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What Is a 'Real Woman's Body'?

02/24/2015 03:02 pm ET | Updated Apr 26, 2015
altrendo images via Getty Images

German Chancelor Angela Merkel recently brokered a tenuous ceasefire between the Ukraine and Russia. Last month, U.S. District Judge Callie Granade struck down Alabama's ban on same-sex marriage. And Malala Yousefzay's radical belief that girls are entitled to an education earned her the Nobel Peace Prize and a near-fatal bullet wound.

But OMG, y'all, the 2015 Sports Illustrated: Swimsuit Edition features "plus-size" models! And did you see the un-retouched photos of Cindy Crawford? Sweet paunchy baby Jesus!

Cue the mighty social media yawp of enraged/delighted women everywhere!

Aforementioned yawps fall into one of two categories: (1) Finally! Real women's bodies! (2) Puh-lese. Those aren't real women's bodies.

Unlike the crisis in Europe, I think I can play a meaningful part in resolving the Real Body Internet Commenter Crisis of 2015, the root of which is a lack of an agreed-upon definition of a "real woman's body." @worldsbestmeemaw thinks real women have "birthing hips." @jagerbomb1996 thinks real women totally have, like, juicy butts. And @whatsyourexcusemom is certain that six-pack abs are the realest.

But we are no more our hips than we are our daily regimen of crunches. A "real woman's body" can't be found in any one part; it can only be understood by appreciating the whole. So, without further ado:

real woman's body: (noun) the physical structure and material substance of a female

In other words, if you are a woman, you have a real woman's body.

Ergo, unless Giselle is performing astral projection, she has a real woman's body. Unless Kim K. is some kind of booty snatcher, she has a real woman's body. Melissa McCarthy and Jenny McCarthy both have real women's bodies.

Fact: You don't even have to be a model or actress to have a real woman's body!

Your grandma, your mom, your daughter: Each has a real woman's body. If you're a lady, then you have a real woman's body.

Another fact: Some women pay to change their real women's bodies, and now their real women's bodies look (wait for it) different!

Ladies with tummy tucks have real women's bodies. Ladies wearing makeup and Spanx have real women's bodies. Ladies with colostomy bags have real women's bodies. Ladies with dentures have real women's bodies.

True, cosmetic surgery is not the same as Spanx is not the same as a medical device. But there are no degrees of "real." "Real" either exists or it does not.

Does a 20-year-old former A-cup who gets breast implants have a fake body? What about a mom who gets implants after birthing and nursing four kids? What about a woman who gets implants after a mastectomy?

Are our bodies only real if every part (if the "material substance") is original?

You can inject your lips and tits and ass until you look like a sexy balloon animal, but you still have a real woman's body. Why you would want to look like a sexy balloon animal is an important conversation for another time, but another time nonetheless.

Our bodies are varied. They break, mend, grow life, disappoint us, and haul groceries. They age, climb stairs, run marathons, comfort, ache, and surprise us with strange hair. Our bodies are real.

When was the last time you heard a debate about real men's bodies? There are plenty of men out there who wish they were taller, thinner, or more muscular. Yet the sight of David Beckham on a magazine cover rarely elicits an Internet war among dudes. Ask your husband, brother, or friend if David Beckham has a "real man's body," and you will likely get a look that says, "Have you been sniffing the Sharpies again?" Because of course Beckham has a real man's body, even if his body looks different than most of the other bodies out there.

And isn't that really what we're saying when we accuse a woman of not having a "real woman's body"? That she looks different than we do?

Of course we want to see a greater variety of body types represented in the media, just as we want to see a better representation of people of color, older people, and differently abled people. Seeing people "like us" on TV or in advertisements makes us feel included and valued.

Spending time debating which woman's body truly represents "real women's bodies," however, does nothing but divide us and distract us. Because while we're busy arguing about whether a size 8 or a size 18 is a "real woman's body," real hard-working women are still earning 23% less than men. And while we're busy calling out models for being too thin or actresses for being too fat, colleges and universities are systematically under-reporting campus sexual assaults. And while women are shouting each other down about who has the realest bra size, Senator Thomas Corbin of South Carolina declared that all women are a "lesser cut of meat."

Let me assure you that the more time we spend literally dissecting ourselves in the media, obsessing about each wrinkle or bulge, the more we sound like rump roast. The more time we spend critiquing the women in SI's latest Swimsuit Edition, the more free press we give to a magazine (supposedly dedicated to athletics) that features a female athlete on less than 5% of its covers. The more time we spend ogling Cindy Crawford's newly discovered cellulite, the less time we spend railing against Photoshop and a beauty industry set on making women look like uniform, factory-produced goods.

Can we please get back to what matters? The debates that may lead to more money in our pockets or toward our education? The debates that will empower victims of violence even as they help to put an end to that violence? The debates that take the focus off of and the power away from Hollywood's fantasy of what all women should look like? The debates that strengthen us?

The debates that prove we are more than just our very real, very powerful, very different bodies?