Real Women and Creative Writing

I’ve been reading the articles and doing some exercises from The Creative Writing Coursebook. Though I don’t officially have any new year’s resolutions, you could say that trying to write more is an unofficial aim this year (along with all the usual exercise and healthy living plans).

One of the suggested exercises (on page 18, in my copy) was to write a page each on a series of given topics. The idea is to look at the topic and then just write solidly for at least 5 minutes. Write anything and everything you can think of, allowing yourself to meander off topic if it happens naturally, but otherwise the aim is simply to keep writing.

Extract from Paul Magrs' article 'Clearing Some Space' in The Creative Writing Coursebook

Extract from Paul Magrs’ article ‘Clearing Some Space’ in The Creative Writing Coursebook

When I started writing about Marilyn Monroe I surprised myself by going into a rant about stereotypes for women and not feeling as though I fit any of the good ones. I don’t have anything against Monroe, but her image is persistently used in the anti-skinniness lobby so instead of thinking of Some Like it Hot and how “Well, nobody’s perfect”, I ended up ranting about beauty standards, and that is a real shame!

[SPOILER ALERT – do not watch this clip if you haven’t seen the film!]

Here is the piece I wrote:

blog vedettestore com 2013 03 real-women-have-curves

Image borrowed from here.

Marilyn Monroe

‘Real Women Have Curves’. This is the caption that now always seems to accompany pictures of Marilyn Monroe on social media. The reality of Monroe includes her mysterious death by overdose, do ‘real women’ die young, too? I’m sure she never expected to be a role model so I’ll overlook her unsuitability for the part. The truth is, the people who post those pictures (are they memes?) don’t mean that they want to die like her – though mysteriousness and nudity may seem a glamorous way to go! They want Monroe’s curves to validate their own body fat – and what’s wrong with that?

I find this frustrating for two reasons. Firstly, glorifying a particular body type should not come at the expense of pretending that it is ok to be unhealthy. Many of the women who post these pictures are either actually very thin and may have body dysmorphia or they are overweight. Monroe had curves, and curves require fat, but she was not obese.

She was a perfect hourglass – big boobs, jiggly bum, tiny, tiny waist. And this is my second problem. Slimness is beauty, according to our magazines and movies. But there is another, curvier beauty that is allowed – as long as it’s hourglass. Gloria in Modern Family, the red-head in Mad Men, Jennifer Lawrence, any plus-sized model – all women who are not ribs-out skinny. But their curved bottoms and fuller thighs taper to a comparatively small waist and are then balanced out by an impressive bosom.

Where are the role models for us pears? I’m not obese and my bum might even, for all its jiggle, be smaller than Monroe’s was, but my waist is certainly larger and my boobs are dramatically smaller. I’m not an unhealthy weight. It’s true it could be healthier, and I’m working on that, but it’ll never, no matter how hard I work on it, be an hourglass, or skinny. It’s ok for real women to have curves, as long as they are the right kind of curves, in the right places.

Hourglass

I found these pictures here, here and here.

So that was my unexpected 5 minute rant inspired by the topic ‘Marilyn Monroe’. I wanted to post this because I think body shaming is wrong. I think that Christina Hendricks, Sofia Vergara and Jennifer Lawrence (pictured) are stunning, but I also think that Keira Knightly is stunning. Saying ‘Real Women Have Curves’ is basically a way of trying to make one group of women (curvy) feel better by saying that another group of women (skinny) are not ‘real’. I understand that many women, myself included, feel under pressure to be thinner and most of us consistently feel that we fail to measure up to that skinny ideal but saying that curves are better or thinness is unattractive or un-womanly is counter-productive. It is just continuing the stereotyping and homogenisation that makes most women feel excluded from the definition of beauty. Not all women are curvy. Not all women are skinny. Not all curvy women are hourglasses.

 

As this was written in a short space of time with no time to really think about what I was saying, it doesn’t say everything that I would want to on the subject and what it does say it doesn’t say well. Monroe’s death was a tragedy and that short piece of writing sounds flippant about it in a way that I feel ashamed of to look back on. I also feel that in suggesting that many women are ‘unhealthy’ about their weight I fall into the trap of fat shaming that I was trying to avoid. But if there is anything that I would hope people might take from this, it’s that a healthy body is a beautiful body whatever it’s shape or size and, above all, a confident body is a sexy body – so let’s stop trying to make ourselves feel better by continuing to perpetuate stereotypes that make others feel worse.

As a final note, I like this post at Geek x Girls that shows the ridiculousness of memes designed to shame different body types. Go check it out.