The Fetishiziation Within Real Women Have Curves

Paper by Mikayla Galaviz.

Real Women Have Curves (2002) tells the coming of age story of first generation Mexican-American teenager Ana Garcia as she navigates the border between childhood and adulthood. Set in East Los Angeles, Ana has just graduated high school and is working to continue her education with the help of her teacher despite her parents wishes. The main relationship focused throughout the film is between Ana and her mother, Carmen, who are always fighting: Carmen trying to push traditional Mexican roles onto her daughter while Ana wants to grow away and become her own person. Carmen, like many Mexican mothers, is a devout Catholic, with very stern views on sexuality; Ana goes against her mother’s beliefs by starting a relationship with a classmate of hers: a white boy named Jimmy. Audiences aren’t given that much detail when it comes to the secret relationship shared between the two, and at first glance it seems like a very cute, safe relationship. Yet throughout the movie, whenever Jimmy compliments Ana or wants to get to know her more, it only revolves around her being Latina. Although it is heartwarming to see a girl who doesn’t fit the conventional beauty standards find what is deemed as love despite everything being thrown at her, a person who identifies very closely with Ana may see the potential red flags Jimmy displays. Jimmy and Ana’s relationship should not be something that plus size Latina women strive for, as he only acknowledges her for her ethnic background and size, rather than her as a person.

Latine representation in Hollywood to this day is very heavily based on stereotypes. In fact, there is very little Latine representation to come to this conclusion. Stereotypes have always driven the plot of Latine centered movies, both negative and positive. Real Women Have Curves was released the same year as another Latine centered movie: Maid in Manhattan. Then upcoming actress Jennifer Lopez portrays a maid at a luxury hotel set in New York, where she meets and falls in love with a wealthy white man. The Cinderella-inspired film was a box office success, as it ends with the main character gaining upward mobility due to her relationship with this man. Maid in Manhattan takes the very played out maid trope, which usually provides no essential plot points to many white driven stories, but diverges expectations to make her this empowered, main character. Since 2002 not much has changed for Latine representation. It is still very common to see Latinas often being portrayed as very loud, sexual, and seen as exotic; this stereotype falls under the “spicy Latina” trope. The characters in Real Women Have Curves does not fall under any negative stereotypes, as it tells a very real story that is relatable to many Latinas growing up, especially if they’re plus size, grew up in Los Angeles, or first generation. Every character feels real and honest, they remind us of people we know. But with every great example of representation comes five examples of bad representation. Representation of marginalized communities is important because it affects how others view that community, and in a world where negative stereotypes are persistent in the mainstream media, it’s important to educate others.

The scene that represents their relationship is their final scene together, where it is implied that they have sex. This doesn’t seem like something Ana is afraid of, especially because we see throughout the movie that she is very confident in her body and her sexuality. Once they’re in the bedroom, Ana is struggling to take off her shirt, and in response says “damn shirt.” Jimmy then asks how to say “damn” in Spanish, and the two laugh about it before they continue kissing. Jimmy turns off the lights and it’s expected for the scene to end here, to let the young couple have their privacy, however in the darkness we hear Ana ask to turn the light back on, so he can truly see her. The shot then opens with Ana looking at her body in the mirror and it’s probably the only time audiences see her being totally vulnerable. It’s an intimate moment where she’s looking at the thing her mother is constantly criticizing; her facial expressions show that there’s many thoughts racing through her head. In this intense stage of vulnerability, it’s the only time in the movie where we are left wondering if Ana is actually insecure about her body and that her confidence is all just a front. But the scene is interrupted, Jimmy walks up behind her, puts his arm around her body and says “que bonita,” meaning “how beautiful,” showing that he thinks she is beautiful no matter what she looks like. It’s a moment of acceptance, a feeling of finally being desired and wanted, but it’s also somewhat strange. Would Jimmy have spoken in Spanish if Ana wasn’t Latina? He has good intentions, that we know of, but one can’t help but wonder how differently Jimmy would have treated Ana if she didn’t know Spanish, or if she wasn’t curvy.

