Embodi(ED) – A Penetrating Look at Cultural Body Image Oppression
by: Carole Di Tosti
From the moment you settle into your seat, check out the black and white “optical illusion” staging and watch the sequence of quotes scroll on a backdrop, you know you are in for an innovative, soul-immersive production that will challenge and inspire.
G!rl Be Heard’s World Premiere of Embodi(ED)), is nothing short of breathtaking. Whether you are a woman made to feel continually disjointed about your appearance, or are a man who “falls short” of the prototype, hot body, you will appreciate the production’s simplistic yet profound message: never loathe your physical appearance; your body is its own perfection. Embrace it. But first, throw off the cultural brainwashing that you “don’t rate” to heal your inner self.
The ensemble (12 actresses) who create and perform theme specific songs, dances, spoken word poems and monologues are absolutely incandescent. The ensemble has “done its incredible homework” and has researched the stark numbers behind the shining, air-brushed Cover Girl images of “beauty” which encourage women to look young, be thin and spend money to be the “IDEAL LOOK.”
The numbers which are projected on the backdrop during the ensemble’s various vignettes reveal what is at stake. The amount of money brought in by the weight loss industry yearly is $55 billion. The fitness industry (gyms, exercise equipment) picks up on average $22 billion. But there also is the terrifying figure that is underreported and rarely researched. It is the number of those who have eating disorders and are either in a stage of recovery or are in the full bloom of the disorder and are “dying to be thin.” These disordered are yearly anticipated to be around 20 million, but that figure is uncertain and could be greater.
This vital information revealed during the ensemble’s most searing vignettes (“Reality Check: 55 Billion,” “Clean up on Aisle 3,” “Anna Rexia,” “Love Song”) is a compelling reminder of the epidemic problem that has been created by a host of industries. It started as early as the 1920s (the fashion industry changed and hyped up its advertising) and 1930s (dangerous diet pills and metabolism drugs like amphetamines-speed were created to help one be as thin as film stars), and continues to this day.
Again and again, with humor and pathos, the ensemble is at its most powerful in reinforcing the nefarious fact that body perfection is an artful construct designed to warp emotional happiness and create soul torment. As the ensemble presents in “You’re A Mess,” and “How to Cover the Girl,” once the pain of feeling inadequate is triggered, it sends women (in the production youth is emphasized, but the same applies for older women “seeking” youthful appearances through expensive wrinkle creams and plastic surgeries) on a never-ending quest for products, procedures and processes to help them achieve what they will never achieve, that “Cover Girl” image.
Throughout each vignette, the theme abides: one can never “measure-up” because “up” is constantly shifting to displace one’s well-being. Factoring in the industries which play a part and which the ensemble refers to throughout (pharmaceutical, weight-loss, fitness-gyms, medical-surgical, cosmetic surgical, advertising, fashion, entertainment industries) profits spill into the trillions of dollars. For the thousands of dollars added to company profits, scores of women fail at achieving their desired youth, beauty or thinness. They become miserable and loathe themselves. After all, “No one will marry a fat woman!” a cast member says. Repeatedly, the irony is pointed out that though a woman may achieve her desired weight, she will never feel “finished” or fulfilled (“Finished Project,” “I Really Did It”).
Director Ashley Marinaccio, who shepherds the actors (ages range from 15-25) into a fluid, unified whole, has created an intricate production that is like spun gold. It brilliantly expands point by point to empower us to realize how fascist body images have a devastating impact on our society (the oldest eating disordered are in their 70s, the youngest in their tweens). From pacing, to the selection of variety acts, Embodi(ED) is outstanding. The ensemble proves, with finesse and adroitness, their enthusiasm and investment in this work which has been a long time coming for us and which ends on an uplifting note. In the finale, we are encouraged to reclaim the power over our own bodies and souls and be inspired to join in, tell our own stories, and heal.
Embodi(ED) will be at HERE until Sunday, February 21st – tickets here.org or by phone at 212-352-3101.
Photos: Ashley Marinaccio