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Who's Good Body?

Tonight, I saw Eve Ensler perform The Good Body, her newest play about her struggles with body image, her stomach, exercise, fat, bread, ice cream, dieting, plastic surgery, and other related issues.

Frankly, I was disappointed. The only other thing I've seen of Ensler's is The Vagina Monolgues, which is a very powerful play. I do think it's problematic in a number of ways (e.g. the play ends with a monologue on birth, which makes it seem like birth is the apex or ultimate purpose of Woman; the only women of color in the play are subjects of violence and have few voices, none of which actually explore racism; queer women have even less of a voice, and the only woman who is a lesbian [who is also a woman of color] fulfills the stereotype that women become lesbians because they have bad experiences with men), but I also think it's a great show in many ways. For me, the most amazing part of the play is seeing how it's transformed and empowered so many women-friends of mine. The change that they experience working on that show is phenonemal, and for that, I think Eve Ensler is incredible.

But, this is a critique of The Good Body, not The Vagina Monologues. Lord knows I could post quite a bit about vaginas and what they have to say. But, back to the body. I found myself rather disappointed with the show, for similar reasons that I find The Vagina Monologues problematic. One odd thing about this show is that it is incredibly self-indulgent while simultaneously attempting to maintain the multivocality that Ensler accomplished in The Vagina Monologues. The show was performed by Eve Ensler herself, but the show was as much about Eve Ensler as it was about anything else. Ensler remains the very center of the piece, telling personal stories about her life, her experiences as a writier, an activist, a traveler... I wonder what the point of a play is if it can only be performed by the writer. The show wouldn't make sense any other way. Someone would have to play the part of Eve Ensler, as she plays the part of other women. And I realize this is all good and postmodern, it just seems egotistical (not to mention impractical) to create a play for oneself.

Also, I found Ensler's homophobia to be yet again a problem, creeping in to my thoughts as I'm trying to enjoy the show. The show is overwhelmingly heterosexual/heterocentric/heterosexist, with all focus on women's body in relation to their desirability and ability to please the patriarchal gaze of heterosexual men. All talk of sex was straight sex: women giving blow jobs, hand jobs, soft dicks, hard dicks, sitting on dicks, he fucked me like this, etc. There was, however, one lesbian character that Ensler performed. This was the piercer that Ensler went to when considering getting her belly button pierced. Ensler portrayed this (self-proclaimed) dyke as terrifying. As a perverted sadomasochist that scared Ensler away from getting a piercing. Ensler was afraid of the lesbian. The established relationship between Ensler and Lesbian is one of terror. Additionally, there was not a single mention of trans individuals in the entire show. While a lesbian was at least present in the play, albeit in a problematic way, tran folk were completely erased from the Ensler's narrative of body image. For someone who considers herself a "radical feminist," I find this to be totally unacceptable.

Also, I find the way she co-opts cultures to be extremely problematic. She thinks that because she is this straight, white, upper middle class, wordly, feminist, she can be culturally neutral, or universal, and easily play the part of any woman, from the black woman she met at fat camp, to the latina at weight watchers who was a skinny bitch, to the Indian woman who took care of her and rubbed her belly when she had a parasite. Ensler moves in and out of these bodies of color, co-opting their experiences and attempting to share them with the world, but only manages to do so in a way that is ultimately exploitative as she safely, and securely, returns to her own, white, thin, American, body at the end of the performance. The other bodies are simply tossed aside and forgotten as Ensler ends the performance eating ice cream, as if she has somehow managed to overcome the unhealthy expectations placed on women's bodies. Bullshit. She tells us from the beginning that she hasn't overcome this. Why lie to the audience and make us think she feels okay eating the ice cream, when clearly she doesn't.

The feminist in me was expecting to enjoy the show more. Ensler has done incredible things, and I respect her. However, the queer, the anti-racist, the ever critical feminist in me, did not enjoy it as much as I was hoping to. There's too much that's too problematic in her performance.

Sorry, Eve.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So, i don't want to defend eve, per se. However, I just want to acknowledge that the Vagina Monologes did, in fact, start in a similar way - except she wasn't well known yet. She made a one-woman show, and toured as such. Only after it became more popular and toured around the world did various women perform each monologue... and i wonder about a similar plan for this one??

I agree with many problems having to do with various forms of oppression in her pieces. and i believe that to honestly, truthfully fight any form of oppression, you must fight all forms. One of my initial thoughts when reading/seeing the Vagina Monologues was it's glaring (for me) absense of transwomen.

Thanks for the review.
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