Real Women Have Curves (As Opposed to Fake Women?)

Model and actress Karrueche Tran recently posted a picture of herself wearing a bikini to social media. As you might have already guessed, the response to this was…varied, as it usually is whenever a woman reveals to the world that she has a body. Because, let’s face it, whenever a woman does this, everyone and their dog feels entitled to giving their opinion on how she looks.

Probably most notably, rapper Ralo told Tran that she “looked better” with her clothes on, and while this is problematic, as he had absolutely no right to objectify and police Tran’s body like this, the comments that I want to focus on are the comments that were not made by celebrities, comments like “she look like a 10 yr old girl” and, even more interesting, “she look like a boy in his early stages of transitioning into a woman”.

There are a few reasons why I find these comments interesting. One of them is the obvious transphobia, especially in the latter comment, as this person is likening a cis-gendered woman to a transgendered woman, presumably as a method of undermining and insulting her, as though there is something wrong with being transgender (and, yes, I am acutely aware of the fact that this commenter used a male pronoun to refer to a transgender woman). But another reason why I find this response interesting is this idea of failing to live up to the image of “woman” through the simple act of having a body – even a genetically female body. Tran is described as looking like a child, or as though she was not born in a female body – she is described as being distinctly un-womanly, simply because she has smaller breasts.

And maybe I’d be able to forgive this as an isolated incidence if it isn’t something that I’ve seen before. There’s this idea that gets passed around, frequently on social media, that “real women have curves”. Sometimes this is used as a way to defend plus-sized women, because let’s not deny it: plus-sized women have a very difficult time having a body in our society. They are deemed less beautiful than thinner women, they are frequently and publicly shamed, by both the media and the people around them, sometimes even by complete strangers. So in an attempt to take some power back, some of them will make comments about how a woman should look in order to be “real”. But sometimes comments like these don’t have reasons so deep: sometimes they’re just meant to uphold the status quo, to say that women with breasts and hips and ass are hot.

But what about women who don’t have curves? Aren’t they real women? After all, they identify as women. They live as women. They get treated like women do in our society, they get objectified and picked apart just the same. So why do we keep using this language?

The strange thing about referring to specific people as ‘real women’ is that it implies that the opposite exists – that there are fake women. But there aren’t. You cannot fail to live up to the image of a woman, because there is no one specific way that a woman should look. Society may have made up a few phony ways for you to fail, but they aren’t real.

Because here’s how a real woman looks: any which way she wants. A real woman has curves, and a real woman doesn’t. A real woman can have large breasts or small breasts or none at all. Hell, there are some real women out there who have beards or penises, and that doesn’t make them any less real. The only qualification to count as a ‘real woman’ is to identify as a woman. As long as that is so, then congratulations – you’re a real woman.

And, people: let’s stop policing the way that women look. Let’s stop shaming every last woman, celebrity or not celebrity, for having a body and letting people see it. Because at the end of the day, we’re never satisfied as a society. There has never been a woman who posted a picture of herself wearing a bikini on social media, and the general consensus was simply “yeah, great picture”. Karrueche Tran might have been deemed not curvy enough to be beautiful, but singer Rihanna was recently deemed too curvy to be beautiful, one blogger even going so far as to make the comment that her “high key thiccness” would lead to “a world of ladies shaped like the Hindenburg.” We as a society are never satisfied with a woman as just having a body – we are constantly finding ways to pick it apart, to make it not live up to our expectations, even if they do align with our society’s definition of beauty.

And, yes, making these comments are policing – they tell women that, if they would just get breast implants, or eat more, or eat less, or do this, or do that, or go get that surgery, or whatever, then they would suddenly become more beautiful. When the truth is that they won’t. Society en masse is never satisfied with the way that women look, because society en masse is never satisfied with the presence of women to begin with. No matter what you change, there will always be someone out there who will pick you apart, so please, don’t change for them. If you want to change, change for yourself, because you are the only person who has to be satisfied with how you look at the end of the day.

