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

Via Kate Bartolotta
on Jan 21, 2012
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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:


About 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. Did you read the article? The point of the article was that women are beautiful and real at any size, race, age, etc.

  2. I would add that there is something beautiful in every human being, but that striving for some physical standard of beauty is overrated. Thanks for reading. 🙂

  3. Lee says:

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

  4. 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.

  5. No, it's often misattributed to Mandela. It's a Marianne Williamson quote.

  6. 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 🙂

  7. Marc says:

    skinny has never been hotter to me

  8. 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!

  9. david says:

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

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. LivingArtisan says:

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

  14. 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… 😉

  15. Jackie says:

    A- F'ing- MEN!

  16. Pearl says:

    Can we retire the whole "real" thing altogether?

  17. glen says:

    being healthy is sexy – in any shape

  18. 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.

  19. Heidi Blackman says:

    Thank you! Agreed.

  20. 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…

  21. 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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  23. Claudia says:

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

  24. 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.

  25. 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?

  26. 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