Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Good Body

by Tory Butterworth

Sunday I went to see Eve Ensler's play, "The Good Body," at City Theatre. Eve is the author of, "The Vagina Monologues," and this play had the same range of dramatic emotion her last one did: much humor, but also pain, anger, passion, redemption, you name it.

Apparently, the inspiration for the play was Eve's obsession with the size of her post-40 stomach. As you might expect, this conflicted with her identity as an activist and feminist. So she wrote a play.

After Sunday's matinee, the YWCA Women's Counseling center organized a community dialogue, "Women's Bodies: War Zone or Sacred Ground?" I was excited how articulate the audience was, how accepting of the basic premise Eve Ensler summarized for the program. "Be bold and LOVE YOUR BODY. STOP FIXING IT. It was never broken."

Sunday's discussion brought to mind a host of experiences from my own life. As a teenage, I was angry about how my friends couldn't love their bodies. (I wasn't so hot at it, myself, but I could still be outraged.) I discovered that some woman bond through criticizing their bodies, and if I didn't accept that basic premise, I was left out of the club.

The play also brought to mind the far-out therapeutic training I took in my twenties in (of course) California. It was based on the work of Wilhelm Reich, who was trained by Freud and was far ahead of his time in many ways. He believed that all bodies were pleasurable. His idea was that society's basic purpose was to repress pleasure. Presumably, if everyone was feeling too good, we wouldn't get enough work done. By labeling bodies as "good" or "bad" we reduce pleasure. Then, we can only enjoy "good" bodies, and we criticize or cover up "bad" ones.

I'm not sure I believe society's function is to reduce pleasure. Still, I remember sitting on a nude beach in California, watching the bodies there with a fresh eye. Flab, wrinkles, scars are all very interesting and, yes, enjoyable when you get rid of the mindset of comparing them to fashion magazines. Think of them as a photo or an abstract work of art. I came home and quickly forgot this lesson, but when I remind myself, I notice how enjoyable people watching becomes.

In the play, a 74-year-old African Masai woman urges Eve to see herself as a tree. "Look at that tree. Do you say that tree isn't pretty because it doesn't look like that other trees? We're all trees. You're a tree. I'm a tree. You've got to love your body, Eve. You've got to love your tree."

I'd like to love my tree. I'm still working on it. But I'm getting better every year.

"The Good Body," will be playing at Pittsburgh City Theatre until October 29th. I recommend it for anyone who doesn't love their body and would like an alternative point of view.


Annette said...

Recently, I was going through some old photographs and found some of me in my twenties. I was amazed at how pretty I was. I sure didn't think I was pretty at the time. Then I looked in the mirror and was not happy with what looked back. I wonder, in twenty or thirty years, will I look back at the pictures of me now and think I looked pretty darn good? I wish I could have that future perspective in the present.

I also wish I could have my twenty-year-old body back. But I want to keep my mid-forties brain and wisdom.


Rebecca Drake said...

Years ago I saw Bette Midler on a talk show with several supermodels. At some point, the show's host asked each woman to rate her body on a scale of 1 to 10. Each model picked something she didn't like about herself--thighs, stomach, chest--and all said 7 or 8. When the host got to Bette she immediately said, "Oh, honey, I'm a 10!" The audience broke out in wild applause.

Thanks, Tory, for reminding us that we're all 10's.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

I'd trade in looking like a ten for a body that worked properly... *sigh*

Judith said...

Tory: Great subject. One of the many lessons I tried to learn at Miraval was to love my body and listen to it. In one class on healthy nutrition, the head nutritionist, a 55 year old woman who looks great, asked us how much she weighed. She's about five foot six. We guessed 125-135. She told us she weighed 145 and that if she listened to the "charts" she should weigh less but she wouldn't be very happy. She's very fit, eats well and is happy with her body.
Starting out my life as an actress who had to be weight obsessed, I learned that it is impossible to really ever be happy with your body unless you stop looking in mirrors and getting on a scale. Maybe living like a vampire (they don't look in mirrors, right?) is the way to go.
Give me some nice red meat. Yummmm. Oh... that's not good for my cholesterol? Can't win. Darn.

Kristine said...

Excellent post, Tory!

As someone in the midst of trying to transform my body back to something resembling a healthy weight and size, I can relate to Eva's pain and anguish.

While I may not be dealing with a post-40 stomach (yet), the post-30 stomach isn't fun, either.

Cathy said...

A powerful message. With advertising and media, we're all encouraged to be someone we're not. Just yesterday I walked behind a man who was grossly overweight with big, varicose veins sticking out of his legs. I thought, he needs love like everyone else. The spirit of love is in him, too.

I think about 95% of us are struggling with this subject. Thanks, Tory, for a thought-provoking piece.

Nancy said...

Just about the time I learn to accept my body, I realize it's giving out on me. So, as much as I'd like to believe the fat me is a happy me, I'd rather live a few more years. Back to celery instead of chocolate....

Tory Butterworth said...

What more can I say? I love everyone's comments!

I have thrown away my scale, too. I was in a room today with a double mirror and I had to look at myself for far too long. It does cut down on the self-esteem! I am looking forward to saving mirrors for times I need to figure out if I have something between my teeth.