Real Women Have Curves

by Josefina López
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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1005

The Experiences of Latina Immigrants

Set in the late 1980s, Josefina López’s play Real Women Have Curves focuses on the experiences of Latina immigrants in the United States and depicts their daily struggles to thrive and provide for their families. The story is based on López’s own experiences as a young woman growing up in Los Angeles. She describes how many undocumented Latina immigrants live in constant fear that the immigration authorities will eventually deport them back to Mexico.

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CARMEN: ¡La migra! (All the WOMEN scatter and hide waiting to be discovered. Then after a few seconds PANCHA makes a realization.)
PANCHA: Pero, why are we hiding? We’re all legal now.
CARMEN: ¡Ayy, de veras! I forget! All those years of being an illegal, I still can’t get used to it.
PANCHA: Me too! (She picks up a piece of bread.) I think I just lost my appetite.
ROSALI: I’m not scared of it! I used to work in factories and whenever they did a raid, I’d always sneak out through the bathroom window, y ya.
ANA: Last night I heard on the news that la migra patrol is planning to raid a lot of places.
PANCHA: They’re going to get mean trying to enforce that Amnesty law.

Lopez examines how many Mexican Americans struggle to make ends meet, often working long hours just to be able to put food on the table. The play’s central characters work in a small sewing factory, where they rush to finish all of the clothes on time so that they can pay their loans and bills. The protagonist, Ana, who is the youngest in the group, decides to use her experiences in the factory to write a compelling essay and pursue her dreams of becoming a successful author. Thus, the pursuit of happiness is one of the sub-themes of the play. In the opening scene of the play, Ana writes in her diary, revealing her thoughts about her current situation:

I just graduated from high school… Most of my friends are in college… it’s as if I’m going backwards. I’m doing the work that mostly illegal aliens do… (Scratches “illegal aliens.”) No, “undocumented workers”… or else it sounds like these people come from Mars… Soon I will have my “Temporary Residence Card,” then after two years, my green card… I’m happy to finally be legal, but I thought things would be different… What I really want to do is write…

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Body Image and Self-esteem

Another major theme of the play is the discrepancy between one’s body and the cosmetic standards of one’s society. Many of the play’s characters have “curves” and often feel shame as a result. López shows how American women, especially young women, are pressured to accept society’s beauty standards. They are encouraged to suppress the idea that they should embrace themselves and their bodies. López describes her characters’ struggles collectively while also attending to their individual differences. For instance, Rosali is constantly dieting, which is why she is thinner than the other women, but she nonetheless struggles with low self-esteem. Carmen, the oldest of the group, never misses a chance to speak her mind and often makes comments on her daughters’ bodies. She calls them “fat,” even though she is chubby herself, and reminds them that being thin is the only way to be considered attractive and desirable. The following exchange reveals Carmen’s attitudes towards her own body and that of her daughter Ana:

CARMEN: A-ha… It’s true, those Japanese women are always skinny. Pues, give me your secret, Rosali. Maybe this way I can lose this ball of fat! (She squeezes her stomach.) No mas mira que paresco. You can’t even see my waist anymore. But you know what it really is. It’s just water. After having so many babies I just stopped getting rid of the water. It’s as if I’m clogged. (ROSALI and ANA laugh.)
ROSALI: Si, Doña Carmen.
ANA: Yeah, sure, Amá!
CARMEN: Y tu? Why do you laugh? You’re getting there yourself. When I was your age I wasn’t as fat as you. And look at your chichis… (Grabs ANA’S breasts as if weighing them.) They must weigh five pounds each.

Compared to Carmen, Ana is confident and comfortable about her body, and she manages to convince the group that being curvaceous is a source of pride, not shame. She encourages everyone to proudly prove that real women come in all shapes and sizes. Thus, López’s play encourages readers and audience members to reconsider the meaning of physical beauty and, if necessary, to question the cosmetic values of their societies.

Feminism, Traditional Values, and Self-Determination

López’s play touches upon feminism and the power and position of women in society. Ana embraces her femininity and acknowledges her power. She refuses to listen to her mother and all of those who tell her that she should be obedient and honor the traditional values and roles set forth by Mexican culture. This means that she chooses not to focus on finding a husband and becoming a mother—which, according to the majority of her colleagues and her mother, are the only things that determine a woman’s value. Rather, she chooses to focus on her education and career.

Carmen, despite her harsh words and blunt demeanor, wants what’s best for her children. She may criticize Ana’s choices, but she does this because she doesn’t want her daughter to suffer. Carmen knows that the socioeconomic position of Mexican-American women is far from ideal. She feels that Ana’s opportunities for education and work will be limited. Thus, she tries to persuade her daughter to find a good husband and be a good wife instead of pursuing a more independent life. In the end, Ana decides to stay true to her convictions, and she enrolls in Columbia University.

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