You’ve probably seen these pictures circulating on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and the like. They’ve been circulating for a few years, so you’d have to be living under a rock not to. If you do reside in rock territory, here are a couple of examples:
Anyway, the basic messages are that “real women have curves”, “men prefer curves”, and that hourglass figures are hotter than waifish figures. These posts are supposed to be empowering, and I’m sure that they are for many women out there. The problem is that they are definitely not empowering for everyone. If “real women have curves”, what message does that send to a woman with a petite figure? A boyish figure? A lithe figure?
Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s important that we keep talking about how the media represents weight. The average fashion model weighs 23 percent less than the average woman, as opposed to 8 percent less in 1975. Models are still going to extremes to keep their weights down. Tabloids love to talk about which celebrities have cellulite one week and which look like they have eating disorders the next. Eating disorders and body image struggles are very real issues for teens and young women and a lot of that has to do with the unrealistic ideals that are perpetuated in the media. By all means, we should be representing a broader range of body types and we definitely should stop having such a narrow definition of beauty. I just don’t think putting other women down is the way to do that.
Anyone who has ever been to high school (so, everyone) knows that put-downs are a classic “mean girl” technique. A girl bully tries to feel better about herself by making another girl feel bad about herself. The problem is that it doesn’t really work. Making someone feel bad about herself might bring about a moment of satisfaction, but it can’t really change how you feel about yourself. It’s sort of what “Mean Girls” was all about (I love “Mean Girls”).
Now, I don’t think that the women who create and share these images are intentionally attempting to make other women feel bad about themselves. I think they are genuinely trying to spread positive attitudes about body types that are not widely represented in the mainstream media, albeit in a misguided way. The problem here is that you can’t really spread a “body positive” message whilst simultaneously spreading a negative message about someone else. If “curvy” becomes the new ideal, what happens to all of the women who are naturally thin? Are they supposed to feel ugly because of their natural figures?
“Real” women come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Changing our definition of “beauty” is not going to change that. There will always be curvy women and there will always be skinny women, just like there will always be short, tall, younger, and older women, and everything in between. Creating a new ideal is still promoting one body type over others and still excludes anyone who doesn’t fit into that ideal. How about we embrace a wider variety of bodies as “beautiful”? How about we take a cue from Naomi Wolf and stop perpetuating “The Beauty Myth” all together?
*I’m not sure of the original sources of these images. They’re widely circulated memes.