Join Date: Sep 1999
Book/Play About Body Image - "The Good Body"
Body image is something that we talk about a lot
here in Maintainers -- it's hard for our heads to keep up with our body changes as we lose weight. So often, we didn't 'see' ourselves accurately before and we still aren't 'seeing' our real selves now when we look in the mirror. So when I read this article about a new book and play - The Good Body
- I thought it was worth passing along to all of you:
Eve Ensler Redefines the Meaning of ‘Good Body’
The author of ‘The Vagina Monologues’ is back with a new play that examines the rest of the body—and why women should reject society’s notions about perfection
By Jennifer Barrett Ozols
Updated: 7:57 p.m. ET Nov. 12, 2004
Nov. 12 - You would think that a woman who wrote a play about vaginas would have a comparatively easy time talking to audiences about her stomach. But you’d be wrong. “It’s much more scary,” says Eve Ensler. “The part of the body you hate the most is the worst secret.”
The 51-year-old playwright is referring to her belly—a source of both great anxiety and an idea for a new play. After three years of keeping a journal about her growing stomach obsession and speaking with women around the world about their imperfect bodies, Ensler realized she had tapped into a universal issue. Her new one-woman play, “The Good Body,” explores the lengths that women will go to in order to meet society’s definition of “good.” The play, currently in previews, opens Nov. 15 on Broadway, and her book by the same name has just been published by Villard.
Ensler’s previous play, "The Vagina Monologues," spawned a successful international movement, V-Day, to fight violence against women. In seven years, V-Day efforts have raised awareness—and more than $25 million for grass-roots groups around the world. With “The Good Body,” Ensler hopes to start a similar movement to help women embrace and appreciate their bodies. NEWSWEEK’s Jennifer Barrett Ozols spoke to the author about her new cause. Excerpts:
NEWSWEEK: How did “The Good Body” come about?
Eve Ensler: I think it was like this: I was feeling OK about my vagina finally, after doing the play for a while. And then I realized that [my insecurities] had just moved up to my not-so-flat, post-40s stomach, like a traveling virus. I realized it was deeper, more fundamental, existential. It was really about self-hatred. And I needed to go into my belly to find what was in there.
So what did you find?
The play is what I found. It’s political in the sense that we live in this sort of capitalist tyranny that is constantly thrusting images and ideas on us of what we are supposed to be every minute of our lives. It’s psychological in terms of where we come from as children and what’s said to us about ourselves. There’s a huge spiritual component to it. If you look at the Judeo-Christian impact of this idea of what women are supposed to be within the monotheism religion—it’s incredibly repressive and reductive.
Why do you call it the “good” body?
I think what really came up to me midway through this exploration is that everything women do is about being good. I’m talking about the patriarchal, Judeo-Christian, capitalistic sense—perfect, flat, quiet, diminished, not in your face, not too messy or intense or outrageous. The piece is really a reclamation of another idea of good that includes all of us, our messy, outrageous, ambiguous, sexual selves.
Some of the play is based on conversations you had with women around the world.
But it really began with me. I did a journal with my own stomach for about three years—a sort of inner dialogue. But also I was traveling around the world with V-Day, and I would talk to women. But I didn’t set out to interview women as I did with "The Vagina Monologues.” In "The Vagina Monologues,” [everything is] based on specific interviews. There are some pieces based on interviews in [“The Good Body,”] but there are quite a few I made up, though there are seeds of truth in all of them. I did talk to women everywhere about their bodies.
What did they say?
Everywhere in the world women are obsessed with their bodies.
So it’s not a uniquely American phenomenon?
No, every culture has women who hate their bodies. But nothing compares to the insanity of the U.S. We have all the food in the world and we are exporting anorexia … But every culture has managed to develop some way of mutilating, hiding, fixing, reducing, shrinking to keep women in their place. Patriarchy is really brilliant. It doesn’t matter what country you’re in. There’s skin lightening in some countries, female genital mutilation in another, fattening a bride in another, liposuction in another and dieting and anorexia in another.
Where there any cultures where women seemed content with their bodies?
In Africa, women are very connected to the earth, it’s a place where bodies still serve people and people appreciate their bodies. Bodies become objects of service, not commodities to move you ahead in the world. And in India, older women were historically round and voluptuous—that is how they hold up their saris.
Which comments surprised you the most?
I interviewed an Iranian woman who had been a really funny girl. She had a big nose and people called her gonzo and she was really funny as a result of it. She was this great ham. And her parents, when she was 16, unbeknownst to her, came and smashed her nose and had it remodeled, so she’d be “pretty.” And she has never been funny again. There are so many stories like that—that in trying to heed to this pattern or image of beauty that is usually Western created, people actually diminish and undermine their essential selves.
You mention this play drew largely on your own obsessions with your body. Have you struggled with this for a while?
My whole life [laughs]. It feels like malaria. You know, it’s dormant, then something triggers it, and you have a bout. I’m not sure it ever goes away.
How do you deal with it?
I think there are several ways to work on it. One way is to be honest about it. But for me the only real anecdote, besides writing and talking about it, has been service, doing things for other people and getting outside myself. This narcissism is a real slippery slope; the deeper in you get, the worse it gets.
How much do you think the media, movies and cosmetics industry are to blame? We chould choose not to consume their products.
The genius about patriarchy is men don’t even have their fingerprints on it anymore. They just set it up and know we do it ourselves … When I think about internalized violence, there’s the set-up in how we’ve been trained and there’s the way we perpetuate it. I don’t pick up women’s magazines anymore.
Really … There’s a discipline required because capitalism is ongoing, in your face. And unless you set up real boundaries, you will never protect yourself. The question is: on a daily basis, do you want to spend your life fixing, dieting, shaping, doing everything you possibly can to make yourself something you are not? Or do you want to live your life saying this is the body I got, blessings on the great universe for giving me a body that can do shows eight times a week?
You include a chapter on someone you wouldn’t think would have concerns about her body: Isabella Rossellini.
She talks about being at the top of her form when she was 40, at which point she was fired because of her age [as a spokeswoman for a beauty products company]. It’s also about her life and how she never felt she had choices over her body. She did what men wanted because she thought she was lucky to be beautiful. She never felt like she had the right. And that translated into getting fired and feeling like she shouldn’t say anything about it.
Were you surprised to hear that from someone who made a career based largely on her beauty?No. Isabella’s line is my favorite. We went out to dinner, and I said, “I can’t believe that me, a feminist all these years, would still hate my body.” She said: “You? I’m `the most beautiful woman in the world,’ and I hate my body.”
Wow, that doesn’t give much hope to the rest of us.
That’s what I mean. Once you get that it’s an endless, heartbreaking campaign, you can just give up. It’s like battling against death; you’re going to die … I really feel that way about the body. It is what it is; it’s a given. To some degree, you can make it a little better here or there, or tone it up, but it’s your body.
Do you envision the start of another movement like V-Day to help women learn to accept their bodies as they are?
It’s already happening ... It will be the next stage. There’s externalized violence and internalized violence and I think if we start working on this from both directions, we could really empower women. That’s what I want to do.
© 2004 Newsweek, Inc.