It's Time to Ditch the Phrase "Real Women"


With the debate over the term "plus-size" raging on, there is another common phrase that also might need to be stripped from our vocabulary: "real woman."

"I hate the word 'real woman' and I hate the word 'plus-size,'" model Ashley Graham told E! News in February. "I've got plenty of friends [of all sizes] and different shapes and everything, and I don't want any of them to feel like they aren't 'real women.'"

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It's not just Ashley Graham who feels this way.

The term "real women" is a phrase that's gotten increasingly more popular as people have gotten more vocal about body positivity and calling out false images of women perpetuated by the media.


The first major example of a full-blown "real beauty" campaign came from Dove in 2004. As the brands website explains, the campaign "featur[es] real women whose appearances are outside the stereotypical norms of beauty." Despite controversy, the campaign still exists today, promoting the idea that "real beauty" is a category to fit into. 

Read more: A New Campaign Is Calling Out the Ads That Objectify Women

Over a decade later, in 2015, BuzzFeed jumped on the "real women" bandwagon posting an article that included editors wearing Victoria's Secret bathing suits in order to compare their photos to the models' on the company website. 

"We think it's very important for women of all different shapes, sizes, and colors to rock these bathing suits and give an accurate depiction of what a beach body really is," they said. But readers took issue with the headline, which categorized the editors as "real women" in contrast to the models they were placed side-by-side with.

Even over the course of the last six months, as the conversation surrounding plus-size is in the zeitgeist more than ever, the tension around the phrase "real women" persists.  

In September 2015, Redbook put six non-models/celebrities on their cover for a "Real Women, Real Style Tips" issue. Many news outlets stated that the use of "real women" was novelrefreshing and unexpected. Even the latest issue of O magazine, which features non-models alongside Oprah, has been praised for its use of "real women."

O magazine

To be fair, the phrase is often well-intended, meant to differentiate between models and non-models. And let's be honest, the term non-model doesn't exactly have a ring to it. 

The problem with the term, however, is that it creates a separation between women. Models, non-models, skinny, curvy, black, white, trans or otherwise, these are all real women. There are no fake women. It's time to toss this term and classify all women as what they are — real. 

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