If You Haven’t Seen Real Women Have Curves, Here’s A Breakdown Of Why It’s So Important
For so many young Latinas, Real Women Have Curves was a glorious cinematic anthem of self-confidence, self-worth, and following your dreams. Although its messages of self-acceptance were lauded by women of all identities and backgrounds, it follows a young Mexican-American girl (played by the fabulous America Ferrera) on her journey to adulthood, centering on issues that affect a lot of Latinx folks to this day. Ferrera’s character, Ana García, feels like a direct representation of so many young Latina women, in particular, struggling to not only love themselves, but to receive they respect they deserve in their own country.
If you haven’t seen Real Women Have Curves, here’s a breakdown of why it’s so important.
The protagonist, 18-year-old Ana García, lives in LA with her family, who own and operate a small textile factory. Ana has big dreams of leaving her family’s tough financial situation behind in pursuit of a college education—and while Ana’s sister and father support her ambitions, her mother is resistant, insisting that Ana stay home and help keep the family afloat. Meanwhile, Ana’s high school teacher, Mr. Guzman (played by none other than George Lopez) encourages her to apply to Columbia University, despite her belief that she shouldn’t bother because her family can’t afford tuition. Yet Mr. Guzman continues to persist, even speaking directly to Ana’s family at her graduation party and urging them to let her apply to college.
Over the course of the movie, Ana is not just faced with her mother’s harsh attitude about her future, but also about her body.
After receiving constant reminders about not eating too much cake, or about being too promiscuous, Ana finally breaks, challenging her mother’s emotionally abusive behavior in what is perhaps the movie’s most famous scene.
Credit: Newmarket Films
In this scene, Ana and her fellow factory workers begin removing their clothes in an attempt to cool off. Standing there in their underwear, Ana and the other women examine each other’s bodies, comparing their “flaws”—only to realize that their bodies are not flawed at all. They display their stretch marks, their cellulite, their different shapes and silhouettes. They realize how truly natural and normal their own bodies are, and they help each other celebrate their uniqueness. When Ana’s mother throws a fit and leaves the factory complaining about her family and her employees’ shamelessness, Ana revels in this moment of rebellion, acknowledging that they are women, and this is who they truly are—real women with real curves.
At the end of the movie, Ana is faced with the inevitable and difficult decision we anticipated all along: she is accepted into Columbia University on a scholarship, and she must choose whether to stay or go. At first, her mother’s adamant opposition convinces her to stay, but she ultimately realizes that she must be true to herself, and after ensuring her father’s full support, Ana departs for her new life in New York City.
In 2002, Real Women Have Curves was monumental in its realistic portrayal of a common paradigm for Latinx folks—the pressures (and joys) of family often competing with other dreams and ambitions, as well as the pressures that US society often unfairly places on Latina women and their bodies.
Credit: Newmarket Films
And the thing is—this film is still relevant, still relatable, and still powerful. Released as an indie feature from director Patricia Cardoso, it remains an inspiring representation of female empowerment, showing the complexities of familial relationships and the importance of supporting the people close to you. It also demonstrates the importance of honoring yourself, even if the circumstances make it difficult (or nearly impossible) to do so. The messages conveyed in Real Women Have Curves are fundamental to the human experience, and will surely remain topical and relevant far into the future.
In fact, in recognition of its immense social and cultural impact, Real Women Have Curves was just added to the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry. The National Film Registry selects 25 films each year showcasing the range and diversity of American film heritage to increase awareness for its preservation. So, this is a pretty big deal.
The addition of Real Women Have Curves adds undeniable dimension and diversity to the current portfolio of films on the National Registry. In addition to this Latino indie classic, Luis Valdez’s 1981 musical, Zoot Suit, was also added this year. Valdez is considered the father of Chicano theater, and this play tells the story of the famed zoot suit riots and Sleepy Lagoon murder case that captivated Los Angeles back in the 1940s. Starring Edward James Olmos and Tyne Daley, Zoot Suit was nominated for a Golden Globe in 1982, and if you haven’t seen it, it’s definitely worth a watch.
And if you haven’t seen Real Women Have Curves in a while, now’s a good time to revisit it and remind yourself why it will remain important for decades to come!