What is a "Real Woman", Really?

This afternoon, The Huffington Post angered a number of fans on its Facebook page when it posted the following:

The commentary contained a link to this article, which showcased a slideshow of real Huffington Post readers in bikinis. The angry commenters’ problem was that they believed HuffPost’s characterization of the women in the slideshow as “real women” was a statement that the only real women are women with curves and bigger bodies and that “thin, healthy women” are not in fact “real.” However, this wasn’t the commenters’ real problem. Their actual problem is two-fold: (1) a lack of reading comprehension [actually, a lack of reading, PERIOD, as they clearly did not read the article], and (2) a failed logic whereby they think thin automatically means healthy and thick automatically means unhealthy.
Not reading the article is really a sad problem, considering it is only two paragraphs long. The article makes it very clear that HuffPost sought after photographs of real women in order to combat the extremely airbrushed images that assault us from magazine aisles, along with the notion that the only way a woman should ever don a bikini is after she’s lost 40 pounds. The article plainly says, We happen to believe that if you’re physically able to put on a bathing suit, you’re bikini-ready. It also plainly states that it wanted the pictures it received to be “unstarved and unairbrushed.” “Unstarved” doesn’t mean, “zaftig only.” Plenty of women are unstarved and thin, just as there are many women who are starved and thick [more on that point later]. The key here, though, is unairbrushed.
Anyone who clicked through the ten-picture slideshow would easily see that the women included in the slideshow came in all sizes. There are plump women and thin women. There are tall women and short women. You know what kind of women you won’t find in those ten pictures, though? Airbrushed and Photoshopped women. Not one of those women has had dimples, cellulite, moles, birthmarks, or discolorations removed. Not one has had her lines smoothed and/or her body liquified [the Photoshop editing job of making someone skinny] to three times smaller than her actual size. These women, thin and thick alike, are “real” because they look the way any woman would look on the street. And if you think Kate Beckinsale or Snooki looks anything in person like what you see on the cover of a magazine teaching you how to look just like her [but ignoring the main tip of, “and then Photoshop yourself”], then you are exactly the type of gullible person to which these articles are marketed.
Now let’s get to the second problem, the idea that thin means healthy and thick means unhealthy. BEEEEEEEEEEEP!!!!! WRONG!
Look, I don’t dispute that someone who is morbidly obese is probably unhealthy. When Ruby Gettinger weighed more than 400 pounds, she was undoubtedly, not healthy. But where people often go wrong is when they make the automatic assumption that someone who is thin, whether naturally thin or not, is healthy and that someone who is overweight (not obese, but just outside the realm of their ideal weight) is unhealthy. There have been several studies that disprove this theory. What you see on the outside doesn’t necessarily indicate a person’s eating habits or exercise levels. Yes, people who eat right and exercise and stay or maintain a thin weight as a result of their healthy habits should be applauded for their discipline. Where we get off the rails, however, is when we assume that because someone looks “good” on the outside, this matches what is happening on the inside.
This is what is so wrong with a thin-obsessed culture. The emphasis should never be on “thin,” it should always be on “healthy.” If “thin” is a level you achieve when you become “healthy,” then great. But there are far too many people, women especially, who develop very unhealthy habits (anorexia and bulimia being only two of these) in pursuit of “thin.” However, society is much better off when people are eating well and exercising–regardless of what size or forms their bodies take as a result of this healthy living.
Here’s my “real” time….
I have been my current height (5’7″) since I was 13 or 14 years old. Including pregnancy, at this height, I have been every weight from 80 pounds to 200 pounds. I was not starving when I was 80 pounds; it was the result of my natural metabolism, inherited from both parents. My parents should have been my cautionary tale. I should have known that my metabolism wouldn’t last forever. But because of partly acting out because of all the hurt I experienced when I was younger, when my peers had no problem making fun of my weight [“toothpick,” “anorexic,” “Olive Oyl” — I’ve heard it all] and largely having formed awful habits as the result of having no visual consequences to my lifestyle, I formed awful habits. By high school, I had actually started lifting weights, because I had read in magazines that doing so would help me gain weight. I was also eating ten times a day in an effort to gain weight–mostly junk food, fast food, and anything I could get out of a vending machine. I never did any real cardio until law school, because I found it “boring” and “I didn’t need it.” In fact, the only time I did cardio even in law school was during dance practice or when I decided to walk 20 blocks to go shopping (or, more likely, to a bar) because I couldn’t afford a cab and didn’t want to take the subway. Despite eating Taco Bell and other awful takeout nearly every day for lunch and dinner, my weight never went over 120 pounds until long after graduation, when I went on a medication that had the side effect of making me gain a ton of weight quickly. I didn’t just gain weight, I got “puffy.” To combat that weight gain, I basically tried to starve myself back into my size 0 clothes. I rarely ate breakfast and lunch. For dinner, whether or not I ate something healthy depended on my mood. But, hey, whatever worked to keep me within or under my “ideal weight” and BMI, right?
Wrong. Everything about my old lifestyle was wrong. And it wasn’t until a few months before Pop Culture Dad and I got engaged–when I got a personal trainer who knocked some sense into me–that I realized how wrong my previous lifestyle was, regardless of how good I looked on the outside.
Am I a picture of perfect health today? No. But, sadly, I am much healthier now, in my greater attempts to eat home-cooked meals more often, to buy organic fruits and vegetables (and even starting to grow my own), and in trying to incorporate more physical activity (even if it isn’t always “exercise”) than I was when I was back in my “hot” days in my early and mid-20s. Am I as healthy as I could be? Absolutely not. But I’m working on it. Although I would ultimately like to lose some weight and trim down from the healthy changes I continue to make to my lifestyle, in the end all that will really matter is that I have improved my quality (and length) of life by making these healthy changes. I will also have given my daughters the benefit of hopefully long and healthy lives by not teaching them–as I sadly had learned–that it doesn’t matter what they eat right now, because they have the metabolism that I used to have, and they can basically gorge themselves on anything and everything without consequence until they turn 25. That was a bad lesson to learn, and it has been a hard habit to break.
In any event, I will continue to be a “real” woman. I’m not going to Photoshop my imperfections before posting pictures to Facebook out of fear that people will judge me if I don’t look “perfect” and skinny. If I ever again achieve what I believe to be my ideal body [not weight; weight tells you nothing] again, I will still be a “real” woman, because I will remain unairbrushed and true to myself.
(L) High school and (R) law school. “Real” and unairbrushed, but an unhealthy version of skinny.
Pop Culture Dad and I at our healthiest–on our honeymoon in 2008, eating well and being active (although 50 pounds heavier than I was in high school/college and 20-30 pounds heavier than my heaviest law school weight — both times living off fast food). Unstarved and unairbrushed.
Me today. I’m still “real” and unairbrushed. Still not as healthy as I could be and have been, but 100x healthier than my college and law school skinny days (and noneyabiz how much heavier).

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