What Real Women Look Like

In the past few years, the phrase “real women” has come to mean something like “women who wear a size 12 or bigger”. I’m a supporter of all women feeling beautiful in their own bodies and being able to find the fabulous clothes to accentuate their figures. I want to talk about this moniker of “real women”.


The label “real women” seems to come from the idea that the stores and designers are obsessed with unrealistically thin women and as a result a large percentage of American women are unable to find stylish clothes in their size. The label, then, is supposed to recalibrate our notions of what women look like. That is, women aren’t 5’10”, 115 lb models flaunting size 0’s. They’re size 12 women with real curves. It’s also a reaction to other euphemisms like plus sized, curvy, or Reubenesque that apparently make women feel fat instead of normal.


Normal is such an elusive term. Is it the mid-point? Or the average? Or the most common? Since American sizes started going up (the modern size 0 is equivalent to about a 4/6 from the 1950’s), there’s been a whole bunch of very real, very feminine women who are now too small for many mainstream retailers (I’m looking at YOU, J Crew and Hilfiger). Sizes for some stores now go down to 000 or xxxs, depending on the retailer.


It’s not that one set of women is normal and one set of women is not. Searching for one definition of normal is a terrible idea. And that’s what I dislike about the term “real woman”. I understand the impetus to combat unrealistic expectations for what women should look like, but it seems selfish and a bit insecure to try and label larger women as “real”, as if smaller women are not.


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