Each time a woman stands up for herself, she stands up for all women

We are all “real” women – so why do we keep insisting that some of us aren’t?

A few weeks ago, I was mindlessly scrolling through Instagram – as you do – when this photo of the gorgeous Freddie Harrel caught my eye on the Tu Clothing page:

I probably should have known better than to click onto the comments section, but, for some reason, I did, and here’s what I found:

Body shaming comments on Instagram

And on, and on, and on it went. There have been some more positive comments added since then – mostly, I think, because I posted this screenshot on my Instagram Stories, to call out the body shaming – but, when I first came across this image, every single comment on it (With the exception of the first woman, who was simply drawing her friend’s attention to the outfit…) was in the same kind of vein: an absolutely breathtaking example of women ganging up to bully and shame another human being, just because of the shape of her body.

“Yuck!!!” says one woman, who was so shocked at the sight of the clearly “malnourished” Freddie Harrel that she needed, not one, but three exclamation points, to fully express her outrage.

“And we wonder how people have body issues!” gasps another, in a comment so totally mindless that at first I thought it must be some clever kind of parody. Because, I mean, I dunno, Sandra, but I think it might be YOU? Like, YOU are the reason people have body image issues? You, and all of the other women who commented on this photo to express their absolute outrage at this woman’s body shape? Maybe? Just a bit? Because, you can’t seriously think this woman – who, lest we forget, is an actual human being, with real feelings, who was tagged in the photo, and who would therefore have had a very good chance of looking at it, and reading the comments – would actually LIKE hearing that she’s so disgusting she shouldn’t be allowed to wear a bikini, can you?  Or seeing people use the word, “YUCK” to describe her appearance?

Now, I obviously can’t speak for Freddie Harrel, who I sincerely hope just rolled her eyes, flipped her fabulous hair, and continued on her way, if and when she read those comments. I think, however, that I can probably speak for most of the rest of us in saying that no one wants to be spoken about like this – and, sorry, Sheila, but your tone of faux-concern (“Why, I’m just worried about the poor, malnourished, thing!”) isn’t fooling anyone here, so don’t think you can wangle out of it that easily.

The thing that troubles me most about this kind of thing, however, is that, when people aren’t trying to justify it by claiming to worried about the model’s health, they’ll try to tell you they do it out of concern for those who might see and be influenced by her. In a comment further down the page, for instance, one woman scolded the Tu marketing department for setting a bad example to young girls by posting this photo. Because, I mean, heaven forbid young girls see an example of a happy, confident woman, who is clearly comfortable with her body, huh? No, far better to teach them shame at an early age, and to make sure they truly understand that, no matter what they look like, there’ll be a bunch of women just waiting to tear them down and make sure they feel appropriately awful about themselves. What a wonderful example the comments section on this very photo is setting, isn’t it? Anorexia, let’s not forget, is a serious mental health issue, which is trivialised by the casual way people like to diagnose women in the public eye with it, and then body shame them for it, and you’d have to be very hard of thinking indeed to truly believe that bitchily criticising other women’s bodies is in some way going to help people feel better about themselves, and thus avoid it.

The fact is, though, you don’t develop body image issues by realising there are people in the world who look different to you, and you don’t overcome body image issues by trying to insist that everyone should look the same. And if you do,  well, honestly, you need to understand that that’s your issue, not theirs. You can’t insist that thin people should be hidden from society’s view, or shouldn’t model swimwear, just in case the sight of them makes you feel bad about yourself, just as you wouldn’t try to say that curvy women should hide themselves away, either.

Time and time again, though, I see this happening: and while I totally agree that brands should be doing more – much, much more – to represent women of ALL sizes, I can’t help feeling it’s a shame that the people who put pressure on brands to do exactly that have a tendency to do it by putting down one body shape in order to promote another. I’m sure you’ve all seen that ludicrous Facebook meme which pits Marilyn Monroe against a runway model, with the caption: “THIS (Monroe) is better than THIS”. So, not even bothering with the concern-trolling in this case, just outright stating that one body type is “better” than another, no bones about it. Er, no pun intended.

Marilyn Monroe, though, people. Marilyn. Freaking. Monroe. A woman whose shape was – for many of us – equally unrealistic to that of the runway model. Honestly, it wouldn’t matter what I ate, or what kind of exercise I did, I couldn’t ever hope to look like Marilyn – or not without surgery, anyway – because she was a classic hourglass, and I’m … well, I’m very much not. And yet, hers is the figure I’m repeatedly told I must aspire to, because IT is the figure of a “real” woman. Which brings me neatly to another photo posted on the Tu Clothing Instagram account: this one, featuring the stunning Louise O’Reilly, a.ka. @StyleMeCurvy:

