Can We Retire the Phrase “Real Women,” Please?

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A “best of elephant journal” piece that serves to balance our recent hit: This is What a Real Yoga Body Looks Like and its response: I’m a Skinny Yogi & I’m a Real Woman & I’m not Anorexic.

 What does it mean to be a “real woman?”

(Photo: Twitpic)


This phrase gets thrown around all the time.

Do any of us meet the criteria? Apparently, skinny is out, unless you are skinny and awkward. Fat’s okay. If you’re overweight, you can be a real woman. Pretty? Well…you can be pretty, but not too pretty. Better if it’s an unconventional kind of pretty. You can have gorgeous eyes, but you’d better have a big nose. You can have a great ass, but only if you are flat chested.

I have blonde hair, blue eyes, and a pair of 36C’s going for me, so I might not fit the real woman criteria. But, I’m also pretty nerdy, only 5’4″ and have enough freckles to spot a baby leopard, so maybe that puts me back in the real woman category. Plus, I’ve had two kids so things aren’t quite where they were ten years ago. I guess I qualify.

Why do we do this? Isn’t the point to embrace that we are all beautiful? The first time I read about the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty a few years ago, I thought it was wonderful. I do think it’s wonderful that we make a point of looking at what people look like before Photoshop. But sometimes I feel like it’s become just another way we compete with each other.

You’ve probably seen the picture above making the rounds on Facebook and Twitter. At face value, there’s a good point to be made. There are popular young actresses that embody a physical ideal that most women can’t maintain if they want to be healthy. I battled an eating disorder for many years. I don’t want my daughter looking at skeletal women as role models.

But some women have skinny bodies. Some are curvy. Some are fat. Some are tall. Some are…all kinds of things in between. And when I hear women tear other women down because they happen to meet some conventional standard of beauty, I have to wonder…how is this better? We’re always crying “oh poor us, society has this unrealistic standard that we just can’t meet!” Then, we turn around and do it to each other all over again.

How many women would complain about Kathryn Budig’s Toesox ads or Briohny Smyth’s Equinox video if they were less conventionally beautiful or had flabbier bodies? Women would be singing their praises as “real women” role models.

Let’s let it go. Call a moratorium on the whole “real women” thing. There are so many ways for women to be; all of them are real.

The problem isn’t any one kind of real beauty being better than the others.

The problem is the Photoshopping, the constant inundation of glossy, unreal images that make us forget. We forget that our beauty is a story; each one is different–and that’s what makes them wonderful.

Let me remind you:

She is beautiful


And she is beautiful


And she is beautiful



And you and I are beautiful, too.

We all have parts of us that are glossy and smooth. We have parts that we shine forth proud as peacocks.

And we all have parts that we want to hide away.

(Photo: wikimedia)


(Even she does)


Your beauty is a true story.

The parts that are unique are the parts that make it interesting.

The woman next to you has a different story; it isn’t better than yours, it isn’t worse.

Let’s remember the parts that we want to flaunt and be proud about, that shine forth, are no less “real.” We needn’t be embarrassed by our “ugly” or our “imperfect”…or, importantly, our “proud.”

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?”

~ Marianne Williamson


Yoga, weight loss, racism, self-acceptance, humor:

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Kate Bartolotta

Kate Bartolotta is a wellness cheerleader, yogini storyteller, and self-care maven.
She also writes for Huffington Post, Yoga International, Mantra Yoga+ Health, a beauty full mind, The Good Men Project, The Green Divas, The Body Project, Project Eve, Thought Catalog and Soulseeds.
Kate’s books are now available on and Barnes &

She is passionate about helping people fall in love with their lives.

You can connect with Kate on Facebook and Instagram.


126 Responses to “Can We Retire the Phrase “Real Women,” Please?”

  1. max says:

    I am a man and this is just my two cents on the subject. Women tend to lash out like this because society favors women who are skinny. Regardless of having natural beauty if a woman is more voluptuous she is automatically overlooked by societies standards and considered fat. I think this is just the frustration of the majority of women coming out. Yes, we should all be considered equal but society has NEVER been that way. They have always favored something over another for ridiculous reasons. These memes you see floating around are just a natural backlash to peoples frustrations about women's body image and what they are told that they should measure up to. Just saying, "we are all equal, and we are all beautiful" is fine and dandy and I agree, but try telling that to the media which relentlessly projects a certain image into everyone psyche. It's not going to happen.

