an answer. It is an excuse to allow bad behavior to continue, rather than taking responsibility for being petty.)
I would like to believe that this meme is not intentionally breeding pettiness in women, but how many times have you seen responses to this picture praising “real women” for having curves, or outright insulting women who don’t have “enough”? This is a problem, people! ALL women are REAL women, regardless of how anorexic or overweight they appear to someone else, and the more time we as women spend degrading each other over something as trivial as the virtues of pronounced hips vs. pronounced ribs, the less time we spend supporting each other. Don’t try to tell me that this isn’t degrading, either, because by using terms like “real women” and “when did X become sexier than X” you rob the subject in question of something intrinsic, something you have no place to say they lack. To make this more personal, though, since phrases like “the subject in question” sounds so clinical and distant; what you’re doing is personally telling another woman “You’re not a real woman. Period.” When you say that, you rob them of the value you appoint to “real women”, placing them lower in your opinion for no better reason than you dislike how they look. You rob them, in your own opinion, of the ability to appeal to someone sexually, judging and criticizing them for falling short of your preferences. Sound familiar to anyone?
There’s a link to vintage ads floating around, all of which claimed at the time to help women put on weight because that’s how you “get dates”. (There’s even one in there for men.) This has been spread (at times) in the same spirit as the picture above, to re-establish and support the idea that bigger doesn’t mean less beautiful, a message that in and of itself is not the problem, because there is a need to teach our women, young and old, that beauty isn’t the number you wear, and that’s good. The problem with the vintage ads is that they were written by mad men playing on the socially accepted idea at the time that a woman’s goals should be to get married and support her husband from the home, so don’t drive away those eager young men, Olive Oil; get some meat on those bones! Putting a positive interpretation on scare tactics used to manipulate women into fitting this ideal dictated by a small portion of society (not to say that only a small portion shared this view, but that a small portion was in control of what was said about it to the public) doesn’t change the fact that the original sentiment was wrong.
This picture may not come from the same male-centric standpoint, but that makes it far worse, because this actually could have been put together by a woman, a woman with more curves than the classic beauties portrayed (and let us also remember that a size 14 in Marilyn’s day was closer to a modern 10, which, by today’s standards is considered small. Yes, clothing stores will call them “medium”, and when feeling surly “large”, but when your size 10 friend tells you she’s too fat, you quickly reassure her in your most “I’m fighting the urge to hurl your skinny ass out the window” voice that she is, indeed, quite thin.). But, a woman may have sat at her computer, snatching up pictures of skinny women she felt embodied the modern interpretation of “skinny is beautiful” while emphasizing how malnourished they look (which is unfair as well, since many women now judged for being “too skinny” are at the target weight for their frames and body types), and then compared them to women from a different era that she felt embodied her personal beauty aesthetic to claim that her version of beauty was better. Now, really, there are only two options as to the gender of the person who originally put this together, and when you break it down it’s the presentation of the opinion that’s the real problem, but just the knowledge that there’s a 50% chance a woman began disseminating this breaks my heart a little.
I don’t argue against spreading images that build you up – we all need a little lesson in self love now and then -, but there are ways to do it that don’t disparage another individual or group of individuals. Most of us seem to think this is okay because “big girls” had to put up with this, so now it’s their turn to have a say. The same attacks larger women, some of whom can’t lose the weight, have faced for not being what modern magazines tell us is the height of beauty (just as vintage magazines told us skinny was then what plus size is now) are perpetrated against smaller women, some of whom can’t -GAIN- the weight, often by the very same women who suffered similar attacks in the first place, and many people nod their heads and say “Well, it’s about time.” But what I think really needs to be asked is “How does disparaging the appearance of other women fix what’s wrong with society’s image of beauty?” It’s not the fault of the skinny women pictured that the shift in aesthetic happened, so why are you targeting them?
