The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is one of those films that invokes memories of summer and makes you feel like you’re a teenager again. Based on the young adult novel by author Ann Brashares, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants was released in 2005, and it enchanted audiences with the story of four teenage girls and their incredible bond.
Friends since birth, Carmen, Tibby, Lena, and Bridget — played by America Ferrera, Amber Tamblyn, Alexis Bledel, and Blake Lively, respectively — are about to be separated for the first summer in their 16 years of life. To keep their bond strong, they take turns wearing a pair of jeans that magically fits all of them, despite their different body types. By sending the jeans to one other throughout the summer, the girls not only cement their sisterhood but also forge a story that’s magical even to adult viewers. Of course, watching The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants as an adult means that certain things jump out that might not be so noticeable to kids and teens.
Exactly how do these pants work?
The entire premise of the movie is based on the magic of the pants. Found in a thrift store, the blue jeans somehow fit Bridget, Lena, Carmen, and Tibby even though they all have different body types. While they acknowledge that it’s "scientifically impossible" for the jeans to fit all four of them, they aren’t looking this gift horse in the mouth. They quickly decide to share the pants to keep them connected over the summer.
While we can get on board with the idea that the pants are magic, it would be nice to know just how they got their powers. Did they spend some time in a magic lamp? Did a witch cast a spell on them? Was some fairy godmother lurking in a corner waiting for the girls to find the pants? This is never answered, and it’s made even stranger by the fact that there are no other supernatural elements in the movie other than the pants. Are there other magical artifacts in the universe of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants or are these jeans it?
Carmen’s friends need to be more supportive
Is it just us or are Carmen’s friends kind of lacking in empathy? When Carmen doubts that the magical jeans will fit her because of her curves, do her friends reassure her that she has a great body? Do they tell her that she’s gorgeous? Nope, they just laugh, clearly expecting that the jeans aren’t going to slide over her hips. Tibby even says that they will help her squeeze her thighs into the pants. Yikes. Sure, they’re only teenagers, but they’re definitely old enough to know better than to do anything but offer words of support. What happened to lifting your friends up and making them feel like queens?
Carmen seems to have some insecurities with her body that her friends either aren’t picking up on or are ignoring. Adolescence is a vulnerable time, and a lot of teenagers struggle with their body image. This can have a huge impact on self esteem and even lead to eating disorders. While it’s obvious that Lena, Bridget, and Tibby love Carmen, they’ve got a lot to learn about body positivity and being a supportive friend.
Where are they getting all this money for postage?
The plan to send the jeans to each other throughout the summer is cute, but how exactly are they going to pay for it? Out of the quartet, Tibby is the only one who has a job, and it’s safe to say that her minimum wage paycheck isn’t going very far. International shipping, especially for something as bulky as a pair of jeans, doesn’t come cheap, so it’s likely that, even if they’re getting allowances from their parents, postage is going to put quite a dent in the sisterhood’s summer budget. Remember, the girls are spread all over the world with Tibby in Maryland, Lena in Greece, Carmen in South Carolina, and Bridget in Mexico.
Picking a smaller symbol of the sisterhood to share over the summer would have saved some money on shipping because the package would be a lot lighter. Of course, the Sisterhood of the Traveling Belt or the Sisterhood of the Traveling Necklace doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.
Carmen’s dad needs a parenting class
Wow. Carmen’s dad, Al (played by Bradley Whitford) is just… awful. Not only does he essentially abandon the family, maintaining little contact with Carmen for years, but he goes and basically starts a new family without even telling her about it! How do you just forget to tell your only biological child that you are remarrying and that you expect her to be in the wedding with her new step-siblings? Even an estranged parent should keep his kid filled in on such major life events!
We can’t really blame Carmen for being so angry that she eventually throws a rock through the window of her dad’s new house. It would be easy to chalk up her actions to simply teenage angst, but Carmen’s anger is totally justified. Yes, she could have handled her emotions in a better way, but anyone would be pretty steamed in her situation.
What is with all the bad parenting in this movie?