  2. TheSoulKnowsBest says:

    Time for some realism. Guess what… to many if not all of you, someone else is going to be more pleasing to the eye. I have my own perception of physical beauty. I would rate myself around an 8.5 because, to me, I fulfill about 85% of what I would like to be- physically. Not bad, that's above average. That number might change depending on the eyes that are looking, but the most important judge, to me, is me- not even my significant other. If they want me to be blonde, and I am okay with that, then I will do it- even if, to my eyes, it knocks me down to a solid 8. If I'm not okay with being blonde, then get use to loving brown or leave me be- don't worry I understand, you see beauty in your own way and blonde is worth a good 3 points. You know why I don't think I am a ten though… because I looked at someone and said, I wish I looked like that. That's not an evil thought, that's a complement. Go even further and it can turn into humility. Physical beauty isn't everything. Go ahead, say someone looks better than you. It's okay. In fact, be proud of it. You are not the most physically beautiful thing on Earth. Everyone knows why physical beauty can be a blessing and a curse- you can't be good-looking and smart. Well you can but life wont make it easy because many things come easier when you're a physical 10. Bottom line: some people are Miss America, some people are average and some people are, to say it nicely, interesting. These will change from person to person- because "beauty is in the eye of the beholder." Just remember to be happy with not being the most "beautiful" person in the room. Look at that person and say to yourself that they have features you wish you had and be happy for them. There's no need to throw yourself a complement right after that- just be happy someone else gets to live life with joys and woes in their own way and you have the ups and downs that make your life uniquely wonderful. There's too much hand-holding, ear-cuffing, and eye-blocking in this world. Don't tell everyone they are the most beautiful thing they have ever seen. Just tell everyone to not take their physical bodies so seriously. Otherwise, whatever fluff you propose will just make people feel better momentarily and then they slip back into depression because they realize the physical world is kind of ugly. Truly believe in this article's message that your body has stories, love those stories more than anything. When the world burns down we are all the same.

  3. Blackyogis says:

    Yes Maya Angelou is beautiful, but why not have diverse faces of age and races? Or have all the women around the same representing a 'starlet' type beauty? Like a Kerry Washing or Naomi Campbell? And include Diane Keaton, Kathy Bates or Judi Dench. Also the in picture of the women ('when did this become hotter than that') there are no black women or women of color (what about Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Rita Moreno etc. Yet Maya Angelou is oddly thrown in the mix. There is an imbalance. I'm not implying racism but a lack of awareness.

    • It was mainly an issue of available (free to use) photos at that moment. I wanted to depict different races and ages, but also somewhat familiar faces in small space. 😉 I hear what you are saying too though. I would have loved to have done a large collage of all different types of women.

  4. kai says:

    this girl is straight up marriage material.

  5. I was always under the impression that a “real woman” possessed a vagina she was born with. Maybe that’s just an assumption on my part though.

  6. Sera says:

    Good, but this photo is a bad choice. Kinda goes against everything the article is about.

  7. Diana says:

    Ah yes, a good idea to drop the whole label of "real" woman as having anything at all to do with our body type. Rather than dredging up another version of the female body as more real than the next is an exercise in futility and more judgment.
    I make it my practice to refrain entirely from making comments about a woman's appearance, as we'll as a mans. This lays to rest the idea that beauty has anything to do with our appearance. I find It's best to be patient with those who are unkind. Let the comment go right by with neutrality. This is difficult to do, I must admit. And it is not the same as ignoring it. When my space is held with this neutrality and awareness of their comment, there is a pregnant pause- the comment has nowhere to go and seems to sort of hang there for the speaker to see. Other communication styles may work better for you.
    Since I am naturally very thin and straight, it seems to make me open season for weekly comments about my body. Ive always found the comments to be judgmental and tiresome, at best. The comments ranged from androgynous in the eighties, to anorexic at times, more recently. So I simply stare down the comment as mentioned above.
    It's best to relate to people in terms of what you wish to bring forward in them, since there is so much more than the surface to behold.

  8. Jennifer Twardowski says:

    Couldn't agree more! Thank you for this! 🙂

  9. Jen says:

    I’m tired of seeing articles bashing thin women. And, btw, calling someone “skinny” is not a compliment. Articles like this don’t help women of all sizes feel comfortable with their bodies. Instead it perpetuates the pattern of putting down one female body type at the expense of another. Maybe if there were more articles embracing the beauty of women’s minds bodies and souls we could move beyond the bashing and fully embrace the beauty of female diversity in all its forms.

  10. L Love says:

    I suggest we retire the practise of making a female's appearance the most important and most discussed thing about her.

