The Real Thing- A Rant

18 Feb

First, we had this:

Then, we had this:

And we have had everything in between, with the word “real” thrown about like a body-conscious basketball. STOP IT, STOP IT, STOP IT!!!

Now, just think about the word “real” for a second. Hold that thought.

A few years ago, I worked in LA. While out there, I went to a Hawaiian restaurant. In there was a waitress who taught the diners how to hula dance (I can now do a few steps, but usually risk taking someone’s eye out.) 😉 She was curvier than average- with a lot to shake. She was also a real woman.

When I was just beginning my modelling career, I posed with a woman who had legs the size of my arms. She barely ate, drank only hot water with sugar in it and despite it being a summer day, she sat under a blanket in between shots. I still think she had an eating disorder. Skeletal and ill-looking, yes. But she was also a real woman!

The crazy cat lady down my road is just as much a real woman as I am! So are my female friends who aren’t professional models, my female friends who are professional models (whatever size), and the woman who just walked past my window. I’m not even going to start on transgender issues- that’s a blog for someone else.

Now, somewhere along here, wires have been crossed. I have already given my opinion about clients who book clearly ill women for campaigns but I also believe that there are many different versions of ‘the perfect body.’ As long as it is healthy (whatever size) then that is what matters- and speaking from experience, I think you can be healthy at a far larger, and smaller, size than society would have us believe.
I have a 50’s figure, and trying to attain a 20’s one would involve starving myself. Someone without curves trying to get my figure may find curves appearing in the wrong places! All we can do is try to be as happy with what we look like as possible. Being proud to be curvy does not mean that I find other body types unattractive, and vice versa.

Okay, back to the word ‘real.

Last year, I did a photoshoot in which a member of the team waxed lyrical about how wonderful it was to see a “real woman of average size” modelling. I was also “relatable“ and “normal”.
It was meant kindly but I heard “you are flawed, too big to be a ‘proper’ model, and you make insecure women feel better about their flaws by showing off yours”. I felt patronised and ashamed, but I finished the photoshoot and then spent the rest of the day doubting myself.
More recently, I received an e-mail: “It is so refreshing to see a real woman modelling nude…” followed by derogatory remarks about thinner women.
And now on America’s Next Top Model All Stars, plus-sized model Julie Henderson was introduced not as ‘plus size‘, but ‘fiercely real.’

It’s okay to prefer one body type over another, but please stop bandying that word about! Remember what has happened to the word “special?” (If you don’t know English slang, “special” often refers to people with learning disabilities). Well, I can see ‘real’ going the same way. Except it’ll mean ‘average’ at best, and ‘flawed’ at worst.
As a curvy model, I understand that it is meant as a compliment, but I hear ‘average‘, and no one wants to be average. If you’re kind enough to want to pay me a compliment, find another word because I already know I’m real. So is the really thin girl, and if you don’t like her body then compliment her eyes.

End of rant.
Thank you for listening, now look at me naked. 😀

Photographer: G Haskew
Make-up: Me

It was my idea, and I called it “Rip Van Roswell” after the legend of Rip Van Winkle, who fell asleep for a thousand years. 🙂 We’d been waiting for a snowy day for months so it was so exciting to finally finish the project (though our Autumn shoot was colder as there was a nasty icy wind blowing and we had to replant half the bracken).

I’ll show you outtakes next post, and some of the other shots we took while out there…

26 Responses to “The Real Thing- A Rant”

  1. SophieHMS February 18, 2012 at 9:20 pm #

    Thank you! Can we please stop judging women of all sizes and let them be? It’s okay to be think, it’s okay to be fat, and concern-trolling is plain toxic.

    • roswellivory February 18, 2012 at 11:03 pm #

      No problem 😀 I was trying to ignore all the body image posts on FB but after hearing the word “real” get misused so much, I boiled over, lol!

