Not All Body Positive Mantras Are Positive

We Need to Talk About the Bullshit Phrase: Real Women Have Curves
Image by Holly McMurter Photographs

I've written my fair share of Instagram Captions about my experience with negative body image and how society can have such a profound influence on the way we feel about ourselves. My most recent one was about how I've had a hard time hearing the word "skinny" because of all the negativity I've experienced surrounding the word. Instagram only allows for a certain number of characters, so I didn't get as into the topic as I wanted to–but today I'm continuing that conversation.

What I failed to mention was a phrase that rocked me to my core the first time I heard it.

"Real women have curves."

Huh. Interesting... Well, what am I then?

Already at war with my body not being what I thought it needed to be, here I was with a new question to answer: what's a "real" woman if not someone like me?

Will I always be considered a girl? Will I never become a woman because of my athletic figure? Will I ever be a desired mother if I don't have curves? I don't understand why I'm being told I'm not a real woman simply because my breasts aren't big and my hips are straight.

Did you know there's even a movie from 2002 titled, "Real Women Have Curves"?

My problem with this whole “Real women have curves” thing isn’t the curves. Go be curvy. Go be skinny. Go be sexy. Go be plain or fancy or flouncy or frilly or rough or brash. Go be you. My problem is those first two words.

“Real women”

Thank you sexist patriarchy, you can shut up now. "Real" is just another word used to police bodies and enforce beauty standards. Let's stop using this phrase, which is only a way to build some women up by tearing others down.

Reading this phrase and writing this post got me thinking... I know this isn't the only mantra I've heard that's aimed to pin women against each other. So I did a bit of research to find the others. It turns out there are tons of these so-called "mantras" that actually attack certain body types instead of celebrating them all. I found a list of six from an article originally published on Bustle by Alysse Dalessandro. I love her breakdown of each mantra and why they're problematic; I actually hadn't heard some of the ones she mentioned until I read the post!

6 Mantras You Think Are Body Positive That Aren't

"No Skinnies"

While I certainly advocate for more visibility of fat bodies, I don't think that pitting body types against each other is productive. Body positivity is for all bodies. It's crucial to remember that being body positive isn't about praising one body type as being better than another. Even if you're doing it because said body type receives less praise on a larger social level.

"Fuck Skinny Bitches"

Much like "no skinnies," saying "fuck skinny bitches" isn't body positive or empowering for people of size. While there are privileges that need to be acknowledged when it comes to size politics, there is no size limit on who is allowed to own their body or have love for it. So while we need to see a wider range of bodies shown in media for sure, this message doesn't need to be attached to it.

"Real Women Have Curves"

I understand that the mantra "real women have curves" is supposed to be empowering for women who fall outside of, let's say, the waif model norm. However, it's super important to note that those models and women who look like them are still real. All women are real. So if you have curves, if you have rolls, if you have no hips, you are no less real.

"Drop The Plus"

Here's the problem with this tweet and the "Drop The Plus" campaign in general. The idea here isn't that all bodies are good bodies—that straight sizes don't want to be associated with those who aren't (sizes 22 and above). Personally, I take issue with this. We can't act like all bodies are treated the same in society, even if they should be. This phrase isn't empowering if it glorifies some bodies at the expense of others. Stefania Ferrario, the founder of Drop The Plus, even tweeted, "It's important to love yourself, but it's also important to be aware. You can't be healthy at every size. #HAES is a dangerous message." This sounds a lot like body shaming and health concern trolling to me.

"A Fit, Healthy Body Is The Best Fashion Statement"

The fact that "a fit, healthy body is the best fashion statement" came up when I searched for body positive mantras is pretty disappointing. The simple truth? You can't tell someone's health by looking at their body. And there aren't any rules for what kind of clothing you can wear based on your body that aren't rooted in some sort of patriarchal bullshit beauty standard. So the best fashion statement you can make for the new year is wearing whatever makes you happy, regardless of the size of your body. Fashion freedom is the best fashion statement.

"You Earn Your Body"

I was also pretty disappointed to see the mantra "You Earn Your Body" appear in the same Google search. This mantra is dangerous thinking for so many reasons. But most of all, the thought that your body is something you "earn" encourages the idea that your body is only OK if it's in transition to something else. Continue reading the article from Bustle here.

I don't know if the hypocritical mixed messaging from the media will ever stop, but I do know it's important not to body shame anyone else in the process of your own self love journey. I will continue to talk about this until a positive shift occurs. Let's build each other's confidence up instead of tearing it down.

Thanks for reading, beautiful soul.

xo Jesse