Is It Important To Know You Are Beautiful?

Recently, I heard someone present the argument that it is not at all important for us to think our bodies are attractive. We don’t need to accept our weight or our stretch marks or our hair, because at the end of the day, none of that makes us us. We are not our bodies. We are not our nose or our eyes or our legs or our ass. We are more than that; we are people. We are intelligence and wit and kindness and strength. We don’t have to be beautiful, because we transcend that.

I agree with part of this argument. I agree that, yes, we are more than our bodies. That is one hundred percent, completely true – you are not at all defined by what people physically see about you. You are so much more than that.

But at the same time, I do believe that it is important that you know your body is beautiful as well.

Why? I mean, if I think that we are more than our bodies, then wouldn’t I agree that a body is mostly superficial? Meaningless? Our bodies just support us through life, they are the means through which we interact with the world and that’s it, right?

Well, yes, technically that is their purpose. But societally speaking, bodies (and female bodies in particular) have been assigned a much deeper role than that.

Essentially from birth, female bodies are discussed in terms of ‘beauty’, and too often, that beauty is connected to something else, something more insidious – worth. Saying to a little girl “oh, you’re so pretty!” is pretty much synonymous with saying, “you’re a good, worthwhile person, aren’t you?” Women are taught from a very young age to take pride from their physical bodies, and especially in their teen years, women are warned about what will happen if their physical bodies don’t match up to society’s standards.

A young girl who carries extra weight too long for it to be considered baby fat anymore is warned that she needs to lose that weight immediately, and if she doesn’t lose that weight, then the boys won’t like her. And if the boys don’t like her, then she’ll never get a boyfriend. If she never gets a boyfriend, then she’ll have to settle for the first boy with low enough standards to take her. If she settles, then she won’t be happy in her marriage. If she isn’t happy with her marriage, then she won’t be happy with her life. It doesn’t matter if any of this is true or not (and trust me, it isn’t). Many women are still told this or similar narratives while they are still too young to be able to question it.

And even if we ignore the fact that many young girls are told that their physical beauty is directly proportional to their worth, there are simply so many ways that society teaches women to hate their bodies. We have commercials telling women that their eyelashes aren’t long enough, so buy this mascara and your life will be better. We have magazines that shock and gasp at the mere prospect of a celebrity with stretch marks or cellulite. We have a movie industry that returns again and again to the same beauty standards (thin, feminine, youthful, lighter skinned, able-bodied, cis-gendered, etc.) to represent their female leads, the characters that the script decides deserves a happy ending and a good life.

So with all of this, it isn’t surprising when young girls start to hate their bodies.

And when girls hate their bodies, they sometimes start to do very dangerous things to them. For example, it is estimated that 10 million American women suffer from an eating disorder.

Or perhaps we don’t cause damage to our bodies. Perhaps we just feel ashamed of them, covering them up wherever we go, hating the idea of anyone ever getting a peek at them. Perhaps we feel a little bit like our bodies devalue us as a person – after all, we have received the message that our beauty is directly correlated with our worth, haven’t we? We feel like we can’t find love until we reach a certain size, or we need to keep a certain part of us hidden, lest our lover be less interested as a result of seeing it. We feel ugly, gross, like something nobody ever wants to see. We call ourselves names and avoid mirrors and become jealous when we see someone who better matches our idea of beauty.

At the end of the day, our bodies are just bodies, yes. They are designed to be a vessel that carries your intelligence and your kindness and your talent and everything else about you that truly makes you amazing. But at the same time, all of this still matters. Not because our bodies have any huge bearing on who we are as a person – they don’t, but because, due to the amount of importance that society has put on our bodies, they end up having a lot of influence on how we see ourselves.

And maybe you have managed to get passed all of that. Maybe you really don’t care how you look on the outside, and if you do, then that’s awesome. Good for you. But in this society, it is perfectly understandable if you haven’t. You can tell yourself, again and again, that your physicality doesn’t matter because you’re so many amazing things on the inside, but that doesn’t mean that when someone else places value on you based on your body, it won’t hurt or make you feel like less of a person.

