Thursday, 29 July 2010

Real Is Not A Size

The equalities minister Lynne Featherstone has declared that Christina Hendricks, star of the TV series Mad Men, should be a "role model" for women and the fashion industry to aspire to.

In her (absolutely admirable) mission to combat the unhealthy ideals encouraged by the beauty and fashion industries, Featherstone is battling the "unrealistic stereotypes" of stick-thin models in magazines and advertising. And in the process, Featherstone has singled out the buxom, size 14 Hendricks as having the ideal female figure. "Christina Hendricks is absolutely fabulous," says Featherstone. "We need more of these role models.”

I find this a particularly interesting statement to make. Without question, I believe that we need to create more positive and realistic role models for young women. Overtly skinny models are blamed for encouraging a negative body image, and I think that they do create a dangerous ideal for girls. However, holding up the figure of Christina Hendricks as the ideal body is actually just as risky. With her waspish waist and large bosom, is her figure any more attainable than a wispy model’s? I feel that while heralding Hendricks as the perfect body will bring a sigh of relief from the naturally curvaceous girls - who have previously strived for a lithe figure they can never have - suddenly there are new impossible goals for women without curves.

In truth, society might be trying to make things better, but its view on body image is still skewed. In trying to change the attitude that “skinny = good”, it has merely flipped to “skinny = bad”. This is an entirely unfair perspective as of course, many women are naturally thin, and suddenly they are supposed to feel bad about themselves. It’s exactly what the “skinny = good” perspective has been doing to big girls for years. I appreciate what Lynne Featherstone is trying to achieve here, but this is not improving our ideals, it is merely switching them around.

Everyone loves to declare that women come in all shapes and sizes. So why is nobody accepting this fact? The media frequently discusses “real women” to describe anyone size 14 and up. How unfair is that statement? So women who are lean or petite are not real? So they are somehow bad people? I am not of a thin build, but if I were, I would be feeling pretty bad about myself right now.

Creating any “ideal” is going to cause body criticism somewhere else. It creates a divide. For example, I am big-chested and I find it a troublesome feature: as well as trying to find clothes that fit well, a large bust also draws a lot of unwanted attention. Yet society's "ideal" includes big boobs, so I don’t feel I am entitled to complain. In effect, I am wary of discussing how frustrated I am with my excessive bosom, because excessive bosoms are the desire of anyone who hasn’t got them. Any comment I make about being lumbered with their size is misconstrued as bragging... and I am inundated with remarks that I’m lucky and should “show them off” more. Yet on the flipside, small-chested women who discuss their desires for bigger boobs will receive nothing but empathy. This is what happens when you set a single ideal: everyone is expected to want the same thing.

I know naturally slim women who complain about feeling boyish and who long for curves. They too seem reluctant to talk about it, as if skinny women are expected to feel grateful somehow. Why are we unable to celebrate more than one shape? Why must we choose a "side"?

Skinny is only a negative thing if someone is unnaturally so. Just as curvaceous figures are only negative if unhealthily so. I believe if there is to be any ideal it should simply be a healthy, happy version of every woman’s own individual figure. There should be no negativity about a certain shape. The reason we are so unsatisfied is because we are all SO different, and trying to fit ourselves into an ideal is completely disasterous. It sets women against each other, turning critical eyes towards fellow females, and against ourselves.

If you have a body like Christina Hendricks then enjoy it. If you have a body like Keira Knightley, then enjoy it. Whatever it is, your figure is your own. Embrace it. Be healthy and happy. There is no perfect dress size. The term "real women" should refer to women who are real, whatever shape that might mean.


  1. Personally I just hate all the attention on womens bodies, there aren't any newspaper articles or politicians saying which man shape is 'ideal/perfect'. Any healthy body is a good one - if people just dropped the whole issue rather than trying to fix it then maybe it would become less of a problem?!

  2. It's a shame there aren't more intelligent articles like this written about body size. Being someone who has always been naturally slim I've had more than one nasty comment sent my way about needing to eat more as if I'm somehow lacking for being thin
    (As I have an extremely healthy appetite that is finally catching up with me, this was especially hard to take.)
    We should spend more time learning to appreciate what we have - and how fabulous it is - than chasing after something else and making yourself and others feel bad!

  3. I think society needs a better perspective on what is healthy.

    Healthy weight and shape should be the ideal, and it shouldn't matter if you're stick-shaped or square-shaped or curvaceous.