  11. Suzie says:

    I have to agree with this piece. I am also the naturally skinny type, so people eye roll and think I'm a jerk if I talk about my own body image issues just because they are different. I've dealt with rumors being spread about me since junior high that I was anorexic and bulimic. I had guys not want to date me unless I gained a few pounds. I even feel self conscious during yoga classes during forward folds because I feel like I look like a starving greyhound and like everyone is judging me. If I'm out to eat at a restaurant I have to do everything in my power not to go to the restroom for fear that people are going to think that I'm going to purge. I feel skeletal. Just like many women try to lose weight unsuccessfully, many others try to gain weight unsuccessfully. I would like to be curvy and feminine, but this is the body I was given. On any given month I might not even have breasts because my weight fluctuates so often without any rhyme or reason; but damnit, I AM still a woman. A real live one! Just like almost every woman on the planet, I have trouble finding clothes that fit in a flattering way, people have preconceived notions about my diet and lifestyle and say completely inappropriate comments about it, I am self conscious when someone sees me or touches me without clothes on, etc. etc. People express concern thinking I'm sick, or just flat out tell me I need to eat a cheeseburger. I feared choosing a healthy lifestyle with a proper diet and exercise for years for fear that it'd make me lose even more weight since I couldn't gain weight eating total crap food. The grass is always greener, ladies. Keep that in mind. I have to remind myself that just as much as I'd kill to have someone else's soft curvy body type, someone else would kill to have mine. It's all a matter of perspective. It's amazing how everyone struggles with the same problems and yet thinks they're alone. Be sensitive to all women of truly ALL shapes and sizes when we talk about healthy body image, and note that HEALTHY is the key word.

  12. Abby says:

    Fantastic article that definitely needed to be said!

  13. IVan says:

    I absolutely and completely disagree with you. All those women are not beautiful, they are ok. They have to accept themselves, but they are not beatiful and maybe they don´t need to be.

  14. JR777 says:

    You make a good point in that even "alternative" standards of beauty can become just as domineering as . But I'm afraid you're still off the point. What needs to stop is not the scrambling for whatever the new standard of beauty is – that's never going to change – but rather the myth that "everyone is beautiful." It is complete bull, and it needs to stop.

    Now, everyone is beautiful in the sense that everyone is human, is capable of love, is a part of the universe, et cetera, et cetera. But let's be real. That's not the kind of beauty we're talking about, at least not in regards to the Dove campaign. The kind of beauty we're talking about is the kind that does NOT apply to everyone, and we only beat girls down more by giving them contradictory messages that, on the one hand, they want to believe, but on the other they know is complete crap. Not everyone is beautiful, and guess what – THAT'S OKAY. Beauty is not the sole source of your value. If you're smart, ambitious, funny, caring, responsible and generally pleasant to be around, but ugly as hell, you still have plenty of other things that give you value. The message we need to send to young girls is not that everyone is beautiful, but that everyone is valuable, and that value does not rest solely on how pretty you are.

    And don't give me that "beauty is on the inside" crap either, because there's plenty of people who ugly there, too. And it's STILL not what decides their value. Women just need to be less fixated on beauty in general, and take advantage of all that's been passed down by the brave souls who fought for our rights to be more than simple gender roles.

  15. straightupyoga says:

    I saw the "real yoga body" article too and wanted to write a response much like this–thank you for writing it! Maybe if the article had said, "this is what one yoga body looks like," I wouldn't have had an issue… but I think it's ABSURD to proclaim that one type is more "real" than another.

  16. Maybe we could stop using descriptive words with negative connotations like "fat" or "skinny" to describe each other — both of which are ridiculously subjective and relative. Maybe we could use words like "green eyed" or "brunette" instead. It seems silly to talk about not criticizing each other while using critical terminology. Or, even better, maybe we could stop focusing on LOOKS all together and start to determine a person's value based upon their inner processes, behavior, and strengths?

  17. JeffG says:

    As the husband of a very thin and tall wife I get disgusted at the "real women" ads. My wife could out eat me on any given Sunday, yet people comment that she is obviously unhealthy and "tries" to be thin. So I should try to make my wife go from a size 1 to a size 12 so people will think she's real??

    If you want to eat processed foods, microwaved meals, and veggies out of bags due to convenience, then that's up to you.. But don't call yourselves "real women" to make yourself feel better. Don't poke fun at the women who try to feed their family right ( and my wife is a 60-70 hr a week attorney who still takes care of the house and kids, so spare me the " I'm to busy to bake garbage")

    This subject gets me soo angry cause I watch my wife eat like a normal healthy person, and she's made fun of.. Yet the mom who packed on 90lbs of " baby weight" gets to make fun of her cause she's now in the majority..