      P.S. Been meaning to mail you for ages! How are you doing? *huge hugs* xxxxxxxxx

  2. David Long February 18, 2012 at 10:01 pm #

    Great post Roswell. I’ve seen both those images and many like them banded about on Facebook and rather than “helping” those they perceive to have eating disorders it just makes people feel uncomfortable either about themselves or about working with perfectly healthy and beautiful models that are seen as too skinny or too curvy.

    I do understand the reasons behind the “real” obsession though as thin models (often with further help from photoshop *cough* Ann Taylor *cough*) are set as the standard of what is beautiful on magazines and it can make many uncomfortable with what is a perfectly natural and beautiful body. I cannot blame them for being weak or impressionable as it affects not just them but how others treat them.

    However, using Real to mean average is not helping. Like you said it will become a derogatory term if it carrys on. Why would a model want to hear that she looks like any other girl on the street. Surely models are models because they are exceptional and therefore the face or body that can be seen as art or sell clothes or other products.

    Faith you are anything but average and working with you I didn’t once think of your curves as a flaw or making you less than exceptional. You are a walking, breathing piece of art and I love that you a so strong and don’t let small minded togs (whether good intentioned by calling you “real” or plain rude and calling you “fat”) keep you down.

    • roswellivory February 18, 2012 at 11:24 pm #

      Hi there,

      Thanks so much- while I do hate that there are models with eating disorders who get used for campaigns, I don’t like the assumption that all thin girls are anorexic. (Or that curvy = anything from my shape to morbidly obese).

      I do also think that it is mostly the designers who buck the trend for very thin women (agencies book the girls who are easy to market, and having watched a lot of news/modelling programmes, it is often the designers who tell models they need to lose weight.) I know many models who stay very very thin because it gets them work- not because they especially want to be that thin.

      Thanks for your lovely words about my work, and about working with me. 😀

      R xxx

  3. KathTea February 19, 2012 at 5:52 am #

    Do you follow The Lingerie Addict? She has written about this “real” debacle and I thought you might like it 🙂

    Tall, short, Caucasian, Asian, petite, busty, curvy, ruler, skinny, plus-sized, corsetted, uncorsetted, bald, long hair, WE ARE ALL REAL! Deal. With. It.


  4. Phil February 19, 2012 at 8:20 am #

    Great post. Since I’ve become a photographer, my perceptions of people have changed drastically. I was to some extent caught up in the media hype about skinny models and overweight people. In the end they are still just people and so long as they are healthy where is the problem?

    I’m part way through a great little book titled ‘How to live with a Control Freak’. It describes in detail the many different facets of how ‘some’ peoples minds work and I think a lot of these opinions about what is or is not ‘real’ or in their minds ‘acceptable’ can be ascribed to people who can only manage and justify their own lives and situations by commenting on things that are really nothing to do with them. This is usually done in a disparaging manner that makes the commentator feel better about themselves.

    • roswellivory February 20, 2012 at 10:11 am #

      For me, while I do not have a problem with the fact that most models are very thin (it’s the same with dancers) but I do have a problem with designers and agents who book models who clearly have eating disorders. That, for me, is where it becomes irresponsible.

      That sounds interesting! I’m interested in psychology and may have to get that book from the library.
      I think that as there are many models who have had eating disorders, it is frustrating for healthy women that they are not considered beautiful in the fashion world, while these girls are. (Next Top Model is my guilty pleasure and I saw this happen with confirmed anorexic Jade Sorley.)
      However, I think that “thin-shaming” has gone too far. I do think it is wrong that anorexic women are booked for fashion campaigns but there is no reason to assume that all thin women are anorexic and definitely no reason for the internet memes that are drifting around facebook.

  5. Romantic Dominant February 19, 2012 at 12:18 pm #

    I agree totally.
    And you have a magnificent figure to go with a stunning and uniquely attractive face.

