On The Good Body

Eve Ensler, the woman behind the highly successful and prolific The Vagina Monologues, has compiled another collection of inspiring, heartbreaking, and insightful women-centered monologues in 2004’s The Good Body. Similar to The Vagina Monologues in structure and form, this piece focuses on women’s often torturous relationships with their bodies. Ensler turns an eye to women of all shapes, sizes, colors, and locales as they deal with their feelings about their bodies, corrective and enhancement surgeries, how familial attitudes have shaped their understanding of their bodies, exercise, and more.

Though it’s a rather concise volume, The Good Body speaks to a much larger issue that Ensler does a great job of bringing into focus. Instead of spending time dwelling on each and every issue related to female body image, we are offered a sampling of experiences that are both universal and specific, an overview of sorts that helps round out the state of body image today. Ensler locates some of the sources of these issues while insightfully putting preoccupation with the female body into perspective.

“When a group of ethnically diverse, economically disadvantaged women in the United States were asked about the one thing they would change in their lives if they could, the majority of these women said they would lose weight.” Such is our obsession with how we look. But beyond this, we are fed the notion that looking a certain way will bring us greater happiness. How often have you kidded yourself into thinking ‘if only my stomach was flatter, I would be satisfied’ or ‘if only I lost 20 pounds, then I’d be happy with myself.’ Ensler doesn’t attack women for these attitudes, but rather, attempts to unshackle women from them and places the whole notion of the body within a much larger context.

As Eve lets us know from the very first pages of the preface, “[this play] is an expression of my hope, my desire, that we will all refuse to be Barbie, that we will say no to the loss of the particular, whether it be to a voluptuous woman in a silk sari, or a woman with defining lines of character in her face, or a distinguishing nose, or olive-toned skin, or wild curly hair. I am stepping off the capitalist treadmill. I am going to take a deep breath and find a way to survive not being flat or perfect. I am inviting you to join me, to stop trying to be anything, anyone other than who you are.”

The conclusion of the play offers an eloquent summation of how Ensler mentally tackles hateful messages about what makes for a good body. “Maybe being good isn’t about getting rid of anything. Maybe good has to do with living in the mess… Maybe what I tried to get rid of is the goodest part of me… Maybe good is about developing the capacity to live fully inside everything… Our body is the carrier of stories, of the world, of the earth, of the mother.”

Whether you have a great relationship with your body or one that could use some work, I think Ensler’s short little consideration of the good body is worth flipping through. Rather than buying into outside ideas about what makes for a good body, Eve encourages us all to love our bodies for the good they are, rather than what they aren’t. Though it may not be the first time you’ve come across this particular message, The Good Body may well help you understand it more than ever before.

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