Saturday, 26 February 2011

Real women

"Real women have curves" started out as a play written by Josefina Lopez. "Real" refers to women in the flesh as opposed to the airbrushed images of women used in advertising. The title as a whole is most of the response to a question. Why do actual women, women in the flesh not resemble these images? The  response; because real women have curves.

'Curves' was not necessarily a euphemism for fat per se, it has an undertone of the way women from certain classes or groups might be thin or thinner if they did not exist in their social/racial/ class milieu.

It referred overall to the kind of body not honed in the gym or by exercise regime but shaped by the activity of a living working existence, often discounted as activity because it doesn't appear to make or keep you thin enough. It does not by definition exclude slim or even thin women, nor necessarily include fat women many of whom do not see themselves as having curves or being curvaceous. I never have.

It touches on a precursor to the current computer airbrushing controversy, which is nothing new. Before computers it was the skill of the people like make up artists and more especially photographers that created these images.

It is problematic in part because its not from the usual feminist sources but a more lower middle class take. It was the assertion of pride in being a woman in the flesh who felt the pressure to aspire to a certain size yet was fighting back through asserting the reality of their existence.

It's that pride and directness of assertion of body integrity that was picked up by the late Anita Roddick's Body Shop with its Ruby campaign.

Looking at the campaign poster you'll find that it is about supermodels versus all other women fat thin and inbetween alike of real women versus the images of women  presented to us, affecting the way we all see ourselves regardless of weight or body type.

However when you read Anita Roddick's explanation you can see problems arising, it derides the bodies of the thinnest women. You might also note that Anita Roddick was never exactly fat, she actually once put on a fat suit.

And this is often part of the problem, when those used to a certain level of entitlement tend to return fire, they do it from there attacking other bodies to make the point rather than being positive about everyone's.

In the midst of an establishment crusade directed at pathologising their bodies it's not surprising that many fat women have picked up on that way of trying to reclaim self respect, when just being positive about a fat body is almost meaningless being way too broad a leap to make. They can see 'curves' more readily as a positive way to represent their fatness amidst the most unbalanced and hateful negativity. To assert and restore a sense of integrity to themselves and their bodies in lieu of anything else.

And it's often to answer more or less the same question that hasn't changed, the irony is this has now been medicalised and lent spurious authority by what purports to be a health campaign underpinned by science. It's like full circle, the message conveyed by RWHC is accessible with a directness that speaks to many in a way fat acceptance does not.

Most people have heard the term "Keeping it real". That use of the word already had traction and meaning before marketing used it.

Its an empowered and empowering response for many, in spite of its problematic elements, to something that should not be asked in the first place. It's assertiveness appeals, it seems empowering and does not require people to label themselves as oppressed or victims which is demoralising and humiliating, something some people in FA just can't seem to get their head around.

Even though FA wants to be diverse, this tends to be upturned by only listening to the kind of people it wishes to impress. 

Mainly the same types of people who are directing or making it their business to enforce the crusade socially. Who feel at liberty to make assumptions and to interrogate the kind of women who are feeling the "real" thing, about their bodies and lifestyles in a way they would not tolerate directed against themselves.

I'm not talking just about race or creed and not one social class either, both Josefina Lopez and her central character in the original play managed to get to university. It's about people who have low incomes, work hard and aspire. The kind of people who's lives commitments and actual real life existence the crusade blithely disregards and sees their perception of their irrelevancy to it and it to them and their needs as an expression of the degeneracy that makes them fatter or plumper than they the better off feel they should be.

I'm afraid fat acceptance is not reaching them much right now and when it does, it doesn't appear to be greeted with much enthusiaism. Maybe that doesn't matter after all that's pretty much in keeping with the general view.

But if we are expected to bend over backwards to understand the more elevated classes and their contemptuous attempts to hide their disdain in concern trolling, then I fail to see why other responses less offensive than this should be dismissed without consideration merely because it doesn't cloak itself in any airs and graces or the language of acacdeme.

We can choose to keep slamming this out of hand, or we can seek to ask or even try and understand why it seems to be such a powerful message speaking to so many different types of women. Either way, it does not seem to be going away.

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