  6. Louise (@HeliotropeFairy) February 19, 2012 at 6:18 pm #

    There is an over representation of thinner people in the media, but I don’t think that’s going to be changed by sinking to the level of fat haters by becoming a skinny hater. Bodies are different and that’s just the way it is and when health comes into the argument that is when things get toxic.

    It’s interesting how some people think they can just look at another person and judge whether they are healthy or not. Words like ‘anorexic’, ‘obese’ and the ever lovely ‘morbidly obese’ are often thrown at women of all shapes and sizes and the inference is that these name callers are all concerned about people’s health. I wonder if this sudden rise in psychic diagnosis will mean that doctors will no longer have to train for 7 years, after all if you can just look at someone and guess the status of their health, what’s the point in education right? The truth is you can’t look at someone and know from the size or shape of their body whether they are healthy or not, you certainly need more information than a photo.

    And re concern trolling, (faux) ‘concern’ is only focused on physical health and not mental health and a person’s right to simply be left alone and live a happy life without being called names. Perhaps concern trolls should think more about what health is and what one needs to live a happy life.

    (Good article BTW!)

    • roswellivory February 20, 2012 at 10:30 am #

      Definitely agreed- I’ve just linked in this entry to a previous blog (about the death of model Isabelle Caro) which explains my feeling about people who book anorexic people for shows, however, that does not mean that every thin person is anorexic and the level of acrimony I see on facebook is not helping anyone.

      A few years ago, I probably would have judged others on sight, but having spent time with other models (most much smaller than me, I can definitely say that the vast majority are healthy. In fact the only exception is the model mentioned in the entry.)

      I agree that the “concern” brigade aren’t helping- I think that the people who are genuinely concerned for the heaalth and wellbeing of people in these industries are actually making studies, signing petitions and contacting industry people, not posting all over facebook.

      Thanks so much for reading,

      R xxx

      p.s. if you’re interested, I also write a lot of feminism-based articles for the Mookychicks online magazine ( just search “Roswell Ivory” 🙂

    • David Long February 20, 2012 at 10:42 am #

      Excellent points Louise – there are too many self appointed opinionated Doctors that make snap judgements as they jump on the bandwagon of whatever is the prevailing opinion.

  7. HouseCat February 19, 2012 at 7:38 pm #

    I think people say “real” to try and differentiate from an aesthetic that is significantly different from their natural bodies if they didn’t work to alter it – from self-starvation to plastic surgery to extreme bodybuilding to makeup, wigs, hair-extensions, corsets and fake eye-lashes. Somehow it is seen as “bad” to try to alter your appearance. While arguments can be made against practices that have a health hazard, such as badly done plastic surgery, self-starvation and tanning beds, but I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with altering one’s appearance. I think that some practices have risks that outweigh the benefits and others look aesthetically unappealing, especially if done badly.

    Personally, I like my synthetic aesthetic, whether I’ve got white powder, fake-eyelashes, a corset and a curly red wig on or am wearing pvc, LEDs in my clothes, UV reactive neon green contact lenses and platform boots that have me towering several inches over six feet… None of those things are how I look when I’m not making the effort to (I’m 5’10, brunette, fairly pale anyway but not that pale, and have a 29 inch waist and grey eyes). I don’t despise my non-altered appearance, I just prefer the way I look once I’ve spent a couple hours getting ready as I feel like a walking work of art. I know how much of my appearance is “fake” so I’m not going to rant about girls with fake tan, blonde hair-extension, platform heels and fake-eyelashes being “fake”.

    If a person’s body in terms of shape, is not altered by surgery, it is not fake. Dieting and bodybuilding can be unhealthy in excess, but those are still that person’s real body. If people have been augmented by plastic surgery, those parts can be called “fake” in terms of not being natural. “Real” is not the right choice of words – “natural” is. I think the term “real” comes from the idea that the average woman is not like a mainstream fashion model and that the images are very artificial, with professional photography, lighting to highlight the figure, women who are thinner and taller than average and probably a dose of photoshop on top of all that. It seems very silly to think that the PEOPLE involved aren’t real – sure they are!