Actually, most of the parents in the movie seem to have a poor grasp on the whole parenting thing. Tibby’s parents seem to neglect her in favor of her much younger sibling, and her interactions with them are centered on taking care of her little sis. Bridget’s dad is emotionally distant, sending her a brief letter while she’s at soccer camp instead of the care packages her fellow campers get. Lena’s parents aren’t around at all, but her grandparents who are taking care of her while she’s in Greece are pretty controlling and tell her that she can’t hang out with love interest Kostas because of a petty feud with his family.
Carmen’s mom is probably the most affectionate out of the sisterhood’s parents, but she still could be more supportive. Instead of confronting Carmen’s dad and telling him to treat their daughter better, she tells Carmen to have a heart-to-heart talk with him instead, shifting the burden onto a kid who shouldn’t have to beg for responsible parenting. At least the girls found a family with one other because it looks like they aren’t getting as much nurturing as they need from their families.
Why does Kostas have an accent?
Kostas made teenagers all over the world swoon when he saved Lena from drowning. Between his muscles and his smile, he’s totally crushable. But, uh, what’s with his accent? Maybe when you’re young and caught up in the summer romance storyline you can overlook the fact that his accent seems a bit inconsistent, but, as an adult, it’s pretty clear that the accent is faked.
Faking an accent might make sense if the character demanded it, but Kostas was not actually raised in Greece. He tells Lena that he lived in Chicago with his parents until he was 12 — long enough that he grew up speaking fluent English. After his parents passed away, Kostas moved to Greece to live with his grandparents. While it’s possible that Kostas is code-switching and speaking English with a Greek accent to fit in with the people around him, that still wouldn’t explain why he maintains the accent while speaking with Lena.
There’s a lot of understated racial tension
While the film makes it clear that Carmen, who is half Puerto Rican, feels out of place with her future stepmother and her kids, it doesn’t really delve too much into the racial tension at play. Carmen speaks in Spanish in front of the family to assert her heritage, and proudly defends her curves, telling her stepmother that she’s simply "built differently." One of the most uncomfortable scenes of the film, however, is never really resolved. The family employs a Latina housekeeper, and it’s apparent that Carmen is uncomfortable having her wash her sheets. She’s young enough that she might not be able to articulate exactly what it is that makes her uneasy, but adult audiences can tell that she’s deeply affected by the marginalization of Latino Americans.
The scene is a turning point for Carmen, who decides that the family will never really accept her. Instead of exploring the power dynamics at play here, the film takes the easy way out and simply has Carmen insist on washing her own sheets. Even later in the movie, when Carmen and her new stepfamily accept each other, the racial tension is just swept under the rug.
Bailey’s storyline is pretty tragic for a feel-good teen movie
While Bailey isn’t one of the members of the sisterhood, she does form a close friendship with Tibby while Carmen, Lena, and Bridget are gone for the summer. At first, Tibby views Bailey as an annoying little kid, but she reluctantly allows her to work as her assistant on the documentary she’s making. Tibby ends up learning a lot more from Bailey than she teaches her. The young girl is filled with wisdom beyond her years and is brimming with a stoic resilience. The reason for her maturity is a tragic one: Bailey is dying from leukemia.
Tearjerker teen movies weren’t unusual in the 2000s. Who didn’t cry during A Walk to Remember? Yet, while that movie was meant to have a tragic ending, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is supposed to be a feel-good summer flick. Bailey’s storyline turns the otherwise upbeat film into an all-out bawl fest. To kill off a minor character isn’t just harsh, but it also seems a little contrived since the sole reason for Bailey’s presence in the film seems to be to aid in Tibby’s character growth.
Carmen’s lecture to her future stepmom is amazing
All hail Carmen! While her rant during her bridesmaid dress fitting might not have been the best timed, it was totally justified. Her stepmom-to-be seems pretty taken aback that Carmen would yell at her — in a public place no less — but Carmen is only paying her the same consideration that she was given. It wasn’t Carmen’s fault that her dad gave his bride the wrong dress size for Carmen or that the dress didn’t fit her. Instead of telling Carmen that it’ll all be okay and that they’ll have it fitted properly, Carmen’s future stepmom is worried that they won’t be able to get Carmen and her daughter, Krista (the other bridesmaid), looking "uniform." She even says that she wants Carmen to look like Krista, who has a totally different body type.