If you can’t make out everything in the image there, it’s a different set of thin women and the same set of pin-up girls, only this time it’s a Demotivational Poster that says “LETS BE FAIR.” (Which needs an apostrophe in “let’s”, but that’s unimportant.) And below that: “It didn’t.” But that isn’t really fair, either, is it? The better argument isn’t that skinny never replaced curvaceous as beautiful. There is no improving an argument that can be reduced, at its most fundamental level, to “Skinny isn’t hot, curvy is.” You’re fighting a battle of opinions, and lashing out at women who have done you absolutely no harm. You don’t even know these women, but you’re willing to point the finger and say “No, I’m pretty, not you.” This sounds an awful lot like playground bullying, to me.
See, we don’t approve of domestic violence and abuse for obvious reasons, but in addition to the physical, mental, and emotional damage it causes to the victims, it can also create new abusers; that (usually correct) theory about bullies in the schools lashing out because of abusive home lives? Yeah, that one. Are we no better than school yard bullies with alcoholic parents? This “skinny women vs. curvy women” debate divides us. You can look at it from any angle you want and try to reason away how the debate is not a bad thing, but the fact is that it divides us as women and fosters an environment of judgement. Is that really what we need to do to each other?
No, ribald gentleman of the past, t’were not so long ago.
How often have you, or someone you know, complained that the “Reubinesque” figure was the height of beauty and never should have been changed? I bet few also address the fact that it was the height of beauty at a time where a more generous figure was proof of wealth and good health, of the luxury of life that meant they weren’t slaving away, just scraping by to get enough food to survive the next week, and sometimes just the next day. Given what modern Western society provides, that same generous figure is now usually evidence of someone just scraping by to get enough food to survive the next week, because the cheapest food is also the least healthy. Many people also perceive a lethargy and lack of personal care that is decidedly unappealing, regardless of how true it is.
The opinions regarding beauty change with the society sharing them for a reason, and even though we face a lot of grief and struggle against the fashion industry with their Twiggy-esque models, and magazines telling us to lose all the weight, I think you’ll find that the overwhelming majority find healthy to be height of beauty. It’s healthy, in whatever form that takes for the individual, that appeals.
I think what upsets me the most about the original image is that so many women glom onto it and wave it like a victory flag while they shout from the rooftops “Yes! Yes! Curvy is better than what Hollywood tells us is beautiful! When will you all learn that this is what REAL women look like?!”
But what about this?
Let me type that out for you again. “Real women are curvy. Real women are also slender, muscular, chubby, skinny, voluptuous, gangly, and shapely. We’re all real. We’re all women. Deal with it!”
Instead of waving your validation banner around, why don’t you grab onto THIS image and make IT viral. At least then you’ll be helping your fellow woman realize that fitting just one imposed ideal of beauty isn’t what defines her as a woman, and it isn’t what makes her beautiful.
This is my friend, Rachel.
Rachel is beautiful. She is the perfect illustration of a beautiful woman being beautiful in herself, not because she’s curvy, not because she’s skinny, but because she’s strong. I think this speaks louder than any picture I could have searched for, and if anything THIS should be a banner around which we as women rally. We CAN do it. Whatever “it” is, we can do it, but we need our sisters to keep us strong.
Support each other, because we are our mothers, our daughters, our sisters, our grandmothers, our nieces, our aunts, and our cousins. We are every woman who has come before us, and every woman who will come after us. And that should mean something. Make it mean something.
And I’m spent. I want Kahlua in my coffee and a big ol’ Amy snuggle. Y’all bitches be trippin’.
We’ll return you to your regularly scheduled literature lesson sprinkled liberally with humor on Wednesday. Or maybe Wednesday will be a MadLIB to make up for today. WHO KNOWS! (I bet it’s a MadLIB.)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Adalnd Monroe is not a militant femi-nazi, but she does get tired of seeing visual and verbal attacks against a woman’s appearance or physique hidden behind the intention of raising the self-esteem of another group, especially when it’s another group of women. She would like all of her sisters to please at least TRY to remember that ALL women ARE REAL women, regardless of your visual preferences, and that you don’t get to decide what does or doesn’t qualify them as being “real”.
When she’s not rant-paging about sisterhood, you can find her a-tick-a-typing away on genre fiction, or blog posts about the process of writing, and probably bunnies.
Read “Don’t Let Her In”. It’s creepy and free.