Earlier this week 14 amazing women shared their thoughts on what it means to be a “real” woman in today’s society. They were 14 very different answers from 14 very different women. If you haven’t already, please read what they had to say here.
Today, I am delighted to introduce you to 14 new women who were also generous enough to share their perspectives on this important topic.
Read on for their powerful words.
Women are: the girl-next-door, the superhero, your mom, you daughter, the receptionist at your doctor’s office, your doctor, a ballerina, a construction foreman—just to name a few examples. They come in a plethora of colors, shapes and sizes. Being a woman is something I am proud of. BUT that doesn’t mean it defines who I am, what I do and it especially does not determine what I look like.
As the mom of a 19-month old who’s quickly becoming a little girl, I am more aware than ever that I am a model for what a “real woman” is and can be. It’s Strength. Empowerment. Fearlessness. Boldness. Braveness. Beauty. Confidence. Humility. It’s as much as putting on blush as it is kicking ass in the boardroom. And, it’s coming to the realization that we are who we are. Embrace it in order to create the best version of yourself. Do not waste another single second focusing on other women’s attributes (especially physical); instead focus on how crazy awesome you are. Every day I’m focusing on making myself the best I can be, and I hope every single other woman is, too.
A real woman is a woman who retains her individuality. A real woman does not succumb to societal pressures of conformity. A real woman has the courage to be her own self. There is nothing more uncomfortable than seeing a woman pretend to be someone that she is not.
I would like to give an example from my profession. In law, I see two types of women. The first type behaves in an overly aggressive manner. She talks loud, laughs loud, backslaps the guys in a futile effort to “fit into” the men’s club. She believes that unless she is one of the guys, she will not be taken seriously at work. On the other end of the spectrum is the woman who overtly uses her sexuality or womanly wiles to obtain a “favorable” result on a case from her male counterparts.
Both these women are trying to conform and fit into an image of what a woman lawyer should look or behave like, as prescribed by society including television shows, movies, magazines etc. In actuality, a real woman does not have to tire herself out with resorting to such charades. A real woman is comfortable with the knowledge and belief that the seriousness and competence of her work depends on her knowledge and skill of the subject matter. Whether she talks loud or dresses provocatively is redundant to her work. Her honesty towards her work makes others look at her and not only take her seriously, but admire and respect her. In doing so, she is retaining her individuality!
I’m real not because I have a beer belly, or because my skin is shiny, or because I sometimes spit when I talk, for which I apologize to everyone I have ever met, ever. I’m real because I know that calling certain women “real” means others aren’t, setting up a false divide. Trying to affirm some women with “real” not only discounts the experiences of women who fit an idealized beauty standard, it also just doesn’t work. It still implies a certain amount of aspiration for… well, anyone, given that when we talk about “real” women we’re usually contrasting them to heavily manipulated images. But even for women who do fit a certain beauty ideal, the “real woman” label pits women against one another.
In truth we’re all poured into various forms of the iron maiden, that constrictive, inexpressive mold of femininity. My iron maiden might be curvier, taller, thinner, or shorter than another woman’s, but it is no more or less real. Not because all women are real—though that’s true—but because any beauty dictum makes its subjects unreal.
I grew up wanting to be married and have children like many other girls. But for me growing was hard to do because one by one all my friends became taller than me. Of course when you are young, you don’t want to be, so well into my 30’s, I dressed older on purpose both at work and play. There were flattering advantages of course but usually they were embarrassing e.g. the time I stood too close to a group of school kids at the airport boarding lounge and got counted in. I don’t know if the teachers re-counted but I was too shy to stick around to check! Another time I was mistaken to be my boyfriend’s niece! Finally, marriage and motherhood happened later in my life.
Now, in my forties, I feel truly comfortable in my skin for the first time. I feel I’ve finally been allowed to grow up and look all 44 years of my age! I’m grateful and it feels good!
Editor’s Note: this is the first time that Coco has revealed her full self online. Thank you for this honor, Coco!