Carmen’s speech is empowering. Not only does she finally get to vent her feelings about not having been told about the upcoming wedding, but she also delivers a pretty awesome message on body positivity. It’s a powerful scene delivered by a powerful character. Carmen is a role model for any woman who has ever felt uncomfortable in her own skin.
Bridget’s relationship with Eric is problematic
It’s one thing for Bridget to say she’s 17 instead of 16 when she sets her eyes on one of her camp counselors, but it’s another for him to actually go along with the flirtation instead of shutting it down. As a counselor, he presumably can access the records of campers. It would have been easy for him to look up Bridget’s age. Even if Bridget was 17, that would still make her a minor, and Eric, who is in college, is almost certainly over 18. This not only makes them sleeping together wildly inappropriate but also possibly illegal.
Whose idea was it to have an attractive young man coaching a camp full of underage girls just a couple years younger than him anyway? Surely there were women who could have taken the job. At the end of the film, Eric tells Bridget she’s too young for him but then tells her to look him up when she’s 20, which is creepy beyond measure.
Lena is putting a lot on the line for a summer fling
Kostas is cute, but is he really cute enough for Lena to risk alienating herself from her family? She’s risking a lot by hanging out with him in spite of her grandparents’ wishes. While their reasons for not wanting Lena to associate with Kostas are pretty childish and petty, the fact remains that they’re her family and Kostas is, well, just a summer fling.
First loves die hard, though. Lena is, for better or for worse, determined to risk it all for a boy she may very well never see again once the summer is over. He’s in college, and she’s about to go back to high school in America, so the likelihood of their relationship continuing is slim. But hey, this is a teen movie, so Lena, in true teenage fashion, stands up to her grandparents so she can meet Kostas for one last kiss. Practical? Not really. Ultimate teen movie moment? Absolutely.
Bridget could benefit from therapy
At the risk of repeating ourselves, we ask… where are the parents in this movie? Bridget is heartbroken after leaving soccer camp and Eric, and she is bedridden with grief. While she seems to be suffering from a major bout of depression, her dad is nowhere to be seen. After Lena reads a letter from Bridget, she alerts the other members of the sisterhood that their friend is in dire need of some support.
While they manage to cheer her up a little bit, Bridget’s problems seem a bit more serious than some boy trouble. Given what she has said about her mother’s mood swings, it seems quite likely that she suffers from a mental illness that might be hereditary. Carmen and Tibby tell her that she’s stronger than her mother, who committed suicide, as if this will magically cure her. What Bridget really needs, though, is a therapist who can come up with a treatment plan. Even if she doesn’t have a mental illness, she’s clearly still struggling to cope with her mother’s death and could benefit from professional therapy.
The only healthy relationship in this movie is between the girls
The romantic relationships in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants leave a lot to be desired. The same can be said for the relationships between the girls and their parents and grandparents. Some of these relationships are downright toxic, and the only healthy (albeit sometimes imperfect) relationship in the movie is between the girls themselves.
Aside from Carmen’s relationship with her dad, though, the movie doesn’t really touch on how these relationships can grow and improve. This seems pretty odd for a coming-of-age movie. By the end of the film, we’re left with a lot of unresolved conflicts among the characters, but at least the sisterhood is stronger than ever. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is a testament to the power of female friendship, and that’s refreshing in a teen movie. Even though Lena gets a parting kiss with Kostas, their romance isn’t the center of the film: the friendship between Lena, Tibby, Bridget, and Carmen is.
But at least it passes the Bechdel Test
The Bechdel Test is a rubric used to determine whether or not women are being portrayed in a sexist manner. Passing the Bechdel Test seems easy. To do so, a film has to have two women with names who talk to each other about something other than a man. That’s it! While it seems simple enough, many movies, such as the original Star Wars trilogy, fail the test because women are often focused on men or are merely supporting characters.
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants might not be a perfect movie, but it does pass the Bechdel Test. Sure, the girls spend some time talking about boys (they are, after all, teenagers), but they also talk about family problems, hobbies, and, of course, the sisterhood itself. As magical as the pants might be, the true magic in the film is the bond between the four young women.