Recently, our colleague D. Trull kindly brought to our attention a film titled Spanglish
(2004), which includes a profound statement about the suppression of timeless beauty.
Like several other recent films, Spanglish
dramatizes conflicts between Hispanic and "Anglo" cultures, respectively personified in this case by a Mexican immigrant maid and her WASPish employer (played by a haggard-looking Tea Leoni), along with their two daughters.
The film's most moving sequence shows the Tea Leoni character (an androgynized, exercise-torture devotee) humiliating her young plus-size daughter about her weight. We will not reveal the nature of the humiliation here, except to say that it involves the kind of emotional sadism that heartless mothers justify to themselves with that inhuman rationalization, "It's for 'her own good.'"
The humiliation scene infuriates the Hispanic maid, who thereupon proceeds to bring home an especially generous helping of pastries for her own daughter, Cristina.
The film unquestionably means for the audience to "side" with the maid's reaction, and to reject the cruelty of the Leoni character.
But more importantly, the drama of the film plays out against the backdrop of Cristina's voice-over narration, which is presented as the text of her admissions essay to Princeton University (ostensibly submitted many years after the events portrayed in Spanglish, as Cristina is 13 for the duration of the film). And in conjunction with the sequence described above, Cristina's voice-over narration states,
There is one particular cultural difference which I wish to explore academically at Princeton. 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.
Perhaps no film has ever featured as size-celebratory a statement as this. Not only does it emphasize a preference for full-figured femininity over "dieting, exercizing" artificiality, but it acknowledges "being curvaceous" as an essentially womanly trait. And the revelation of an innately feminine "desire" (with all of that word's connotations) for the comfort of fullness has many layers of meaning, all positive--e.g., the comfort of acquiring fullness, and of possessing and retaining (or even augmenting) fullness. Women speak of "comfort foods"--and why should this phrase be burdened with any negative connotations? Why shouldn't this notion instead be an entirely positive one?
And perhaps most daringly, the above statement equates the pleasures of food with those of motherhood and procreation as "all that is best in life"--for certainly, traditional motherhood, like the innately feminine craving for food, has been unjustly maligned in the past century, with the results being needless misery and suffering for several generations of women.
The rest of Spanglish will appeal to some more than others, depending on their taste for character dramas. But kudos to writer/director James L. Brooks for including such an affirmative and far-sighted statement in his film.
Yanderis (now with Heffner Management, as well as Dorothy Combs Models and Click NY), size 14; who, by welcoming "the comfort of fullness," is enjoying "all that is best in life":