Friday, April 25, 2008

L. Jayne: Real Women Have Curves: An Illustration of Third Wave Feminist Agenda

America Ferrera may be recognized by many for her role in the prime-time sitcom Ugly Betty, however, before this debut that led her to television stardom, Ferrera stared in the movie Real Women Have Curves. Ferrera portrayed the character of Ana, a teenager who struggles to establish and maintain her own independence and self image as a Latina-American growing up in East Los Angeles. Ana struggles with typical teenage issues in her last summer before college, however, her struggles are compiled by her individual struggle as a young woman with feminist ideals in a culture rooted with patriarchal tradition. Through a feminist Third-Wave perspective, Real Women Have Curves illuminates the struggles often faced by young Latina-American women in the United States; illustrating the conflict among the family when pursuing higher education, the pressure to be married, familial and societal tensions about relationships and sexual activity, and the dominant ever-present issue of body image.

Pursuing education is a reoccurring theme in the film. Ana is a self motivated and determined student. She takes a combination of city buses to get to school everyday. Her high school is known for it's high quality education and is very selective. Throughout the film, Ana's neighborhood is portrayed to be populated with people of lower socioeconomic status. It is never clearly stated in the film that the local school districts are inadequate, but one must assume this in order to understand the measures which Ana takes to arrive at school each day.

In addition to her strong motivation for doing well in high school, Ana was motivated to pursue a college education. With the mentoring and motivation of her instructor, Ana completes her college applications and is accepted to Columbia University on a full scholarship. One assumes that to many parents this would be a dream come true, however Ana does not receive this same approval from her own parents. The film portrays the parents to be aloof and relatively unconcerned with their daughter's education. Ana's mother is convinced that she can teach her daughter all she needs to know in order to have a successful life, more specifically a satisfied husband and family. Ana's father is proud of his daughter's ability, but does not want to see his family separated by the distance between Los Angeles and New York. These concerns and expectations that Ana's parents hold for their daughter are not uncommon within the Latino community. They also should not be confused with disinterest in their child's education. Researchers and scholars urge that in order to have a more educated and diverse society, there must be an understanding to the cultural logic of the parent's decision making (Auerbach, p 1).

“The cultural schema of educacion has a powerful impact on how Latino immigrant parents participate in their children's education. This broad term encompasses moral training, based in the home, as well as academic training, based in the school, with the former a condition for the latter. (The) Parents' role is to provide the strong moral foundation, without which school learning is seen as impossible or irrelevant. A child who is bien educado/a (well-educated/well-mannered) is a good person with correct behavior and a respectful manner (respeto) who follows the beun camino (right path) in life, including doing well in school. With this schema, it is not surprising that many immigrant parents see their role primarily as educational motivators and encouragers (sic) (Auerbach, p 4).

Ana's mother attempts to use her family as leverage to keep Ana at home, and educate Ana in a tradition that, in her mother's eyes, is completely satisfactory. Ana's internal conflict with this decision, the conflict with her parents, and her ultimate decision to attend Columbia University exemplify the amazing weight and importance that education has as a Third Wave agenda for the feminist community.

In the eyes of Ana's mother, a college education is not the top priority and she is determined to make this clear to her daughter. Throughout the film, Ana's mother is displayed as a character that fits the stereotype that Americans hold of Latina women. She is uneducated, prideful, and stubborn. She holds a true concern for the well being of her children, though this may be misunderstood as controlling and overbearing behavior. Ana's mother has a strong desire to see both of her daughter's married for several reasons. With her own experience, she feels this is the best situation for her children. Her culture is deeply rooted in a patriarchal tradition. Women are meant to care for the home and family, her concern for her daughters is an expression of her fulfilling her expected role as a woman and a mother. Mother's are expected to raise good daughters that will make good wives. A college education is secondary, and not necessary to the mindset of Ana's mother. Ana's mother has grave concern for her daughter's desire to become educated. Her mother has developed an opinion, from her own life experience, that educated women struggle to find husbands. These ideas are only reinforced by the novellas (soap operas) avidly viewed by the family. If a woman desires to marry, she must be a virgin, uneducated, fit the beauty standard, and most importantly, listen to the words of her mother. However, Ana's mother's opinions also serve to reflect the tension in blending first generation immigrant culture with that of American society and expectations of American Third-Wave feminists. Research shows that, “as the days of households headed by a single breadwinner have faded into the past, a potential spouse's education and earning potential have become more attractive”(Rabovsky, p 11). Ana embodies this American Third-Wave mindset despite the fact that it is in a staunchly clear contrast to the advice and lessons of her mother. Many times her mother's advice only serves to promote the continuance of the established system of patriarchy and discrimination that Ana desperately desires to escape.

