Although no one’s experience is identical to another, I think we can all agree that growing up is hella weird. And sometimes sad, embarrassing, and confusing. But in looking back upon the saddest, most embarrassing, and most confusing times, you realize that these once Earth-shattering moments are really just blips in a life that came to be full of all sorts of sad, embarrassing and confusing things (plus some good stuff too). When you’re a grown-up, or at least a little closer to becoming one, it’s hard to remember how you felt when you realized that your days of playing with Barbies and drinking Kool-Aid with your friends after school were numbered – or in other words, that you too were on your way to becoming one of them (i.e., an adult). Lucky for us old folks, director Natalie Neal’s new film Seashells captures those feelings perfectly – and carries a pretty good feminist message, too.
Seashells tells the story of Valentina, a fourth-grader who is suddenly forced to grapple with one of the first milestones of puberty: wearing a training bra. Although it’s really not that big of a deal – the protagonist isn’t a pre-teen with Kim Kardashian boobs or anything – Valentina’s first grapple with growing up reminds us of how powerless and afraid we all once felt when we were on the cusp of teenagerdom. And although the story itself is timeless, Seashells includes plenty of tasteful nods to 90’s kid favorites. From Lisa Frank to the Spice Girls to cassette tapes and VCRs, the film is full of little details that will surely remind you of your own childhood.
So what does Valentina’s story have to do with feminism? Director Natalie Neal says that Seashells was inspired by her thoughts on the way that society views women’s bodies as they change, and the “emotional development” that accompanies such changes. Although the emotions expressed in Seashells are just as relevant to boys (swap the growing boobs for first armpit hairs or a deepening voice), the embarrassment Valentina initially feels about having to wear a bra is particularly poignant for all the women out there who’ve been made to feel ashamed about something we can’t exactly help – our bodies.
Since much of the film is dialogue-free, the ending of Seashells is kind of up to the viewer to interpret. Is it a happy one? I think so. I won’t say too much, but in the end, I think that Valentina finds something to be excited about in her brave new world of bra wearing. I think it’s maybe a teeny-tiny metaphor for body acceptance. It’s also pretty cute. Really, the whole film is just as cute as it is thought-provoking. But most of all, it’s relatable. Like the great Richard Linklater film Boyhood, Seashells focuses on the small, seemingly insignificant moments that we’ve all experienced, but may have forgotten about as the years have passed. All in all, it’s a beautiful little film that’s totally worth a watch.