    Real of fake, it's ALL garbage. It's the overweight populous who is grabbing at every straw they can get not not have to look at themselves in the mirror, and say " I have a (unhealthy) eating disorder". Instead they choose to poke fun at the other end of the spectrum..

    • Kristy Horn says:

      My husband has the same problems. I grow a garden and eat very healthy. I am also naturally tall and thin. I dont eat garbage, because like your wife, I care about what goes into my body and my family’s. I work full time, and still make time to keep us properly fed. Being healthy is important to me. And im so tired of being shamed into feeling like less of a woman because I dont have thick thighs or a belly. Its very nice to have YOUR point of view

  18. oz_ says:

    Regarding Dove's 'Real Beauty' campaign – and other similar public relations endeavors – we need to look a little deeper. Turns out, it's a confidence game aka a con game:

    "The mistake in interpreting this ad is in assuming the ad is selling based on the women and their beauty. If that were true, it would be counterproductive: if they are naturally beautiful, if the problem is actually a psychological one, then they certainly don't need any beauty products. A beauty ad operates by creating a gap between you and an ideal: by creating an anxiety that can only be mitigated by the product. But this ad reduces anxiety and avoids cynicism. Therefore, it is not a beauty products ad. It is selling something else. This is why there aren't any products in the ad."

    So before you read that piece, do you know what Dove is selling? If not, well, that makes you the mark, doesn't it?

    Follow that up with this related essay:

    Deeper psychological waters here than this debate has proven willing/able to plumb…

  19. Ads says:

    This article and resulting thread are really chiming with me….

    I am a man and I am short and blond and (maybe depending on your thoughts) handsome. But the words so often put before handsome when discussing men are tall and dark. This does land on me, it can’t fail to, and I know that the skinny agenda must land on women in a much stronger way because our society is obsessed with women being beautiful whereas as a man I have a few get out clauses like being funny or something.

    But I guess where I am with this is how prescriptive it all seems, to tell the truth it’s so boring. Isn’t attractiveness about how someone makes you feel? This said I am ashamed to say that I have found tall, short, fat and thin women to be very attractive and I have let societies trends override this….. I am working on this.

  20. Carla Colwell Cook says:

    Reading this made me sad. It seems that only externals matter to society. What about health, what about intelligence, what about acts of compassion, service and love. Don’t these count as beautiful? I’ve spent a good portion of my life trying to be what society has told me is beautiful but its a moving target. Now I am focusing on being the best human being that I can be, good thing it doesn’t so much matter what that looks like because I’m tired of being judged by what I look like on the outside…and now I get to contend with ageism.

  21. barbararuth says:

    I think that the point is not that "we are all beautiful." If we were all beautiful, we wouldn't need a word for it. The point is that it is not necessary to be beautiful to be a worthy human being.

  22. I think that there is beginning to be a lot of misconceptions from where the whole "Real Body" phenomenon came from. As a curvy yogi myself, I have faced prejudice in and out of the yoga studio, often being told that I am "not the yoga type", or I had trainers who did not know how to work with my body except to tell me the yoga way was not to be fat! In my classes I share the time with people of all shapes, sizes and skill sets, each of us learning to love what we have instead of fighting against it for a "norm" that isn't real. I am not talking about curvy as much as not denying what my real body is and what it is capable of today! I don't push through the pain, I don't abuse it, and I work with what I have without self judgement. This is what I share with my students! My Real Body is where I live and how I love all of who I am…!

  23. Lee says:

    The quote about our deepest fear is the beginning of a Nelson Mandela quote and should be attributed to him.

  24. kNY says:

    I’m 36, within my healthy BMI, no kids, not married, conventionally beautiful, self sufficient& sucessful(because I have a strong work ethic), all with real 32 E boobs. 99% of “real women” would not consider me so if they just read those stats an saw a picture of me. For me, being really real has been a blessing and a curse. “know thyself” and be true to that. You won’t be so quick to judge and then, ladies, you will be real.

  25. shirleymaya says:

    Perhaps we can expand the definition of real women to include every shape, size, race and colour. After all, real-life women do come in a variety of shapes, sizes, races and colours. Just looking at a label or term is not enough, re-defining the term may be more inclusive and beneficial in the long run. Just as we could and should re-define what beauty means because beauty does reside in everyone. This article reminds me very much of two blog posts I have written –… and
    I believe, every woman is a Goddess and somtimes, even she does not realise that she is one. When she discovers her inner Goddess, she will start believing in her own beauty and magnificence. Perhaps then it would not be as hard for her to also believe and see in beauty in those around her as well.
    As I have always said, outer beauty may capture our attention, but it is the beauty within that captures our hearts. And that is most priceless beauty of all. Hence, unveil your inner Goddess 🙂
    Peace 🙂

  26. Marc says:

    skinny has never been hotter to me

  27. saramcevoy1 says:

    Love this! Very similar to a blog post I wrote the other day called "Real Men." Consider reading at I hope you enjoy it! Thanks for the read, Kate!

