Why can’t we love ourselves for the way we are? Why is there always something about ourselves that we wish to change? For Eve Ensler, the author of The Good Body, the one aspect she finds herself hating is her stomach. This contempt with her stomach led her to travel the world and speak with all different types of women about body image. Looking back on her journey, Ensler concluded that “…The women I met loathed at least one part of their body”, and this realization resulted in the creation of a beautifully written, emotionally moving book (Ensler xiii). Eve Ensler’s The Good Body was published in 2004 by Villard Books. This 92 page book, which sells for $19.95 in the United States, is organized as a play, and it is a short, easy to read book full of unique stories. Through stories shared by women all over the world, Eve Ensler communicates the theme that the strive for “perfect” personal appearance can be found anywhere. This unrealistic desire can drastically affect our lives, unless we learn to love our body. The purpose of this book review is to summarize what Ensler learned from women all around the world, as well as evaluate how successfully the theme was communicated to the reader.
Ensler begins The Good Body with the powerful statement that when she was little, she wanted to be “good” when she grew up. However, she describes that as we grow up, it is impossible to achieve this when we inevitably have “…one particular part of our body where the badness manifests itself…” (5). For Ensler, she believes she can’t be “good” because she hates her stomach. She obsesses, denies herself of bread and ice cream and crunches out sit-ups until she decides she can’t possibly be the only woman who feels this way. After being kicked out of “fat camp” and enduring the anxiety of weight checks in Weight Watchers meetings, Ensler decides to explore her feelings around the world. Throughout her travels, Ensler listens to women’s stories to decide what it really means to have a good body.
I enjoyed this book so much that I finished it in one sitting. The personal feel of the book really kept me reading. Each character, or woman that Ensler met, had a uniquely real story. This uniqueness makes the book feel personal because in reality, most women face body image concerns, but in different ways. The stories range from An African American woman attending “fat camp”, to a 35-year-old model who married her plastic surgeon, to an elderly African Masai woman who stated, “I love my body. God made this body” (72). Furthermore, Ensler included blurbs about her personal struggles, and what her hatred toward her stomach has done to her. The use of unique stories in combination with her own story makes The Good Body real.
I commend Ensler’s portrayal of negative and positive body image. Although majority of the book focused on women who believe they need to change their body in order to be “good”, such as Helen Gurley Brown who stated, “Another ten years, I’ll be down to nothing. But even then I won’t feel beautiful”, the book also includes success stories (12). My favorite was when Leah tries to teach Ensler to love the body she has, just as we should love each uniquely beautiful tree. The introduction of women who love their bodies, and can’t even understand why Ensler doesn’t, was uplifting and encouraging. Without the inclusion of these women, I would not have understood the full story because it would have been one-sided.
While I enjoyed Ensler’s work, the ending disappointed me. The closing ties the themes and Ensler’s journey together, but it felt very rushed and short-lived. The book closes with a story of when Ensler went to an ice cream place with a woman in Afghanistan, an act that could have gotten them killed by the Taliban. To Ensler, this meant a lot. She stated, “Finally, my being fat is clearly less important than being free”, and she ate the ice cream (88-89). This was a powerful message, but I urged for more. Although this was a beautiful story, Ensler didn’t conclude with any lasting remarks. I understand that she learned a lot, but I would love to know what exactly she learned. In order for this book to be truly powerful, Ensler should have ended with a summary of her journey and how exactly it changed her perception of “good”.
This book was a perfect addition to this week’s unit on bodies. Of course, it is about women’s bodies, but there is so much more underlying the perception of a “good body”. The media negatively influenced many of these women, including Ensler, who stayed up late watching infomercials on Ab Rollers and labeled the woman on the Cosmo Magazine cover as “the American Dream” (9). In addition, majority of these women want to change their body to fit a “feminine” mold. For women like Tiffany, this desire leads to drastic measures like plastic surgery. This relates to the theme of gendered bodies and politics surrounding body image. Even the idea that a “good body” exists relates to the theme of society and media’s effect on body image. Overall, the bodies unit taught us that body image issues and generalizations appear everywhere, just as Ensler’s journey proved.
I highly recommend Eve Ensler’s The Good Body to anyone who loves learning from other people. If you wish to feel moved by women around the world, this is a great book to read. In addition, anybody who is intrigued by how body image affects people in unique ways will learn a lot from this book. Last, I recommend this book to anyone who appreciates diversity and culture, as not a single woman in this book could fit a certain mold. The Good Body is a short, easy read filled with inspiring stories that will teach you why all bodies are good.
Ensler, Eve. The Good Body. New York: Villard, 2004. Print.