Real Women Have Curves is about Ana, who recently turned eighteen, and is the daughter of first generation Latin immigrants. While she’s managed to finish high school at an elite Beverly Hills institution, her mother has signed her up for a bleak summer working at her sister’s garment factory, where they put together beautiful clothes they’ll never be able to afford once it hits the stores. Ana refuses to believe that this is going to be her life, and takes on her English teacher’s offer to help her get into college at Columbia University. She has also sneaking out to dates with Jimmy, who happens to be white, but also steadfastly says that no, Ana’s not fat, but beautiful. This little romance is a little bit too textbook progressive feminist: Ana slips into a drugstore to buy a cigar for her abuelo, then asks for condoms; she goes home with Jimmy and tells him, it’s okay, she’s ready, and later, without hint of remorse and wailing, they say goodbye because they’re going off to college. The day after Ana sleeps with Jimmy, her mother sees her examining herself in the mirror. Immediately, they have this huge argument. Here is Old World vs New World: Ana’s feistiness and refusal to be contained in her mother’s ideas of how a (Latina) woman should behave, the mother hindering her own daughter’s education because she wants to preserve the family. Surprisingly, it is the father who finally convinces the mother to let Ana go. On the day Ana was to leave for New York, the mother did not see her off. Nevertheless, when we next see Ana emerging from the subway station, she has a smile on her face, and we know that everything’s going to be okay.
The movie reminds me somehow of Spanglish, which I finally got to see video. The same device was used as bookends: of a Latina girl gaining admission to an elite college. In Spanglish, it was the contents of the girl’s application essay that we hear: how her mother did everything she could to give her the good life in this new land. Again, it was a tug of war, surrending a few things from the Old World to acquire more acceptance into this New World. Both stories featured a mother-daughter relationship. In Spanglish, the pair leaned on the slim and exotic side, and it was the American daughter who waged a war with the bulge.
The females in Real Women are as real as you can go. There’s a scene where the heat in the factory lead the women to take off their clothes, displaying girdles and granny panties, cellulite and stress marks. The daughter in Spanglish was played out as an innocent fawn, and her mother was also more yielding, gifted with this mysterious way of understanding even without words—a quality that their counterparts in Real Women Have Curves sort of lack. It was forever skirting the danger of having characters you wouldn’t really like: too harsh, too passive, too loud, too curvy. It’s interesting to note that when the filmmakers put out a casting call for girls who are either “fat” or “overweight.” Most of the girls who came to audition didn’t have too much meat on their bones, and yet believed they should lose weight. America Ferrera, who finally got the part, delivered a quite remarkable debut performance. Her Ana knew what she wanted and would do everything to get there. She was walking a very thin line. Nevertheless, it just goes with the unapologetic stance it has taken from the start. Real Women Have Curves. Either you deal with it or not.