And that, I think, is where changing our perspective on what’s beautiful comes in. You need to know that you are beautiful, no matter what you look like. You need to know that our society’s definition of beauty is incredibly limited, and at the end of the day, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. You need to know that your stretch marks do not devalue you, that your body hair doesn’t make you any less beautiful. Because once you know that, then you become more confident. Then it stings a little less when someone else makes a comment about your body, because you know that they’re wrong – and they are wrong. They come from a very limited, very sad perspective, and you’re so much better than all that! You are a beautiful person, and you have every right to feel like a beautiful person.

And once you gain that confidence, then it might become a bit easier for you to express all of the things that truly make you amazing. Because your body is just that – a body, and learning to love it is just one step. It’s a very important step, a step that I think needs to be made, but only because it will lead you toward accepting that you are worthwhile, that you deserve all the joys this world has to offer you. And once you know that (because it’s very true, and society is wrong to have ever made you feel otherwise), then you can feel free to be the amazing, strong, incredibly unique person that you truly are.

I Don’t Understand

I always try to understand people. I think that it’s important to understand one another, because if we don’t, then we can’t ever enact change. If we refuse to see anything from the perspective of another, then we are eternally stuck within our own heads, unable to acknowledge that things exist even if we don’t personally experience them, unable to grow or learn or make the world a better place.

But I have to admit, when it comes to all this, I don’t understand.

I don’t understand how you can hear a fellow human being begging to be taken seriously, begging for equality and the chance to live safely, and just shut them out.

I don’t understand how you can tell other people that the way they feel is wrong, just because you don’t feel the same way.

I don’t understand how you can look at superficial things like skin colour or background or birth and think that that makes you better than them.

I don’t understand how, on August 12 2017, a man got into his car and looked down at a group of people who had done nothing more than defend what they believed in, and he decided that he would run them down. I don’t understand what led him to that decision, to accepting that he wouldn’t know who this would injure or even kill, and he didn’t care. I don’t understand how he could accept that a child might lose her mother, a father might lose his son, and yet he thought that that was an acceptable price to pay for an attempt to silence them, to scare them out of their fight for equality.

I don’t understand how you can look at a group of people, any people, and think that they are inherently lesser than you. I don’t understand hating some that much, especially not for something like their race.

And I want to understand, not because I agree with what they did but because I want to be able to say something that they might understand, that might stop this from happening again. But I don’t think I can. All I can say is that I am sorry to the families of the deceased, and I am sorry to those who were injured. All I can say is that the anti-racist protestors should have been there, needed to be there, and they should continue to be there even after this; do not allow violence like this to silence a worthwhile fight. Do not allow them to win like this. All I can say is that the boy who did this was a terrorist, and his actions should be treated accordingly.

And to those whose ideologies supported this boy’s way of thinking, the white supremacists and the Nazi sympathizers, all that I can say is that, while I do not understand you, I feel sorry for you, because I cannot imagine how much you suffer by choosing a life so filled with hate.

When Does a Fantasy Become Harmful?

Although I love video games and although I love Greek mythology, the God of War series never really crossed my path until recently. Now, I still haven’t played it, so I can’t say anything about the quality of the game or the plot or anything like that. All that I’ve seen is one scene, but as this scene wasn’t overly complicated or difficult to interpret, I feel fairly confident discussing at least it.

In God of War 3, your protagonist Kratos – a Spartan demigod with more muscles than Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime – enters into Aphrodite’s chambers (Aphrodite, for those of you who aren’t aware, being the Greek goddess of love and sexuality). He finds her almost naked, laying in a bed with her handmaidens and having some sexy-fun-time with them (because lesbians). Upon seeing Kratos, Aphrodite banishes her sexy handmaidens to the other side of the room so that she can have a conversation with him, during which she is lounging out on the bed, rolling around, and very clearly trying to seduce Kratos (because boobs). After the conversation is over, the player then has the option to give into Aphrodite’s seduction. If the player does this, we see Kratos descend upon the bed, before the camera pans off of them and onto Aphrodite’s handmaidens across the room, who then proceed to watch the bed and swoon and sigh over Kratos’s supposedly exceptional lovemaking, making comments about how jealous they are of their mistress while simultaneously groping each other.

