OMG, I am so tired of the ubiquitous exhortations to be a “real” something or other.

We are all familiar with “real” parents, particularly real mothers, who are distinguished from their unreal counterparts by breastfeeding, never allowing screentime, doing crafty things, always being there, feeding their children quinoa/ragi, never using a disposable diaper, possibly homeschooling. I think.

Then, we have the ‘real’ women who are those that presumably have curves (never call it fat) and don’t wear obvious make-up. The thin are immediately consigned to the ‘unreal’ because ,you know, they’re barely there anyway and also they make us ‘real’ ones insecure. And the ‘real’ men who still open doors and pay for dinner and wear well-cut suits, disregarding those rabid feminists (never mind that feminists are probably likely to rush through the door with a backward nod to whatever important discussion they are off to instead of battling over custody of door-opening).

Then, there’s ‘real’ food, which apparently does not contain chemicals (except that everything is actually chemicals only, ‘organic’ after all are compounds that contain carbon ha!), Let us all forget that food with no preservatives, grown near you, sans pesticides etc is expensive because it lacks economy of scale and cooking takes time and many people, especially people with lower incomes, do not have the luxury of that, but how can that be, because the poor especially the rural poor lead exactly the simple lives we ‘real’ people aspire to, except without the backbreaking labour and lack of infrastructure and maternal and infant mortality stuff of course.

And now, there’s ‘real’ travel, which is about immersing oneself authentically in local culture as opposed to being tourist, except lest face it, if your immersion is shortlived you’re a tourist no matter how much you try to distinguish yourself from chattering hordes and your hosts probably find you as annoying as anyone else.

Can we just recognize that this ‘real’ is a subjective category, a fetishized one of our own making, and as nouveau, pretentious and exclusionary as any other category? You know what’s real? Everyone and everything that exists as they exist. In as much as real can exist anyway.