First of all, YES, labels are stupid. I've been called everything from a 'tall, slim girl' when visiting a South Carolina diner to "curvy" by a NYC fashion editor within weeks of each other, proving that not only is body shape in the eye of the beholder, but so are many of these labels. But the fact is, we still need them, for practical reasons. Like knowing what part of the store to look in for clothes (or knowing if a store even carries togs that will fit you- this goes for petite as well as plus-sized). But with all the words being thrown around these days regarding women's bodies, it's not only gotten confusing, but totally inaccurate, and for some, downright insulting. Now, I'm not talking the words of schoolyard taunts (whether that's 'piggy' or 'beanpole'), but some pretty innocuous sounding ones, until they are applied to you (or not). What, after all, does "real" mean?
Over the last few years I've noticed the word "real" to describe average or larger-sized women has become commonplace, but if one thinks about it for five seconds, it has to be concluded that if we are calling rounder women 'real' that makes her size 4 sister fake. I checked in with my slighter friends on this one, and they admit to feeling pushed out of the conversation about bodies just because they are more svelte and - true to form for most kind-minded women, they feel badly about making a fuss, since body image and labels always seem to launch a firestorm or controversy.
This 'real woman' label has been used by those who don't know much about language or feminism, like the PR team behind Dove Soaps' much-applauded and much-insulted "Campaign for Real Beauty" which featured women sizes 8-14. A Craigslist call for 'real women' in NYC is casting now for what is expected to be a reprise of those ads. The term is also being used by those who should know better, including the lovely, fantastic feminist blogger Shelby Knox who recently wrote on Jezebel "I'd decided that I liked the young women I speak to on campuses seeing a real-looking woman speaking her truth..."
So while labels might be useful for finding appropriate clothing sizes and styles, when it comes to bodies, they are at best useless and at worst, insulting and Othering. So what's the solution? I think 'fat acceptance' is the wrong way to go; not because I have a problem with fuller-figured women enjoying and celebrating their bodies (I truly applaud those who do and those who lead them!) but because I don't want their happiness and acceptance to come at the cost of other women. Why do some women have to suffer while others gain?
Throughout the history of feminism, we've seen groups of women pitted against each other, whether it was the old conflict between Flappers and more traditional ladies in the 1920's, or the newer conflicts between foreign-born nannies and their upper-middle class employers. The best way forward is to work together of course, and support the idea that ALL bodies are beautiful (this goes for men too). The way to true gorgeousness is through healthy eating and sweat-inducing activity, not 'acceptance' (whatever than means), or denigration of those who are smaller or larger than we are.
This attitude doesn't leave anyone out, but instead celebrates who we are in all our infinitely beautiful variety. A focus on health also prevents disease (saving us all money) and contributes to a smaller environmental footprint, better sex drives and overall happiness. Starving yourself or gorging yourself on garbage food does neither. Let's put real healthfulness at the top of our 'beauty' wish lists.