It’s interesting to see Jimmy not being able to understand the cultural differences between the two. When we see them have a conversation for the first time, Jimmy says that everything is handed to him, and we see how uncomfortable Ana is because she can’t relate to him. When they first go out to dinner he takes her to a Mexican restaurant, and points out her facial features and her “big breasts.” Ana even questions him when he tells her she has a beautiful face, as if her appearance is the only thing he likes about her. Looking deeply into their relationship it’s difficult to understand if it’s just innocent puppy love, or if Jimmy is fetishzing Ana because all he knows is the stereotypes fed to him in different forms of media. Jimmy pointed out that Ana was different specifically for her facial features and her ability to speak Spanish, both characteristics heavily tied to her ethnic background, rather than her alone as a person. When he tells Ana that she’s beautiful before they have sex, her facial expressions change into one of doubt to one of acceptance. But did Ana need the acceptance of a white boy in order to gain true confidence?

After Ana and Jimmy have sex, Jimmy talks about how he’s going to miss her and that he’s going to write letters to her while he’s in college. Ana responds and says to forget about her, and that it doesn’t matter because Jimmy is going to find a skinny girl and move on. Jimmy, though a bit hurt, accepts this and agrees to end their relationship then and there. Ana Garcia, a first generation Mexican-American, plus-sized woman at the verge of poverty, had received the attention of an upper-middle class, skinny white man, a type of person who, historically, has always been at the top of the societal pyramid. The high school they both attend is in Beverly Hills, a demographic that is mostly white; automatically Ana stands out as the Chicana from Boyle Heights. The cultural differences between Ana and Jimmy are vastly different, but Jimmy doesn’t acknowledge that; Ana does. She had always been very straightforward and open with him whenever he brought up her body type or her heritage, yet she still went along with it.

According to Sex and Health Columist for The Daily Orange Kat Sotelo, “racial fetishization, an issue inside and out of the bedroom, degrades an individual to a single identifier and suggests a notion of bodily conquest.” The issue with Jimmy only speaking Spanish in the bedroom, only further proves he sees Ana as a fantasy, not a real person. But, due to the innocent nature of Jimmy and Ana’s relationship, and Ana’s overall acceptance of it, the issue of Latina fetishization comes full circle to face the audience. Throughout history, Latine representation has always included the oversexualization of Latinas. This negative archetype tells people that Latina’s are inherently sexual, and it’s normal. Jimmy sees this, and pursues Ana, expecting her to speak Spanish to him in the bedroom and emphasizing her natural curves because that is what he has been shown in the media. Ana goes along with it, despite knowing that he only cares about her because she falls out of white normalcy. Ana’s conformity tells Latina audiences that it is okay for white men to fetishize them, if they acknowledge that they are being fetishized.

While Real Women Have Curves breaks a lot of stereotypes and gives much needed appreciation to Mexican-American families, the relationship between Ana and Jimmy unfortunately falls through. The movie portrays their relationship as a safe haven away from the problems happening with her family despite the objectification Ana goes through, knowingly or not. It’s portrayed as something Latinas should aspire for, that a thin white man is needed for full acceptance of oneself. Though, as someone who deeply identifies with Ana being plus size and Latina, two groups that grow up either being undesirable or deeply fetishized, it’s easy to understand why Ana went along with Jimmy. Growing up being seen as undesirable, fetishization, unfortunately, is the first time plus size or Latina people can feel desired. And Ana knows this, which is why she was able to fulfill those desires with Jimmy and move on from it without getting attached. How their relationship is portrayed, however, truly depends on the audience member and their own experiences.

Works Cited
“A Brief, Brutally Honest History of Latinos in Hollywood.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles
Times, 13 June 2021, /#1993.
Cardoso, Patricia, director. Real Women Have Curves. HBO Films, 2002.
Guzmán, Isabel Molina, and Angharad N. Valdivia. “Brain, Brow, and Booty: Latina Iconicity in U.S. Popular Culture.” The Communication Review, vol. 7, no. 2, 2004, pp. 205–221.,
“New Study Finds That Popular Movies Continue to Marginalize Hispanic/Latinos.” USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, 15 Sept. 2021, inue-marginalize-hispaniclatinos.
Pressler, Emily M. “Hispanic Stereotypes in Contemporary Film.” Digital Commons@Georgia Southern, PDFCoverPages.
Sotelo, Kat. “A Dive into the Degrading World of Fetishization Latinas Live In.” The Daily Orange, 27 Sept. 2017,

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