“Real Women Have Bodies” Analysis

“Real Women Have Bodies” by Carmen Maria Machado tells the story of the narrator’s fairly mundane life in a world suffering from a mysterious and widespread disease that makes women fade away.  Over time, the women stricken with this illness eventually become invisible and intangible to most people.  At the beginning of the story, the narrator works in a dress shop and hates her job.  She then falls into a relationship with Petra, the dressmaker’s daughter.  The narrator sees the intangible women for the first time in the dressmaker’s workshop, where the intangible women are placing themselves inside the dresses so that they are sewn into them.  As the narrator’s and Petra’s relationship progresses, Petra starts fading and they try to enjoy life and each other to the fullest before Petra fades entirely.  The story ends with the narrator tearing apart the dresses in the shop in an attempt to free the faded women, but they don’t listen. The narrator is quickly taken down by the mall’s security.

This story implies that general society is far too focused on materialism and outward appearance, and doesn’t see any substance in women outside of the items they attach themselves to.  This story begins and ends in a dress shop, showing that women’s obsession with using material goods to appear beautiful is central to the story.  A focus on appearance seems to be a common factor in both faded women and fading women.  The faded women want to be attached to beautiful things, like dresses and stained glass windows.  Even Petra, although she rejects the soft and feminine beauty that dresses represent, still makes her appearance to others central to her identity, which causes her to fade.  The reader’s first impression of Petra is her outfit and the surly and aloof attitude she projects to the world.  Machado is trying to communicate that society has taught women that they are invisible and nonexistent unless they dress themselves up and attach their identity to appearance or objects of beauty. 

The author also shows how some faded women are starting to fight back against this societal mindset, but it is making the general public angry because they don’t understand.  The news channel mentions, with a tone of fear and hatred, that faded women are making a statement by messing with important electronics like voting machines.  The news channel exaggerates the threat of these rebel faded women in an attempt to ensure that they are continually rejected by society.  The fading could represent many things, from getting trapped in the materialistic cultural mindset, to losing one’s outward beauty, or to being harmed or changed in a way that society chooses to ignore on a regular basis.  There are many ways to interpret why the fading happens and what it means, but it seems that the author wants to convey that women’s worth is being calculated not by what women are like and what they can do, but by the material objects they choose to associate themselves with.  Also, as shown by the sad ending of the story, even the women suffering under this system are often docile and content to live under it.

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