  28. david says:

    As the saying goes….”Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.

  29. Deanna says:

    I love this. My entire life I was told I was homely. Then people were nicer and told me I was okay but not pretty. I was always slender, however so instead of telling me I had a nice body I'd hear things like "Men don't like thin women." Even last night when going out with friends of mine I got the "Men hate skinny women," and everyone looked at me. Mind you, at the table I was the only brunette and I probably had the least attention from any of the men there yet I was getting the insults. I tried to find groups of women who suffered as I had over the years, but every single group was about being overweight and knocking thin women. Makes me feel very alone.

  30. rch says:

    I disagree with the idea that were all equally beautiful. You’re telling me that a girl who eats excessively, has low self esteem, let’s herself go, is the same as a girl who fights it, who works hard, who evaluates what she eats? To me, the beauty comes in effort and struggle, which is reflected also in the body. I only partly agree that you can’t control what you’ve been given – but for the most part you can. I was a skinny, pasty white geek – now I surf, work out, and jog daily.. Were not all equally beautiful. But we all have the ability to become who we want to.

  31. rch says:

    Just to clarify, I think beauty is mostly how you feel about yourself, how you care for your own mind and body. It doesn’t matter what shape or body type you are. If you care about yourself, work on yourself, your body will also show it. And that is attractive.

  32. LivingArtisan says:

    While we are at it, let us also get rid of the phrase 'real men.'

  33. ania says:

    The one thing I dont get why did they put average actresses next to the beauty icons? I dont think anybody would agree the gals at the top are hot, not because of their bodies, but overall they're not super pretty. If they wanna use skinny girls, why dont they show VS models, or some athletes? Or Kate Upton, even if I dont like her… 😉

  34. Jackie says:

    A- F'ing- MEN!

  35. Pearl says:

    Can we retire the whole "real" thing altogether?

  36. glen says:

    being healthy is sexy – in any shape

  37. Anne says:

    I love this, but why are the "suggested articles" below : "How to get flat abs" and "Give it Up: 10 worst foods" … ?? Frustrating that no matter how much there is in the way of body love, there are always a few "but get skinny now!" ads or "buy our fitness DVD!" just an inch or two below. Even in magazines like Yoga Journal, the Almased weight loss ad is one of the biggest. Cognitive dissonance in the wellness industry is costing dearly authors like this and wellness practitioners who honestly believe in body love.

  38. Heidi Blackman says:

    Thank you! Agreed.

  39. Liz says:

    does it really matter? no. only if you let it. move on. it's only a body. it'll be gone in a lifetime….ashes to ashes…

  40. Juliea says:

    There will always be certain body types or looks that are considered more attractive by the majority. The problem with a lot of campaigns is when they come out with catchphrases such as “real women have curves”. Actually, some real women have curves, and some real women aren’t curvy at all, and some real women are overweight, and some real women are underweight, and so on. Having a certain body type does not make you a woman.

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  42. Claudia says:

    I'm thin, I'm not a curvy woman, it makes me be less hot? as the image says

  43. Gwen says:

    We need to effin retire “accusing” people of being anorexic! It’s a mental illness and has the highest mortality rate. We don’t taunt the bald girl saying “lung cancer…pfft, smoker”.

    Real women are all shapes and sizes. Women with anorexia don’t starve themselves to fit into a bikini or for attention; they do it because they hate themselves and want to die. They are still real women.

  44. Kristy Horn says:

    Thank you!!! I am so SICK of seeing phots like that, filling the news feed of Facebook. I am and have always been very thin. And I eat more then most people I know. I have been teased my whole life for it. Now im 33 still very thin. And am made to feel ashamed of it. Because im not “curvy” or apparently “real” im GLAD you used that particular photo, because it has been circulating far too much. You nailed this article. And its NOT a shocker you are receiving negative feedback to such a perfect example, of what we are all doing to our image obsession and what we should REALLY be saying.

    People will always be so closed minded and down right RUDE about this subject. And somehow its the skinnies who aren’t “allowed” to be offended, yet we are the ones being shamed for being born thin.

    Cant we just all agree to find beauty in derversity? And have our own idea of what we find beautiful, and NOT feel the need to shame others, to attempt to feel better about ourselves?

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