"American women, I believe actually feel the same as Hispanic women about weight. A desire for the comfort of fullness. And when that desire is suppressed for style and deprivation allowed to rule, dieting, exercising American women become afraid of everything associated with being curvaceous such as wantonness, lustfulness, sex, food, motherhood. All that is best in life." -- from Spanglish.
Recently, I viewed the movie, Spanglish ,in which the young Mexican-American girl narrating the film describes this particularly succinct observation of the female body image. This voiceover related a theme in the storyline of a Mexican immigrant, Flor Morena, and her relationship with the women in the white American family for which she is a nanny and housekeeper. Flor is shown secretly altering clothes purchased for the slightly overweight daughter in the family, Bernice. The young girl's mother, Deborah Clasky, buys clothes for her daughter in a size she knows Bernice cannot fit. Her hope is that the clothes will motivate the girl to lose weight. She tells her daughter encouragingly, "You are gonna do it and you are gonna look beautiful!"
Understandably, Deborah's "support" is not viewed so innocuously and is exposed as the ruse that it is. In an attempt to boost Bernice's self esteem, Flor takes out the seams of the clothes and encourages the girl to, "Just try it on!" This act endears Flor to the daughter and sets her in the role of the mirror that the young girl needs to see -- one that reflects her beauty as it is, not as it might be.
Physically, Deborah Clasky is a typical portrait of new American motherhood. A successful and prestigious mother of two whose body is toned to a sculpted perfection by intensive yoga and morning jogs that involve a competitive screaming of "Left!" as she passes her fellow joggers.
Deborah represents the image of what we have recently become familiar with as the image of mother via the trend of Hollywood's mothers. Tabloid magazines splay photos of American celebrities in svelte gowns and tailored pants just weeks after they have given birth. The headlines tantalize readers with secrets for how they, too, can have postpartum perfection. They display these women as proof that they can have their cake, eat it, and look like they have not.
It seems to me that now, it is not just that women suppress their desires for "everything associated with being curvaceous." Now, women indulge in their objects of desire, but maintain the physicality of one who denies indulgent pleasures. Notedly, certain shapeliness has entered into the modern image of womanhood due to the influence of the famous rear ends of Jennifer Lopez and Beyonce. And, of course, large breasts have always been de rigueur. However, these curves are always balanced by the omnipresent taut belly -- a potent symbol of discipline and denial.
There will always be unnecessary demands on women to obtain certain body representations. Certainly, it is healthier for the body and mind to be fit and trim. However, it is a sad state when what women are working to achieve is not a healthy body to accomplish their work as mothers, but as a means to represent a woman who looks like she never gave birth.