Now, I don’t doubt that Louise has had her share of vile comments about her body, too, but here’s a small sample of the ones posted on this particular image:

body positivity on Instagram

The first comment I totally agree with: it IS nice to see curvy women represented, and she is beautiful. So far, so good, But then  … “”thanks for showing what real ladies look like”? “A ‘normal sized‘ model”? A “woman with shape”? I mean, as opposed to WHAT, exactly? Pretend ladies? ABnormal sized models? Women WITHOUT shapes? Because that’s what seems to be implied here, and you can see why brands like Tu end up getting just a little bit confused, can’t you? Because, on one photo, they have people applauding them for their apparent commitment to diversity, and telling them (Rightly, I think) that there’s “a place for all,” in fashion/on Insta, but then, as soon as they take that to heart and think, “OK, cool, people want to see a variety of different shapes, and we’ve just shown them a curvy model, so now we’ll show a thin one,” they instantly get this chorus of outrage, saying, “Actually, Tu, when we said we wanted to see a variety of shapes, we really meant, “Just the curvy ones, tbh, because they’re the only ones we consider ‘real’.”

And not only do people SAY this, they really seem to THINK it, too. Because, if you don’t see Freddie Harrel as being a “real” person, well, you can say anything you like about her, can’t you? You can even use the word, “YUCK!” to emphasise your disgust at the sight of her, or demand that her image not be shown in public, because what does it matter? She isn’t a “real” woman, so she probably doesn’t have “real” feelings either, does she?

She is, though, and she does. Because thin women ARE “real” women. So are curvy women, mid-sized women, and everyone else who identifies as a woman.

We are ALL “real” women.

This seems to be to be one of those truths that is so self-evident, it shouldn’t even need to be said. If the kind of comments I keep seeing on social media are anything to go by, though (And I’ll just quickly add here that, while I’ve used the comments on thin women as my example, I’m very aware that curvy women are also subject to this kind of abuse, and that it’s often much, much worse: as I said, it really doesn’t matter WHAT shape you are, someone, somewhere, is going to want to shame you for it…), it most definitely does. Isn’t that sad?

In closing this post, I just want to say that I really hope the comments on it don’t degenerate into opinions on which woman looks best/is the most healthy, because that really isn’t the point. For myself, I think they’re both beautiful, but honestly, what I think, or what you think, really doesn’t matter: because they’re both “real” women, who deserve to be spoken about with respect. I know the people who comment on my blog will be able to do that: so why can’t the same be said of the internet/society in general?

Why it's time to stop using the word "real" to shame women

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  • I think it’s relevant too that the model being praised is white. I’d say it’s pretty awesome of Tu to show a model, who is not only black, but has natural hair. These two models do show that Tu are actively trying to show a range of bodies and skin colours, which is awesome.

    I hope the response rolled off Freddie. She looks great to me!

    August 10, 2018
  • EffEmm


    Hear, hear. ‘Real women’ is a ridiculous label. None of us are androids! And such body shaming is simply about the insecurities of those commenting. Freddie looks amazing. The first thing I saw was her gorgeous abs, killer arms, and brilliant smile. She’ll work hard for the first two and is blessed with the latter.

    That leads me to my own bugbear. I’m slim, and often get told things like ‘it’s alright for you… you’re lucky…’. What? Lucky that I carefully watch everything I eat, walk everywhere and run 10k twice a week? That’s not luck, that’s being focused. Neither do I have ‘good genes’ (another bugbear). I used to weigh three stone more when (surprise!) I ate badly and sat on my backside all the time.

    August 10, 2018
  • Myra


    They are both beautiful and so are you.

    August 10, 2018
  • This sort of thing drives me mad! To me, Freddie looks healthy – slim yes, but so are many women naturally so. I do think it’s important to address body shaming and it’s awful to read about women and girls who’ve been told to lose weight when there’s nothing wrong with them. But laying into women who are slim or slimmer than average is equally wrong.

    I had a friend in London who was naturally very slim and tall. She was described as having a model’s body. But she told me that she was always trying to put weight on and had been frequently asked by strangers if she was anorexic (wtaf!?!).

    And my own personal experience has been unpleasant. I mention it to highlight how criticising someone’s body can lead to mild or more serious issue with eating. I went from a healthily-rounded teen/early 20-something weighing 9 1/2 stone max (at 5’5″) to 7 1/2 st after three months in India. Now that was far too low for me, but once I went up a stone and a bit far too many people made it their business to comment on and monitor my body and what I ate. From being teased about being chubby (!), I was then told I was too skinny, needed to “eat something” and “could do with putting on a stone”. The pressure put on me to indulge in eating huge slabs of chocolate cake or chips (which I don’t even like) and general over-interest in my diet full-stop, was very stressful. And led to me avoiding eating in company for some considerable time.