Now, the critiques of this scene are obvious. It is both objectifying to women and fetishizing bisexual women. But that being said, I can already hear the defence against this critique: that it isn’t supposed to be taken at face value. It’s all a fantasy, intended to make Kratos look like the manliest manly man that ever lived, not only exceptional at fighting and looking awesome, but also at pleasing the ladies.

And trust me, I get that argument. I love fantasies in the media. In fact, some of my favourite story lines are power fantasies, intended to make the viewer feel like they are strong and capable by making you relate to the all-powerful, impossibly strong hero. Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, these are all power fantasies.

But at the same time, they are different from what we see happening in the scene from God of War 3.

The thing about Spider-Man that makes him and his story arch very different from this scene is, well, content. Spider-Man is awesome because he fights crime, he has super powers, he looks like an average teenager but is actually secretly awesome. And at the same time, Spider-Man is awesome in a way that most young people know isn’t real. When it comes to things like superheroes, parents tend to be quick to remind their kids that, yes, Spider-Man is awesome, but in real life, people don’t have super powers and they don’t fight crime in quite the same way. When it comes to discussions of sexuality, parents don’t tend to be quite so quick to talk to their children.

When I saw this scene from God of War 3, the first thing that it reminded me of was… well, pornography. Not because it foregrounded sexuality, but because of how unrealistically it depicted sexuality. Let’s all just agree: Aphrodite did not act like a real woman would. Neither does she or Kratos look the way that the average man or woman does; they are both idealized versions of what society thinks their gender should look like. And nobody in the history of the universe has made comments like the ones that the handmaidens made about Kratos’s lovemaking. This is all fake, and it is fake with the intention of pandering to the man and his ego, while most pornography is similarly made with a male viewer in mind.

And for many children in the western world, pornography is their introduction to sexuality. According to a report made by the BBC in 2016, 53% of children aged eleven to sixteen have seen pornography online, and of these children, 53% of boys and 39% of girls saw it as a realistic depiction of sex. And, look – I’m not trying to shame you if you watch pornography, all that I am saying is that pornography is not only unrealistic, it is centred around catering to a male gaze and a male ego. Like this scene from God of War 3, it is a fantasy, but when no one is talking to young people about this topic or offering them an alternative way of looking at it, it becomes easier to accept it as truth.

To put it in perspective, it would sort of be like if every single movie made for young boys was Spider-Man, and every single young boy knew that super powers existed, but they weren’t allowed to see it or talk about or hear about it ever; after a while, they’d start to question why they don’t have web-swinging powers, and why some girls look and act differently from Mary Jane.

But let’s talk about another issue that this scene discusses; female bisexuality. Like sex, bisexuality isn’t really talked about or represented in our media. The only bisexual characters that I can think of off the top of my head in mainstream media is Maureen Johnson from Rent and Piper Chapman from Orange is the New Black (both of whom are despicable human beings, but anyway…). In fact, probably the greatest representation of female bisexuality is, again, in pornography, meaning that you are more likely to see bisexual women having sex in our media than you are to see them going about their day or doing their jobs or anything like that.

But let’s go back to the scene from God of War 3, and let’s talk about the issue of desire here. Because, yes, Aphrodite starts out making out with her handmaidens, and yes, when Kratos is in bed with Aphrodite, the handmaidens are groping each other. But throughout all of this, the primary object of their desire is always Kratos, a man. Aphrodite sends her handmaidens away so that she can seduce Kratos instead. When the handmaidens are groping each other, their eyes are constantly on Kratos and they are going on about how hot he is. In fact, I am almost hesitant to describe them as bisexual, because outside of a few small sexual acts, they express nearly no desire for women; it always goes back to the man. And I have absolutely no doubt that the reason why the animators included these small sexual acts into the game was not because they wanted to represent Aphrodite as a strong, bisexual woman, but because they thought that it would be a nice treat for the presumed straight male player to see.

