What makes a woman "real"?

Well, nudity, for one. The rest is up for debate

Published January 6, 2010 10:37PM (EST)

Another day, another woman posing nude and unairbrushed in defense of "real" women everywhere. When a poll by Australian Marie Claire found that a scant few of the magazine's readers were happy with their bodies, editor Jackie Frank decided to have a woman bare all her "little lumps and bumps and creases" in an unretouched photospread for the February issue. But the alleged flaws on the slender model's frame are utterly unrecognizable to most anyone outside the alternate world of high fashion. And the woman chosen to grace the cover? Jennifer Hawkins, Miss Universe 2004. I'm not making this up.

It's not surprising that the photos have garnered criticism, considering the way the magazine framed this as a subversive stunt -- but, get this, the chief critic is a fleshy woman who also recently posed nude for Australia's Madison magazine to -- whaddaya know -- help everyday women feel good in their skin. "She was born beautiful," says size 14 radio host Bianca Dye. "She has not had to go through any stress to look like that." That kind of makes it sound like you have to feel bad in your skin to make other women feel good in theirs.

Broadsheet readers well know that these are just the latest examples of magazine spreads ostensibly meant to boost women's body image. V Magazine hosted a "fashion face-off" last month between a traditional and plus-size model to see who looked better and more recently previewed shots from its upcoming "Curves Ahead" spread, which features larger women naked and in various states of undress. And who can forget the attention Glamour courted after publishing a photo of plus-size model Lizzi Miller in a g-string, or the magazine's follow-up photoshoot featuring a whole slew of voluptuous models, also naked.

In response to all these uncovered curves, Feministing asked: "Why do 'real' models always have to be naked models?" My question is: Do "real" women really need to take off their clothes to show other "real" women what "real" women look like? Don't get me wrong, I am all for seeing a variety of body types represented in women's magazines, naked or otherwise; I loathe severe airbrushing and love challenges to fashion's status quo. But just how great of a challenge is it when the battle is still over what a "real" woman looks like?

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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