In “The Good Body,” playwright Eve Ensler weaves a powerful play on challenging feminine ideals through the introduction of various monologues and dialogues of unique characters about identifying and appreciating their body. Although she reveals in her preface that some of these characters are fictitious in name, all these characters play a key role in her story by illustrating their genuine connection to the ideals of beauty in the context of blunt and vivid monologue. There is also nothing fabricated or imaginary about the self-hatred personally conveyed by a few of her characters such as the young Puerto Rican woman from Brooklyn who is vehemently preoccupied with containing the “spread” on her lower thighs and bottom. The fear of the model who longs to find identity and secure love only in fixing her body through plastic surgery is very much real to the audience. In only a brief presentation of eighty-seven pages that cost only $12.00, Eve has successfully managed to convey the internal thoughts and deep far-reaching feelings of multiple perspectives from woman of various identities and experiences. The play was published during the 2004 Iraqi War, which Eve pointedly questions in her preface, as a compelling world issue so why would she write a play about her stomach? Why does she internally obsess in her dialogues concerning her post-40s stomach when civil liberties are being stripped away from women in a war-stricken time? Why address a plethora of issues about not one, but various female body parts? Eve Ensler is daring to do what many would not even dare to think about to this day in 2016. She is challenging not only the societal stigma surrounding the culture of beauty, but she is also challenging the very human psyche of each individual. She is not just a playwright. She is not just an author. But she is a passionate friend to the audience who wishes to kindly share what she has critically discovered about learning to like herself. Learning to like oneself and know oneself is a journey every woman can relate to in regards to their body.
Eve begins her story by presenting one key point which is included in the very title of her book: “Good.” In fact, “goodness” and “badness” are juxtaposed in terms of how we view ourselves, to each other, and to others within our societal institution. She portrays the ideal good girl as one who “joins the gym,” “wear pointy, painful shoes,” “stay perfect,” and “stay thin” (Ensler, 4). Her internal monologues that follow express the longing to accept herself as having a “good body.” She even goes on to personify her stomach as “her tormenter” and “her most serious committed relationship” (Ensler, 6). Through a series of monologues by Ensler in which she battles against bread, ice cream, media’s representation of beauty, and the psyche of her mind, we see what follows is an exploration into the minds of different women. These unique individuals carry one common theme in their dialogues: improving the human anatomy because of different reasons.
I was astounded and somewhat rattled in my heart at the vivid metaphorical style of her writing. Her passionate approach to evoke genuine accounts from each character in the story is certainly easy to relate to. The self-destructive image-obsessed beliefs that each character conveys in their own dialogue were thoughts that I myself could relate to on a particular level. The pressure felt from a mother to be thin and pretty by her standards was relatable from a Puerto Rican’s viewpoint. I believe we have all been a victim at some point of our own scrutiny and criticism because we cannot accept our own personal “good body.” Eve’s own partner has whole heartedly accepted who she is and loves her for it. But in response, her own mind rejects this acceptance with thoughts like “Why didn’t I pick someone with higher standards? What is wrong with him?” (Ensler,50). On the other hand, the dialogue of a thirty-five year old model shows how convoluted the ideology of beauty and acceptance has warped this woman’s thinking. She shows a slight desperation in keeping the attention of her husband whose occupation is that of a cosmetic surgeon. In her mind, changing herself to suit the vision and standards of another individual carries no weight. Compared to Eve who is straddling a fine line on the battleground of positive vs. negative body identity, Tiffany resigns herself to her fate because she genuinely believes it to be acceptable. Eve brings social identity and acceptance alive on text so that we can understand how we often augment the oppression placed on our bodies to be perfect. The representation of gendered bodies highlights the themes discussed in this week’s readings on “bodies.” It is clear from this play and several other readings, that society has created a cultural institution with standards on beauty and gender that have been perpetuated by woman themselves to exist and continue.
“God made this body. God gave me this body. I love my fingernails, little crescent moons” (Ensler, 68). As a Christian, I was encouraged and touched by this line during Eve’s conversation with Leah, a seventy-four year old African Masai woman. Leah embodies the acceptance that every individual can hope to achieve about how they view their body. This woman casts off every ideology of beauty, falsehood, and stigma that our society has built for what is deemed as a “good body.” I would recommend this book to everyone, male and female alike, who is open to exploring the human psyche and open to appreciating oneself as a “good body.” As Leah says, “You’re a tree. I’m a tree. You’ve got to love your body, Eve. You’ve got to love your tree” (Ensler, 69).