    • roswellivory February 20, 2012 at 10:45 am #

      That’s how I define “real”- someone who does not have a lot of modifications (i.e. my hair is real but my nails are not). Jusst went to your blog- nice outfit/hair! 😀

      Definitely agreed- there is often a lot of fakery involved in photos, but not always. And that doesn’t just apply to modelling- photos of fruit for Marks and Spencer are shopped to make the fruit brighter and juicier looking! 🙂


  8. Alex February 20, 2012 at 3:41 pm #

    A long time ago I suffered from anorexia. I no longer do and have not done in years.
    I was as real back then as I am now, only ill.

    • roswellivory February 21, 2012 at 12:46 am #

      I’m so glad you’re okay now! And yep, we’re all real no matter what our size and shape 🙂

  9. Bob Johnson February 22, 2012 at 3:02 pm #

    I love your rant. Sometimes us bloggers do our best work when Passion flows and Emotions take over. FYI – I think all women are beautiful!

    • roswellivory February 22, 2012 at 6:24 pm #

      Lol! Thanks. I try not to rant too much, but sometimes it’s fun. My last one (“I see Rude People” was ages ago!)

      R xx

  10. Dave February 22, 2012 at 9:32 pm #

    The problem I think about the over-use of the ‘real’ tag came about from the media obsession with showcasing photos of women where there was serious amounts of post-production work. I’m thinking of the documentary made a few years ago by Dawn Porter (I think it was called Dawn Gets Naked) where she was trying to show just what modern takes on what is the feminine norm, If you haven’t seen it I highly recommend it as it is right along the topic you mention here. In it, she actually posed for some glamour shots and the amount of processing work done was incredible. She is already a beautiful woman with ‘real’ everyday looks. But they changed it so much to fit the image of a glossy magazine (changed her jaw line, removed a curve or two from her cheeks – that sort of thing) that she looked completely different. The ironic thing is that most people thought her original photo looked so much better as it was her and not some sort of fantasy take on what she might look like.

    So the idea of a ‘real’ woman photo came about from this sort of backlash from the media’s attempt to normalise a look and a style that is far from normal. Since then it has been morphed into the comments that you have mentioned here. “Real women aren’t skinny etc etc etc” Not to mention that everyone has a different idea in their own heads as to what constitutes a beautiful figure and a beautiful face. To be told that one style only is the only ‘acceptable’ one is just plain insulting. My personal idea does tend to go towards the “slim/athletic with curves” style. It is one of the reasons why I find your modeling so good as to me you fit what I find a beautiful woman looks like. But it is also so much more than that. The fact that you know how to pose to make the image interesting is just as important. I also appreciate art of women who do not automatically fall into the slim-with-curves category as I know that there is a huge variety in the human race and all have the capability of looking great. So just because someone isn’t in that category does not make them any less real than anyone else – unless of course the photos have been so digitally modified as to completely change the original look. Then it isn’t real. That to me is what the definition should be and not based on how big/curved/skinny someone is.

    Anyway, enough of my rant – but as you started the rant I felt that I could get away with joining in with it 🙂

    • roswellivory February 24, 2012 at 4:34 pm #

      Hi there,

      Thanks- I know what you mean but sadly I cannot stand Dawwn Porter and change channel when she’s on TV, lol! 🙂 The Dove advert shows a very similar thing- the changing of a woman’s face in photoshop. It doesn’t happen very often now but I used to have photographers change the shape of my nose in photoshop quite a bit and it drove me mad. I could never use the photos as it isn’t an accurate representation of my look.

      Lol! It’s okay- you can rant! 😀
      I happen to agree- I love a lot of my own photos, but then I can also see why most art models are very petite because they can get away with different poses to the ones I can. I love seeing the work of people with different looks to me as it’s alwways interesting! It would be boring with no surprises if everyone was the same shape (we’d run out of poses, for one thing!)

      R xx


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