‘OITNB’ Star Selenis Leyva Pens Op-Ed On Why Saying “Real Women” Isn’t Exactly A Compliment

Calling a member of the Orange is the New Black cast a “real woman” isn’t exactly a compliment, according to Dominican actress, Selenis Levya.

The Dominican star, who plays the fiery role of Gloria Mendoza, is sounding off on the “backhanded compliment” she feels only further perpetuates the idea that any woman who doesn’t fit into mainstream aesthetics is “other” and worse, “less than.” But more than just giving Hollywood a tongue-lashing, the 43-year-old is singing every woman’s praise with her latest editorial for the Huffington Post:

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I can’t pinpoint the exact moment that I became familiar with the term “Real Woman,” but I can say since the release and success of “Orange Is The New Black,” I hear it over and over again. Amy Schumer’s speech at the Glamour Women of the year event made me laugh out loud and also think about the feelings that surface when I hear folks refer to me and my cast mates as “Real Women.”


Its a backhanded compliment. You see, I’ve heard it used on red carpets, in interviews and in reviews, and it’s always part of describing our cast. We are being “complimented” by being told, “it’s so great to see all you women who shouldn’t be on the screen be on the screen!” We pat ourselves on the back for accepting “Real Women” and we say we “love” it, and yet, somehow, we continue to perpetuate the idea that seeing diverse women on TV is unique and not the norm — not how it should be. With all the strides we have made, we still continue to be locked in to a very close-minded way of thinking when it comes to women. We continue to see
minority women, short women, older women, curvy women and gay women as “other.” The ones described as being “Real Women” are somehow “less than.” Excuse me, have you not seen us on red carpets when we’re not playing inmates?

Question: Who are the others that don’t fall into the “Real Woman” category? Fake women? Fembots? Are they superior? And if so, why? Based on whose beauty standard? One can’t help but ask if this is a race issue. Is it based on one’s weight, size, age? Whose definition of what a woman is are we following? Who is deciding what a woman should look like in order to be considered attractive or worthy of attention? Last I checked, men and women are attracted to an array of different people…

“Orange Is The New Black” and its “groundbreaking” casting is a representation of women in general (FYI, it takes place in a prison and we are bare-faced for the most part, with added imperfections like meth teeth, unibrows and prison attire etc. Nothing glamorous, just real for
the stories being told). The show is a hit because outside of the great storytelling, it is a REAL representation of the differences that exist worldwide. Women are white, black, Latina, lesbian, short, fat, skinny, trans, etc. Who dictates what the standard of beauty should be? Beauty is different in various parts of the world. What may be beautiful to one person can be ordinary to another.

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Read on here.