    August 10, 2018
  • Kat


    Thank you for writing this post. I know a lot of women who think they are too slim and I know a lot of women who want to lose weight. We should leave them all alone. Pointing out their “flaws” will only make them feel worse and they might develop an unhealthy relationship with food. I always wonder, why can’t we let other people be, how does it affect me if another woman is slim, curvy, small, tall, etc.? Why are we offended if someone is different? I think, if we see different sizes around us, we accept more happily our own size because we do not have to fit a certain shape or size. The same goes for other lifestyle choices, beliefs, opinions, etc.

    August 10, 2018
  • May


    Amen to that. I’m so sick of body shaming, it’s ridiculous. A bigger woman promotes obesity and unhealthy lifestyles, a thin woman promotes anorexia and perpetuates harmful beauty standards. And there I was, thinking they were only women, living their lives and being confident in their bodies! There is some truth to the fact that showing exclusively tall, thin models isn’t good- the same way showing only blonde models, or white models isn’t right. There isn’t just one way to be pretty, and being pretty shouldn’t even be our main goal to begin with (why not strive to be knowledgeable? Or kind? Or successful? Or happy?).
    I’ve been small all my life, with barely any curves at all. And while I get that “real women have curves” came up as a way to tear down the imposed standard that the ideal woman is tall and thin with big boobs and butt, it’s still not right. You can’t bring someone up by tearing others down, and comments like that have always made me feel bad. If I don’t have curves (meaning I’m not a real woman) but I don’t lool like a model either (who, apparently aren’t real women), then what am I? It doesn’t help either that in my case, my body shape was a result of eating disorders I haven’t quite gotten over with, and comments like that have a way of hurting me like nothing else.
    We should see all kinds of women out there: thin, big, muscly, trans, black, white, Asian… We’re all real women and we all deserve to see ourselves represented in strong, confident women

    August 10, 2018
  • Thank you thank you thank you! This body shaming, and claiming some women are more “real” than others needs to stop!

    August 10, 2018
  • Yes to everything!!
    I’m 5”2, size 8, not curvy, not boyish – I’m inbetween in everything – just a healthy proportion. full-stop. I’m not a real woman, but neither am I a fantasy woman. Where am I!!?

    August 10, 2018
  • Couldn’t agree more. Real women come in a huge variety of shapes, sizes, colors and what not, and all of them are very real and very much hurt when being body shamed. Inclusion includes all shapes and sizes!

    Anne – Linda, Libra, Loca

    August 10, 2018
  • Alice


    I agree with all of this except:
    “You can’t insist that thin people should be hidden from society’s view, or shouldn’t model swimwear, just in case the sight of them makes you feel bad about yourself, just as you wouldn’t try to say that curvy women should hide themselves away, either.”

    I wish people wouldn’t use curvy when they mean “fat”. I’m not using fat as an insult – whatever word I use people will no doubt say it is wrong – but one can be slim and curvy, with breasts and hips. One can be significantly overweight but have small breasts and not much of a waist.

    It’s great that all body types are represented, and we shouldn’t make judgements about health on either – one can be fat with an eating disorder, thin with an eating disorder, normal weight with an eating disorder, for starters! And even if someone is unhealthily fat or thin, they still need clothes!

    Here though I think the assumption is that people who are thin are “lucky” and therefore it’s OK to insult them – whereas larger women are more vulnerable and should be praised. You see the opposite in photos of women with food of course – thin women are encouraged to enjoy that doughnut or whatever whereas fatter women are told they shouldn’t eat it.

    Less judgement needed.

    August 10, 2018
  • Erin


    All I know is Freddie just gained an instagram follower. Lol. It’s just as rude to call a thin person skeletal as a larger person fat. And as usual, if you don’t have something nice to say, STFU. Good post and points <3

    August 10, 2018
  • Justine


    This post re-enforces to me how much garbage I am avoiding by not joining Facebook Instagram Twitter et al.
    Saving my sanity !!!

    August 10, 2018
  • Stacie R


    Well said. Thank you

    August 10, 2018
  • We’re all real women? Sounds like something a Cylon would say, if you ask me. :p (Also, I googled “is Cylon capitalized” and Google returned a bunch of results asking “is human capitalized,” so I’m pretty sure Google is in league with the Cylons and trying to confuse the issue.)

    Seriously, though, whatever happened to treating your fellow human beings with kindness? I also agree that it’s probably not a coincidence that the model who got universally negative comments was black. I’m sure the second model has been posted to some gross Reddit community dedicated to fat-shaming, too. The internet is a technological marvel with so much potential, and humanity uses it to be awful.

    Maybe Google’s not wrong to pick the Cylon’s side, after all.

    August 10, 2018
      • Haha, sorry. Sometimes I forget that not everyone was raised by science fiction nerds. Every time I hear something beginning with the phrase “real women” or “real men” I automatically think, “As opposed to what? Cylons?”

