The myth of the ‘real woman’

Ultimo have announced that a further seven women have joined their ‘real women’ campaign to model Ultimo, Miss Ultimo, and Ultimo Couture on and in Debenhams stores.

It’s got us thinking. While there’s no doubt this and other ‘real woman’ campaigns stem from an positive desire to make brands more representative, I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t a better name for this sort of marketing.

The problem with campaigns that identify these non-traditional models as ‘real women’ is that they aren’t as inclusive and celebratory as they think are. Just by calling them ‘real women’, these campaigns immediately identify the chosen women as different and invite judgement and comparisons; not just with the models they have replaced but also with other, equally real but differently ‘real’ women. It reinforces the ridiculous notion that a woman’s worth and validity is based on the way she looks, and it is still holding up a certain shape – whatever shape that may be – as the right one.

If more diverse shapes and sizes are ever going to become normalised in fashion and the media, we need to stop labelling these differences with tags like this. Let’s embrace all sizes and shapes (and colours, and ages too please), but in doing so let’s not just create a different set of rules for pigeonholing women.  All women – big, small or surgically enhanced – are real regardless.

Campaigns representing more diversity are a step in the right direction, and there’s no doubt that for the women involved it can be a tremendously positive and affirming experience.  But only when any shape can pose without being justified as ‘real’ will we really be on our way to size equality.

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