The Good Body
Last night I saw Eve Ensler’s The Good Body here in Sarasota. If Ensler’s name rings a bell, it’s because she’s the creator of The Vagina Monologues. From its title, you might guess that The Good Body is about women’s quest for one and you’d be right. In fact, perhaps the show should have been called The Perfect Body. However, the word “good” works because many of these women are struggling desperately to be good girls as well. Sound familiar: trying to be good woman and have a good body?
The show’s main character, Eve, is overweight and obsessed with her fat stomach. We meet her critical father, in the ice cream business of all things, and come to see how her disturbed relationship with food and body came about. Eve diets and overdoes it on the treadmill, but can’t get rid of her round mound of a belly. She even loses her boyfriend, who finds her attractive and sexy and who doesn’t give a hoot about her stomach, because he’s tired of her being more focused on it than him.
The show has her traveling around meeting women, most of whom are similarly preoccupied with disappointing bodies they’re driven to improve. One marries her plastic surgeon who continues to shape up her various parts while she worries about being abandoned by him when he runs out of parts to fix. Another has her vagina surgically tightened as a surprise for her husband and to reduce the hard work of pleasuring him in the hopes that once he’s happy, he’ll start thinking about her sexual pleasure. Another is terrified of “the spread,” a body terror she learned from her mother.
Apparently the show is touring and I encourage you all to see it. I went with a colleague in the field and we both had similar reactions. The material is witty and laughs abound, but it also punches you right in the gut because we were seeing flashes of the women we treat—and of ourselves and of American women obsessed with being good girls with good bodies. How did it come to this, I kept wondering. Sure, women have always tried to be good and have tortured their bodies to look just so, but the times we live in, well, they take the cake: the most fat-phobic, thin-driven period in the history of the world.
The end of the show is meant to be uplifting, as the players throw off the mantle of questing for goodness and a good body, but it seemed a big too neat and superficial compared with the pathos of the rest of the show. Plus, I know all the hard, hard work it takes to cast off body hatred and slide into neutral, never mind women learning to love their bodies. Still, it’s a show worth seeing if only to feel you’re not struggling alone.