There’s a long list of things I would like to change about myself. There’s my tendency to procrastinate and my propensity towards driving too fast on the highway. However, if I had to name what I’d consider my greatest character “challenge,” I’d say it’s my need to feel in control. I go through life the way I drive: gripping the steering wheel until my arms get all scary and veiny and it looks like I’m going to rip the damn wheel off. Those with issues around control tend to be described by the following attributes: They are dominating, and picky, and highly critical. They are raving perfectionists. They would rather give orders than take them. Someone with control issues finds winning an argument much more fulfilling than finding the right solution, and often makes the people around them anxious, if not alienated. I rationally understand that it’s simply not possible for me to always be in control. But more often than not, I find myself struggling to feel like I am.
For many women, the search for control is an anxiety management technique of choice. Focusing about what others are doing, compulsively trying make something perfect, or obsessing about appearance are ways through which we create a false sense of security in an unpredictable world. Yesterday, as I was reorganizing and editing and obsessing and categorizing my closet, I wondered if I was the only one who struggled with control issues. The quest to make everything perfect seems to be something we all deal with at one point or another, but it seems to me that women struggle more than men. I am attacking my control issues with self-awareness and the support and patience of my friends. Because without an empathetic sounding board, I know I’d be doomed.
What makes a woman not a real woman? By sheer definition alone you can’t say someone is a woman and not real, that would make them a mannequin or a figment of our imagination. It would be easy and cliché to say a “real woman” is one comfortable in her own skin; a natural woman. But that’s just not true. A woman with a fake tan and false-looking implants is no less real than I am. She feels emotions, she thinks for herself and makes her own choices. Ask her if she feels pain or love any differently. Of course she doesn’t. She’s choosing to express her physical self differently than me, it’s an aesthetic difference of opinion.
Peel away the clothes, the make-up, the gender preferences, the comfort and the insecurities: we all have skin, a mind and a heart. The physical differences are our imprint, from George Sand to Pamela Anderson. It’s easy to pass judgment but I believe in working hard not to. We’re inherently women first before ever defining how we will present ourselves to the world. I chose this particular photo of me because it’s relatively anonymous, I could be any woman.
The word that bests describes being a woman for me is privilege. Women have the ability to have experiences that men will never know and I think the weight and depth of experience is so different than men and I feel privileged to have that opportunity. We can have children if we choose, when we vote we know that women before us have fought so hard for us to do so, we are blessed with bodies that are so different and beautiful and with incredible abilities.
It is an amazing honor to be a woman and the best part for me is having the privilege to have relationships with other women. I remember listening to a This American Life podcast, the guest had just undergone gender reassignment from being a woman to a man and he articulated that the thing he missed most about being a woman was his close relationships with other women and I really felt that loss for him. The bond I have between other females is really special to me. We can be happy for each other and cry freely together, we hold hands and clap and sigh and can love and admire each other endlessly. And I think that ability to bond so closely makes being a woman a gift.
I have never personally liked the term “real women”. What is that even supposed to mean? In my younger years I was called toothpick, anorexic and even had the nickname Skeletor (showing my age… Skeletor was from the cartoon He-Man). At one point I was even drinking weight gain powder shakes to try and gain weight.
As an adult, I am appreciative of my high metabolism. Does being thin make me less of a “real woman”? I also find it odd that I have recently had two doctors refer to me as “fit” just because of my weight. Truth be told, right now I am the furthest thing from fit. BUT…I am happier than I have ever been.
Real women are women who think, act, dress, and very simply ARE themselves. Wholly and unapologetically. Despite difficulties, roadblocks, double standards or anything that might be in their way, real women rise above. They understand that being happy and successful means living life according to their individual ideals. They don’t see their fellow women as a constant source of competition, but instead, draw inspiration and give inspiration back.
Real women recognize that pettiness, cattiness, and jealousy are useless and they don’t let themselves get caught up in negativity. Real women are strong because they aren’t afraid to be vulnerable, they are hard because they know when to be yielding, and they are beautiful because they understand that beauty is not only skin deep. There are many different kinds of women in the world and whether they are real is not defined by their size, their looks or their financial situations. What makes them real is how genuine they are and they’re ability to really be themselves.
