On Beauty Ideals (Written by a Real Woman)

I read this beautiful post by Swedish blogger and writer Annika Marklund on the thin girl vs real girl debate (yes, it's a little old, yes, I'm a little behind, yes, I've just discovered Annika's blog!) and I decided I just couldn't shut up about it.

I think Annika is right. I wrote my college thesis on beauty ideals in fashion communication, and I've been passionately active in the debate regarding super-slim models versus "real women", because I think that today's beauty ideals are very skewed and have the potential to make many girls very sick. But every time I talk about this topic, or hear anyone else talking about it, or read something about it, I can't help but get annoyed by the term "real women".

Why is it that "real" women are the ones with "curves", while all of slimmer womankind gets confined into this weird realm of what, fake womanhood?

Allow me to bare my soul for a minute here: I've had eating disorders for years. When I was bulimic (from age 15 to about 22) my weight was a rollercoaster. Thanks to an amazing therapist, an awesome nutritionist, lots of exercise and yes, anti-depressants, I now consider myself free from eating disorders and quite a healthy person. I go to the gym two or three times a week and am a happy vegetarian (aspiring vegan) with a passion for dessert. But here's the thing: my weight doesn't go up and down any more. My body has found its way to the shape it was always meant to have...and that happens to be a tiny waist accessorized with Marilyn-style hips and boobs. That's just how I was created, and these days I can eat pretty much anything without gaining an ounce (and I do, trust me!).  Does this make me an "unreal" woman? A "fake" one?  

I also find it quite pointless to defend voluptuous ladies with the washed-out argument of "men prefer girls with curves". A couple of years ago, a famous women's magazine had a survey on what guys liked in a woman. I'm sure it was super-scientific and all, but some parts of it looked like the women working at the magazine had done it just to feel better about themselves. It emerged from this survey that all men adored petite, curvy brunettes in sweatpants with no makeup. All of them. And they all found tall, slender, well-dressed women who went to the gym and liked makeup and jewelry repulsive. Right. Sounds very accurate, no? I'm definitely no Victoria's Secret model, but reading that survey, I felt like jumping in and defending pretty girls from this kind of jealous bashing.  First of all: guys, we love you, but we're not about to change ourselves to fit your "preferences". Second of all: guys do have preferences. Some like curvier ladies, while others prefer a slimmer body type. And third of all, as Annika says, when you fall in love with someone, you sure as hell don't do it because of the person's body type. I'm sure there are women out there who feel better reading surveys like that, but I think that mostly the women writing this are just kidding themselves. It's like a friend of mine who claimed she "preferred" a belly on a man, which I suspect had something to do with the fact that her boyfriend had love handles. It's also very offensive when magazines or blogs write things like "Men want a woman that looks like a woman, not like a washboard." Ouch. If that same magazine would write "Men want a woman that looks like a woman, not like a whale", believe me, there'd be hell to pay. But where's the difference?

When Vogue Italia did their "real women" cover, photographed by Steven Meisel, Italy and the world applauded Franca Sozzani for her "brave" choice. I still see it as yet another publicity trick. The models were beautiful and the photos by Steven Meisel were amazing. But why is it that every time a normal-sized model appears in a fashion context, attention has to be drawn to the fact that she is "curvy"? We don't see any headlines screaming "SKINNY IS BEAUTIFUL" every time Kate Moss is on some cover. It all just seems so very "look at us, we're so democratic, we even have a fat girl on our cover" to me. Choosing a cover model shouldn't be a "favor" to anyone. A model should be on a cover because she enhances and improves the image of the publication, not to make a political statement. And, once again, I hated the "Belle Vere" (real beauties) headline. What, exactly, is a "real" woman? To me, those models seemed just as airbrushed, spray-tanned, and groomed to perfection as the skinny ones. All "real" women are not "plus-size"!
I come from Stockholm, and there, magazines often try and put "real" women on the front line by having the magazine's editors and readers pose for the magazine (sometimes naked). I don't think that  this kind of editorial has ever had the result the editors were aiming to have, because of a tiny detail: women don't want to be ordinary. We don't want to see women "like ourselves" on the covers of magazines, because we don't want to be told that "ourselves" is an average woman. You don't aspire to be the frizzy-haired, saggy-boobed Plain Jane with the muffin top, do you? You aspire to be the fit, toned, tan, glossy-haired and successful glamazon who "has it all". For me personally, even if I know I have flaws and I love myself and am proud of myself exactly the way I am, aspiration is what keeps me trying to improve myself all the time, both on the inside and the outside. To become the woman I want to be. I assure you she's neither ordinary nor ordinary-looking. And there's nothing wrong with that. Aspiration is positive, as long as you aspire to positive things. Men's magazines seem to get this: you'll never see a picture of a balding Average Joe with a beer belly next to a headline that says: "Real Men! You can be just like him!". No, the readers of men's magazines all worship at the altar of the six-pack sex god with the big-shot job and the shiny car. And there's nothing anyone can do about that. We will never want to be average. We will always want to be extraordinary.

 The trick is, at least for me, to learn what is extraordinary for you. For me, extraordinary is inspiring people. And I believe you can do that in a size XL dress as well as a size XS one. As long as you're healthy, happy and feeling good about yourself, you're doing good. And as a fashion editor, I believe that the fashion industry, an industry that practically lives off of aspirational images, should try to convey a more positive message that makes people dream, not feel insecure and inadeguate. I love to see fantastic clothes on beautiful women like Freja and Chanel Iman. But next to them, I would love to see models that represent other body types - less skinny, less tall, less extreme. I'm still talking drop-dead-gorgeous, stunning models - only instead of calling them "plus size" and making a big "democratic" song and dance about it, let's just see what happens if "model" becomes a wider concept.  Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes - let's celebrate that.


  1. Hi sweetie :) Thank you for the nice words!
    I just discovered your blog, and it is lovely :)


  2. El: thanks! I love yours too!

  3. grazie mille per il tuo commento, ti seguo anche io !

  4. Interesting read, I agree with you. And oh, thank you for your comment :)

    / Avy

  5. Ciao cara, ti ringrazio per il tuo commento e per ciò che hai scritto anche nell'altro blog! l'ho apprezzato moltissimo, ti seguo anch'io con molto piacere :)
    Un bacione

  6. Flaviana: tra un po' farò un post sul "blogmobbing", non su di lei ma sul fenomeno in generale, perchè questa cosa devo dire che proprio non mi è piaciuta. E si meraviglia pure che le persone non la seguono più. Non capisco il senso di tutta questa cattiveria: la moda è bella perchè è varia, no?

  7. "Keep calm and eat a cupcake" Is really funny!
    I follow you, follow me back if you want!

  8. Bel post, la mia parte preferita è stata la conclusione, stai calma e mangiati una cupcake!!!

    Fox House giveaway sul mio blog!
    Dai un’occhiata e se ti piace seguimi, ti aspetto: Cosa mi metto???

  9. I really enjoyed reading this text!

    webshop at www.avanna.se/en

  10. I've just discovered your blog and read the post. I couldn't agree more with you. I even have a t-shirt printed with: "I have the ideal body proportions. I wear extra medium" :)
    Glade to meet your blog, following now.

  11. Thaaaanks everyone! Have a great weekend!

  12. So well written! Smart words! I'm on the same line of thought with you! And congrats for getting healthy I know that is hard and it's brave to come out with the painful truth!

    Thank you also for visiting my blog! Would you like to exchange links with me?

  13. Night at Vogue: thanks! I hope more people that suffer from these disorders can get well.


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