I vividly remember the day I watched the 2002 film adaptation of Josefina López’s play Real Women Have Curves. I saw a part of myself I’ve never seen on screen. I saw my mother, my family, and community, our traditions and customs, and most importantly, I saw me. I saw a Latina with a “normal, realistic” body experiencing love, sex, and self-empowerment. America Ferrera’s Ana Garcia is a Mexican American whose low-income family lives in East Los Angeles. Her family, culture, and tradition have dictated her life and now her future. However, this dynamic character knows she can do and be more!
Too often, we see white, skinny women as the protagonists of our favorite television and film narratives. As an avid media consumer, I reached a point where even my dreams were filled with more white people than Sienfield! Can you blame me? My favorite shows are Friends, Charmed, and Sex and the City. Even my favorite animated stories like The Powerpuff Girls and Sailor Moon are predominately white, fit, women-driven. Sure I understand that actresses need to maintain a tight physique, but these stories leave out other women. They perpetuated the myth that to have happiness, be “bad-ass,” “get the guy,” and have this adventure of a lifetime, one must also be white, and fit. Everyone else is a sidekick or completely invisible. Confident, powerful, romantic, and exciting lives are only reserved for a particular looking woman, and that was not me! Growing up, the most memorable empowering young women that gave girls like me a complex story were Raven from That So Raven, and the chicas from Gotta Kick it Up! Both on the Disney Channel, these narratives gave me the chance to dream in color!
I’m glad that my younger family members and students have a chance to see all kinds of bodies on tv and film. These constructed narratives and the actresses portraying these characters are now going against the edited and unrealistic body shapes we see on social media. We can’t underestimate the power characters like Mindy from the Mindy Project and Becky (Gabrielle Sidibe) from Empire, have on young women who feel they don’t fit in the box labeled Western Standard of Beauty. Characters like Ruby (Retta) on Good Girls, Annie (Aidy Bryant) on Shrill, and Katie (Katy Mixon) on American House Wife are some examples of characters with lives outside of their “full bodies.” They demonstrate the everyBODY is worthy of love, adventure, friendships, and financial success.
In 2017 TNT premiered Claws, produced by Rashida Jones, starting Neicey Nash and Judy Reyes, among others. The cast is not just diverse in culture and race, but body size. Each woman is given a multidimensional personality and complex story, and no, it does not revolve around her losing weight! The ladies of the Nail Artisans salon of Manatee County, Florida, are not the sassy, chubby, best friend who is only there to bring contrast too and advance the skinny white girl’s story line.
The women in these stories are not here to promote obesity, unhealthy lifestyles, nor weight gain. They are here to bring a more balanced and diverse view of the female bodies we see every day.