If Ana's mother did not have enough objections to the trends of American society and their influence on her daughter, sexual liberation is yet another to add to the list. Sex and the pressure to be sexually active has become a daily presence in American pop culture. Media and pop culture display sexual images and sexual stereotypes whenever given the opportunity, mainly as a way to create profit. However the media must realize with the benefit of monetary profit comes the responsibility of accepting and understanding that they are partially responsible for a sexually confused American youth. Images of teenagers engaging in sexual activity can be found anywhere, from television to clothing adds. Parents, doctors, and schools stress attempt to express opposing messages. With schools now encouraging abstinence rather than education, parents and public health officials are left with a heavier burden of educating sexually active young people about the risks and consequences that can arise from sexual activity. Some may see Ana's first sexual experiences as a reflection of this confused culture. However, a third wave feminist perspective may see that Ana's decision to become sexually active is a symbol of reclaiming her own power. Ana's family situation, gender and age constantly pin her in
situations where she is told what to do. To become sexually active is her own choice, and is an act of reclaiming her sexual freedom in a positive light. In her cultural traditions, she has committed a horrible taboo, she lost her virginity before her wedding night. However, Ana shows no sign of regretting her decision, rather she finds the courage to stand up to her mother. Ana's actions reiterate the opinion among some Third-Wave feminists that, “younger women insisted that...liberating themselves sexually was their generation's way of resisting patriarchal culture” (Siegel, p 148).

Several times throughout the film Ana is confronted by her mother with damaging and self limiting phrases of “If you just lost some weight...”, or “You're so pretty but...”(Caroso). For girls, their teenage years are formative in constructing their self image. With the pressures of media and pop culture, unrealistic body images are continually reinforced to the point that they become destructive to a girl's developing attitude. This effect is only complicated when a young girl is attempting to process two conflicting cultures with two conflicting attitudes of beauty. “Although cross-cultural comparisons of body image outcomes are limited in their ability to illuminate the mechanisms of Latina body image development, this literature clearly indicates that body image is a real concern for Latina adolescents” (Schooler, p 134). Studies have shown that Latina girls struggle with an added bi-cultural element of conflict for their body image.

“Contextualizing Latina girls' body image development requires an appreciation of these two sets of values and an understanding of the process by which Latina girls traverse the borders between them. Girls who are more acculturated into mainstream American culture may be more likely to endorse the dominant thin ideal; because this ideal is unattainable to nearly all girls, regardless of ethnicity, these girls may feel worse about their own bodies than girls who are less acculturated and who endorse a Latino/a body ideal” (Schooler, p 136).

While the scope of this class focused on the White ideal of beauty, studies have demonstrated that Latina girls stand at a crossroads of beauty: the White standard of beauty, and the more flexible Black standards of beauty. “Frequent viewing of mainstream television was associated with decreases in body image across adolescence. Frequent viewing of Black-oriented television was associated with greater body satisfaction...” ( Schooler, p 133).

Body image and satisfaction typically are huge factors in the mindset and attitudes of many female teenagers. A negative body image can hinder a young woman's progress in life. Ana embraces Third Wave thinking and overcomes any qualms she may have with her body image and encourages her friends to do the same.

Ana's character is unique because she continually rises to meet every challenge she faces within a patriarchal Latino and American society. The fact that Ana rises to face every challenge gives her character a sense of omnipotent depth. Ana seems almost super-human in her ability to shake off the influences of patriarchy from her everyday life. Ana's character, as a result of these abilities, takes on a stronger influence as a symbol of Third Wave feminist ideology. Despite the many challenges she faces, she creates her own options; which results in her working for and creating her own equality. The movie, Real Women Have Curves, serves as a consciousness raising effort for Third Wave feminist agenda as well as a motivator for young girls that face some, if not all, of Ana's challenges to aspire for equality and opportunity.

Works Cited

Auerbach, Susan. “'If the Student is Good, Let Him Fly'; Moral Support for College Among Latino Immigrant Parents.” Journal of Latinos and Education (2006) 275-292.

Ferrera, America, perf. Real Women Have Curves. Dir. Patricia Caroso. HBO Films, 2002.

NEA Today, "Smarties Get Hitched." National Education Association March 2005 11. 20 April 2008.

Peterson, Rachel D., Grippo, Karen P., Stacey, Tantleff-Dunn. "Empowerment and Powerlessness: A Closer Look at the Relationship Between Feminism, Body Image and Eating Disturbance." Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 10 January 2008 639-649. 20 April 2008.

Schooler, Deborah. "Real Women Have Curves: A Longitudinal Investigation of TV and the Body Image Development of Latina Adolescents." Journal of Adolescent Research (2008) 132-154. 20 April 2008 <>.

Siegel, Deborah. “Sisterhood, Interrupted From Radical Women to Grrls Gone Wild”. Palgrave Macmillan. 140-148.

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