    We need more healthy women in society who actually enjoy being themselves, who don't torture themselves or undergo the strangest kinds of surgery to fit some "ideal".

    Now, I'll admit I am currently trying to lose some weight, but instead of aiming for a certain size in clothes, I consulted specialists on what would be a healthy range in weight for a person of my age and height. Once I've achieved that goal, I will have to find ways to accept and maybe even love all the aspects that my body came with not related to weight (shape of butt and breasts, leg length, skin tone, ...).

  4. @hapsci: Actually, the guys are starting to experience exactly the same thing. Only with them it's muscles the media are trying to convince them they have to build up. That dreadful sixpack... and have you noted all the advertising concerning body lotion, hair dye and face creams for guys? I know where this will end, and I feel really sorry for them.

  5. I agree with Hapsci. It's a multi-million pound industry that makes us constantly discuss women's sizes. Like you said, a healthy body is the most important factor, but constantly assigning role models just feeds the dangerous cycle of stereotyping women.

    Let's start talking about role models for women based on their intelligence and ability and not how they look.

  6. yeah I have noticed that it is starting for the guys, but it isn't as extreme as it is for women (at the moment anyway). I just think attention should be diverted away from the whole thing and politicians especially should keep out of it!! There is no way I could reach the 'ideal' figure mentioned above, I am 5 foot 2 and slim, if I tried to achieve that ''ideal' my body would not go into that shape, I would just get a big bum belly and thighs - which probably wouldn't be a healthy state for my body.

  7. Thanks for all the excellent points! I agree with the fact that everyone should just stop discussing women's figures altogether. However, before that can happen there needs to be a big change in general perceptions. Women will not immediately stop comparing themselves to other women, nor will they suddenly be able to rid themselves of their negative body image overnight. I would like to think that by removing the "ideals" altogether, eventually body shape will cease to be an issue, and we can focus on what actually matters. x

  8. I have a lingerie boutique and see so many women of all different shapes and sizes. There is no such thing as the perfect figure, every one is different but is it so sad that nearly every woman thinks there is something wrong with them!

  9. Its such a shame that society appears to put so much store by image. I am who I am, I have never really worn make up and cetainly not at all for the past 10yrs. I was 2 stone heavier and looked Reubenesque which was fine - through illness this year that has gone and Im back to skinny which I also like. Its the person that counts, celebrate who you are and enjoy life!

  10. I'm tiny, petite in general. A tad curvy but mostly a skinny bitch. Every xmas reunion with my family all I hear is comments (never directed at me) about how I look anorexic, how I'm surely unhealthy. This never stops. I have a size 14 friend who always talks to me about how unhappy she is with her size, how she struggles with diets. It's very hard talking to her if I feel I have a bit of a belly after xmas, or if we go shopping and certain shops don't stock my extra small size she sometimes even stops talking to me.

    For me there is no such thing as the "perfect woman figure". Christina Hendricks is curvalicious and has a stunning face. She is gorgeous but she is not the perfect woman, or the perfect image of health. She is simply another version of what we call woman.

    There is millions of us. I'm fed up of the media dictating what looks good or what not. I am also fed up of being branded anorexic or hated because I'm small.

    I love your writing, as usual ;)

  11. I agree with all the comments. The fixation with how we look has become an everyday thing. There was a time when a woman only ever thought about 'how she looked' when she had a rare opportunity to get out of the house for a social night out. Now it's an everyday thing as women are out in the wider public every day of the week and are no longer hidden in the kitchen and bedroom.
    However, we now need to educate the masses (ie. men and magazines) in what constitutes a 'real' woman....yes, we cook, clean and do everything brilliantly but we would like a bit of space to be us.........whatever we look like!
    Personally, I don't think it will ever happen and society will always dictate what a woman should look like and act like because our societies are still 'male driven'.

  12. Brilliantly expressed! I'm of the naturally curvacious(12-14), large breasted camp myself. Funnily enough my Mum (who is thin and small breasted) used to encourage me when I was growing up that my size used to be the pinnacle of fashion when she was a teen! She even used to drink milkshakes to try and put on weight! I have to say that it's not only Fat that is a Feminist Issue, but women's size.

    1. Brilliant too.. fully agree.

  13. I think every girls shoul feel good about herself!
    Everyone should just stop saying what type of body is "good" or "bad"... Everybody is different, different shape and size and colors... that is the beauty of the world!
    I wish the media would start showing different type of girls, all kind of girls tall, tiny, thin,curvaceous instead of dictate a standard.
    Thanks for this inspiring post :)!!