Saturday, January 22, 2005

Narcissism, But Substitute Loathe for Love

The Good Body by Eve Ensler. In this play, the narrator/author first launches into a monologue about what it is to be good. For Ensler, good is all about the perfect body. Her stomach, on the other hand, is the representation of bad because it is not as flat as the models she sees in the media. Unfortunately, her preoccupation with her stomach drives her partner away because she has placed more importance on her appearance than their relationship.

Her obsession with physical imperfection isn't unique. We read about a variety of other women with the same problem: the exercise-fanatical editor of Cosmo, a teenaged girl sent to fat camp, a Puerto Rican woman dominated by her mother's ideal of beauty, a model who lets her husband/plastic surgeon sculpt her body, a body-piercing lesbian, a middle-aged Jewish woman who gets her vagina tightened by laser surgery, a woman who got seduced by a pedophile when she was younger, a seventy-year-old African woman crusading against female mutilation, an Indian woman who has learned to love her body, Afghanistan women who eat ice cream even though it is punishable by death.

Some of these women have their body altered and others have eventually come to grips with their corporeal selves, learning to accept rather than hate. But one pervasive theme running through these vignettes is the want to be desired. In this case, the kind of desire Ensler wants to illustrate is strictly physical and sexual. Women today are confused--is desirability and femininity as depicted in the media and culture really the same thing that their partners want? Has society turned women into self-loathing maniacs because we're conditioned to believe that only the body matters and not intelligence or personality?

On one hand, I see the truth of these anecdotes. Who hasn't thought about a part of their body that they didn't like very much? Who hasn't had someone make snide remarks about their appearance? It hurts, and the first emotional reaction is that one is less of a person because of it. On the other hand, The Good Body doesn't cover any new ground. Feminism has been blabbering about body image issues for years. A preoccupation about appearance isn't going to disappear soon--biologically, attracting and finding a mate probably won't change as long as humans are still reproducing in the usual way--although society has certainly made it a problem. The Good Body outlines a solution: personal acceptance. But again, this is not new. The publication of this play only indicates that all the self-esteem classes that have been doled out for the past decade haven't been working.

(Cross-posted at Syaffolee.)

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