        August 10, 2018
  • Andrea


    so true both models look fantastic why cant we applaud that – and Marilyn Monroe yes was curvy but trust me her clothes were tiny – she was the equivalent of a todays UK size 6! I have seen her clothes in person and they are tiny- body shapes have changed so it’s pretty hard to be like Monroe

    August 10, 2018
  • Anna


    Thank you for posting this. This has reminded me (and not in a bad way) of the early 90s when the Kate Moss look became The Thing…..yet I was bullied for being TOO THIN!!!!! Now I have people telling me I need to lose a couple of stones.

    Really you can’t do right for doing wrong when it comes to weight. I know people who are classed as overweight who eat a sensible balanced diet and exercise regularly. I also know slim people who eat rubbish food and sit on their derrière all day long. They are probabl much less healthy than the overweight friends.

    People need stop judging and accept people for who they are and not what they look like.

    August 10, 2018
  • Kathy


    Could not agree more. Body shaming is body shaming, whatever package it comes in. I see this in other areas too – there’s a sense that we must put down one thing to lift another up. It makes me despair that humanity seems to always take one step forward only to take two steps back. Hoping for balance at some point, but not terribly optimistic.

    August 11, 2018
  • When you posted this on your stories I was just so disappointed in the comments 🙁 I’m a slim/petite person in real life, and I deal with these kinds of comments all. the. time. I started a new job last year and while my new coworkers don’t mean anything malicious by it, but it is socially acceptable for them to comment on my weight, what I’m eating, how much, if it’s “healthy” or “unhealthy”… I would never dream to do that to anyone else. I’m used to it, but I never know how to respond to people insisting I need to grab more than one cookie or doughnut because “it’s not like I need to worry about my weight” or things like that. It’s just weird. It was the same with my old job where one of the first questions someone asked me was how much did I weigh!!! When people ask me that I usually say “a little more than my turtle” (I have a very large tortoise 😉 )

    Reminds me of my retail days when one of my coworkers burst into tears when a costumer chastised her for being too skinny (it was just one too many comments that week), and my coworker shot back “how would you like it if I told you that you were too fat!” before fleeing to the backroom. The costumer just stood there so shocked. Like, hello, how did you not know that was such a rude thing to say!

    August 11, 2018
  • This just leaves me feeling sad. We are all real women! In my life I have been thin 100lbs for yrs and yrs when I was young – just my DNA – my Dad was a tiny man but then slowly over 20yrs I gained 50lbs. It is what it is. Both models shown look beautiful and healthy to my eyes. I think the judgement needs to stop. It’s the part of social media that sucks. Nameless people offering negativity into the world. How do they live with themselves?

    August 11, 2018
  • Annie M


    Well said, Amber. Sometimes it feels as if we have not come very far at all since my mother’s generation all burned their bras. People can be so harsh and judgemental.

    August 11, 2018
  • M


    In addition to the comment above, I also concur ‘curvy’ is a modern euphemism for ‘fat’. ‘Thin’ you can say is about size whereas ‘curvy’ is about shape. Of course one can be ‘not-fat’ – for lack of a better term – and yet have curves. Marilyn Monroe was definitely curvy at 35-22-35 (+ very large cup size) but she wasn’t ‘curvy’ in the modern parlance. She might be UK 6-8 tops today. I find sad how she’s been hijacked to represent something she never was.

    That aside, I only can imagine people who make nasty, size-based comments about other women’s bodies have poor self esteem / body image issues themselves. If you’re happy and content with yourself, what does it matter that others look ‘different’ to yourself? How does insulting others make you feel better about yourself?

    August 12, 2018
  • I’m a massive woman… like size 22 (ish) and although I’m losing weight, I know I get judged every day by people as not a ‘real woman’. After all, who wants to shift a skirt of fat and skin to check whether I am or not? But I know I am, and I’m confident that I am, whether I look one way or another. vote one way or another or whistle Dixie. I also know that my best friend (touching 6ft tall and like a figure one on the door) is also a real woman. Like you say, hurtful comments are unnecessary, either to women, girls, men or boys. The world would be a better place if we thought hard before speaking. Love the variety of the blog, by the way.

    August 20, 2018
    • Totally!! I was just thinking about this thread when I got email notification of your comment.

      I was just thinking “are real women only plus sizes!?” But no – none of is are real, no matter what we do!!

      Or, if we’re too real, then that’s plain and boring and also unacceptable. An ex boyfriend said I was plain once – when I questioned him he said he meant that I didn’t care going out without makeup on. I was like – I don’t need any – I’m already good enough! ?

      August 20, 2018
  • Omg I’ve been saying this for ages – I love this post! We’re all real and worthy of taking up space online.
    I really love your writing – you’re a cut above the rest!

    November 15, 2019