As I discussed before, this scene is harmful toward women in general because it perpetuates these unrealistic expectations that men have about how women should look and how they should behave sexually. But in some ways, it is almost more harmful toward bisexual women, because it perpetuates a very harmful stereotype that we all live with from the moment we come out of the closet: that we aren’t actually bisexual, we’re just trying to get attention from men.

This stereotype is one that hinges on dismissing the existence of bisexual women (and bisexual people in general). It portrays them, not as their own sexual orientation, but as promiscuous straight women – and as much as it is not okay to treat women differently depending on how many sexual partners they have had, it is an unfortunate fact in our society that that frequently happens, and it happens to bisexual women from the moment that we come out of the closet. Because of this stereotype, bisexual women are frequently dismissed, by straight men and lesbians alike, as ‘dirty’, a good, quick fuck but not actually worthy of love. Because of this stereotype, bisexual women are seen as ‘owing’ sex to men, because they obviously went to all the work of seducing them by being bisexual, and as a result, 61.1% of bisexual women are raped by an intimate partner, while 46% of bisexual women report being raped at any point in their lives, compared to 17% of straight women and 13% of lesbians. And don’t even get me started on the emotional side-effects of being consistently told, by both straight people and the LGBT community, that you aren’t enough, you’re too dirty, too promiscuous, to be accepted.

But, hey, maybe this stereotype would be less frequently relied upon if our media would just give us alternative representations of bisexuality.

So to sum this all up: when is a fantasy harmful? Well, my answer would be that a fantasy becomes harmful when it’s the only narrative we’re given. Sex is nothing like the way that it is represented in either pornography or God of War 3, but you wouldn’t exactly know that as an inexperienced young person who knows that sex exists but has never seen it for themselves, because the vast majority of our depictions of sex come through a heavy lens of fantasy, and a very male-oriented fantasy at that, resulting in some unhealthy ideas of what sex is and what women in sexual situations should be. And actual bisexual women are not lounging in their beds, making out with their handmaidens until a man shows up to sex them up properly, but if that’s the only image of bisexual women that we are given, then how are we ever going to know that?

So maybe my issue is less with God of War 3, which is nothing more than a stupid fantasy for young straight boys who like the idea of being a super powerful, super masculine lady-pleaser, and more with a society that doesn’t really give us much else than that. Where are my depictions of sex from a woman’s perspective? My bisexual women who don’t care if a man shows up or not, they’re perfectly satisfied with the woman they’ve got right here? If we had more of those, not only would this scene be much less harmful, it would be easier to recognize it as silly and unrealistic by comparison.

The Hatred of Femininity

Misogyny: (noun) the hatred of women.

In our society, misogyny can take many forms. It can come in the form of gender-based violence, like rape or domestic abuse. It can come in the form of social exclusion or hostility in certain spaces, such as cat-calling – especially if that cat-calling turns into threats, insults, or anything else that makes them feel unsafe in a public place. Or it can come in the form of constantly assuming the worst of women – thinking that they’re to blame for rape, thinking that they’re too delicate and too vulnerable to hear certain truths, thinking that they’re too emotional to do anything right.

Misogyny is something that is still very much alive today, and it is a very serious problem in our society that we cannot stop talking about. But the sort of misogyny that I want to focus on today is not simply the hatred of women, but rather the hatred of the feminine – because while these two issues most certainly connect and stem from the same issue (as I said, misogyny), the thing about the hatred of the feminine is that it affects all of us.

Because as much as femininity is something that gets assigned to straight women most frequently, that does not mean that only women are capable of femininity. They really aren’t.