I’m not a personal style blogger. I’m not comfortable in front of the camera, and in fact, many of you may be seeing the real me for the first time in this photo. (My avatar photo is actually a model/actress I share my full name with. 10 points if you know who she is.)
Anyway, I chose this photo because it captures the pure joy I felt at that moment playing with that puppy, despite my messy hair and lack of makeup. I love lipstick and heels and all the other girly things that women are supposed to like. But, to me, being a “real woman” means I can recognize true happiness and self-worth whether I’m all dolled up or not. I’m not perfect: my feelings of confidence are often tied up in my looks. But I know there’s more, and I think my willingness to share this un-posed, unmade-up photo is a step in the right direction.
Being a real woman is about not only about embracing who you are and how you look, but about how you feel and what you want. For much of my childhood and adolescence I was a people-pleaser; I thought that the feelings of others were more important than my own so I kept my opinions to myself and allowed the rest of the group to determine where we’d go, what we’d watch, and of course, what we wore. It was not until I entered college in a new state, friendless and alone, that I began to accept my own wants and needs as priorities.
At this point in my life I’ve learned to be assertive—I listen to what I want, eat what I want, I don’t tan in the summer or wear ridiculous trends or see the blockbuster movies just because some magazine/celebrity/news source claims I should. And of course my strong convictions and ideas are what my husband loves about me. Being a real woman is about making the choices that are best for you, in your life, in this moment.
Above all, being a real woman is about exuding self-love and confidence—when you do that you can have the world.
Being a real woman isn’t about the outside. No matter what I look like, it’s my behavior and my spirit that define me. This is true for every woman out there. Whether I am old or young, whether I am skinny, obese, curvy, muscular or soft, tall or short or somewhere in between, I am still a woman.
when my family needs me, they can count on me.
when my friends succeed, I cheer with them.
when my friends are down, I pick them up, brush them off and encourage them to continue on bravely.
when my children cry, I kiss away their tears.
when my children laugh and are happy, or triumph over difficulty, I look on proudly and cheer louder than anyone.
when my career demands my time, I give my best effort and never give in to defeat.
when a stranger needs a hand, I help gladly.
when the “world” would knock me down, I lift my chin higher and dare it to try.
I will not pretend to be perfect. I will not shun others for their failings. I will not judge others’ beliefs or feelings. I will not make someone feel bad about themselves. I will not tell others who they should be, how they should look, what they should wear or what they should believe. For I am just a woman, like so many others and we are all wondrously made.
Me, in all my mega-sunburnt and mostly unmade-up glory.
When I sat down and began putting together this “real women” series the lyrics to Helen Reddy’s “I am Woman” kept running through my head. I didn’t want this to turn into a “I am Woman, hear me Roar” type of post, but I kept going back to these lyrics: “I am woman, I am invincible, I am strong.” The fact that media tries to sell us some idealized notion of what a “real woman” is is laughable. Being real has absolutely nothing to do with shape, size or color. Every woman on this planet is real simply because she exists. Ask me what a strong woman is and I’ll give you a different answer.
A strong woman is self-aware. She isn’t invincible as the song suggests, but knows what her strengths and weaknesses are and doesn’t apologize or make excuses for either. A strong woman has an inner strength and courage that keep her going even during the toughest of times. She feels a sense of hope when others feel only despair, yet she isn’t afraid to cry and show her vulnerability. A strong woman draws strength from her relationships but doesn’t rely solely on others for her own personal happiness. She knows happiness must come from within. A strong woman is kind, loving, and takes care of those she loves but never forgets that she is also a priority. A strong woman doesn’t tear others down, but builds them up. A strong woman doesn’t hide, nor does she flaunt, her intelligence. She isn’t afraid of risks and faces them head on. Most of all, a strong woman isn’t afraid of expressing herself and staying true to herself. She knows that her uniqueness is what makes her beautiful.
The 28 women who participated in this series are amongst the strongest women I know.
Have you shared your thoughts on this issue yet? What do you think it means to be a “real women”?