Gay men, for example, are frequently represented as feminine in our media. They are represented as feminine so often, in fact, that some people have begun to shun this representation for being ‘stereotypical’, favouring the more invisible image of the masculine gay man (this can sometimes be referred to as effeminophobia, or discrimination against effeminate gay men). But feminine gay men most certainly exist as well, and they deserve a chance to see themselves not only represented, but represented well, and as much as feminine gay men have gotten a bit of the former, they haven’t always gotten the latter.

One example that we might all be aware of is the representation of feminine men in Disney movies. While not necessarily gay (or not openly so, anyway), many of the male villains of Disney cartoons are rather feminine – the Pocahontas villain Governor Ratcliffe styles his hair in two pink bows and carries around a small dog, the Peter Pan villain Captain Hook is highly emotional and dresses very flamboyant, the Aladdin villain Jafar has his eyeliner game on point. And why is this a reoccurring theme with male Disney villains? Well, in my opinion, it’s because, while Disney isn’t outright trying to say that femininity (and male femininity in particular) is wrong, they are trying to use these conventions to convey certain misogynist messages. We as the audience are supposed to read these men as being silly, vain and greedy because they are outwardly feminine. These villains are more easily detestable because they remind us of feminine aspects.

Disney will sometimes even use these aspects in their female villains as well. Honestly, think about it – when Ariel first meets Ursula in The Little Mermaid, she is applying her lipstick and fixing up her hair, and in One Hundred and One Dalmatians Cruella de Vil’s greatest downfall is her obsession with fashion.

Which brings me to another issue in all of this – it is not only women and men who receive scorn and hatred if they become classified as ‘too feminine’, but hobbies and interests as well. We as a society tend to regard the playing or watching of sports, a masculine pass-time, as worthwhile, something that builds character. And yet, watching fashion shows or reading magazines is regarded as silly and frivolous. Fixing a car is a useful skill to have, whereas sewing a dress is kind of cool if you can do it well, but not really useful unless you can make some good money at it. And don’t even get me started on the way that we as a society look down on chick-flicks for being stupid, unrealistic, and vapid, whereas action movies are awesome and full of fun car chases and explosions.

Especially if someone identifies themselves as a masculine person, it is a very common narrative for them to completely reject feminine pass-times. We have all heard about the very stereotypical set-up of the masculine boyfriend complaining loudly as his girlfriend drags him, kicking and screaming, into Sephora, while women are frequently expected to sit there quietly and watch sports with their boyfriends, even if they don’t like them.

Now, at this point you might be asking: so what? Why does it matter that people tend to look down on femininity? Well, it matters because, to some extent, we all have some aspect of us that is feminine. Not just straight women. Not just gay men. Every. Single. One. Of. Us. And this societal rejection of femininity as a valid option in our lives forces us to make one of two choices: we can continue to act feminine as accept that a side-effect of that will be that people will see us as vapid, silly, stupid, frivolous, etc., or we can reject the feminine parts of ourselves and act masculine, neither of them really works for me.

The latter option forces us to shave off parts of ourselves, to never be our complete self because society tells us that we can’t be. The latter option leaves holes in our identity, leaves parts of ourselves unexplored and unfulfilled. And when it comes to the former option, here’s the thing: I am very feminine. I like to do my hair and my make-up. My favourite movie is a love story. I dress very flamboyantly, I move very flamboyantly, and when I talk, my mannerisms are very feminine. And I am not stupid, silly, or frivolous. I do not appreciate being called stupid, silly, or frivolous. I refuse to live with that title placed on me by others, and I refuse to let others place that title on others like me.

Femininity is not a weakness; femininity is just a different way of being, and a perfectly valid way of being. The only reason why we tell our daughters that they’re frivolous for liking the Notebook, our sons that they can’t wear a dress or make-up, is because femininity is frequently assigned to women, and societally speaking, we do not like women. We think women are vapid and silly and overly-emotional, and so we think that anyone like them are the same. And it should probably go without saying that this way of thinking is misogynist and wrong.

You can like romantic movies, and get shit done. You can know all the latest fashions and be a total boss. The two things are not mutually exclusive, and we need to stop treating them like they are.