That is a good question. And one that is being asked in the upcoming documentary theatre production Good Shape, which will be performed as a reading as part of the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity on Saturday, April 15 at 11:30 AM.
Wirtten by Ashley Marinaccio and Brady Amoonclark, Good Shape explores the relationship between capitalism, consumer culture and self-hatred. Marinaccio and Amoonclark began their work on Good Shape by conducting and filming interviews with a variety of men and women and and explores the topic through video, song and dance.
Marinaccio and Amoonclark reached out to people using social media and began asking them about their relationships with their own bodies. They said conducting the interviews was enlightening, both to them and to the people they interviewed.
“It’s been really beautiful, interviewing women and hearing their stories and watching them explore territory that they haven’t explored publicly, or that they haven’t been willing to explore before,” Amoonclark said. “I have a real interest in sort of documenting this phenomenon that women are expected to hate themselves. It’s a sort of quiet truth in our society that no one really explicitly acknowledges, but we all walk around with this idea that most women don’t feel good about themselves.”
The act of examining these consequences of this phenomenon was startling for many, Amoonclark said.
“This seemed like a revolutionary paradigm to so many people,” Amoonclark said of people being asked what would happen if they loved their bodies. “People had trouble wrapping their brains around it, because it would be such a shift in perception.”
The most common response to this question, Marinaccio said, was the statement that marketing and advertising would be out of business. This response, as well as the idea that self-hatred was so common, was eye-opening to her.
“It’s very rare to have it said out loud,” Amoonclark said. “It’s the quiet truth. It’s the more subtle, pervasive, thing. We never allow a 1950s Lysol commercial for douching now. We just won’t accept that as a society. But we will accept this kind of subtle undercurrent of everyone waking up every day and feeling shitty about themselves.”
One consequence of this shared sentiment is the profitable industry of weight loss, which took in $60 billion in 2011. But despite the popularity of the industry, 95% of people who lose weight cannot keep it off long-term. Another startling statistic about body image and self-hatred is that 60% of women in college show disordered eating, and the hospitalization rate for disordered eating was 112%.
Good Shape was not originally intended to focus only on women’s body image, but after Amoonclark and Marinaccio released a call for interviews, the majority of the people who responded were women. Amoonclark said three men were interviewed, but their responses to the questions were drastically different than women’s.
“The women’s studies explored such new emotional territory that we gravitated toward them,” Amoonclark said. “It’s great that we were able to make our show a show full of women’s stories, by two women, directed by women, stage managed by a woman – it’s an all-women creative team, which you never see.”
One interview that stood out to Amoonclark and Marinaccio was a former dancer who referred to George Balanchine as “the Lord High Devil of Body Image.” Despite her experiences with Balanchine, this woman said she had reached a place where she no longer cared about popular standards of beauty.
“She began to appreciate the beauty in all different types of bodies and experiences and traveling the world and seeing the wide range of what is beautiful and recognizing people who continue to be trapped by the social cultural standards of beauty and being able to feel free enough to escape it,” Amoonclark said.
“There seemed to be a theme of liberation for many older women we interviewed,” Marinaccio said. “They got to a point where they were like, ‘F***k this. I’m not going to sit around and allow myself to let this self-hatred to win any more. I’m going to make choices to change this dialogue I have with myself.”
The self-hatred Amoonclark and Marinaccio recognized in their interviews could also be tied to the ongoing feeling that women cannot win, no matter what they do. One woman they interviewed cited two magazine covers in the same month that referred to Gwyneth Paltrow as the Most Beautiful Woman Alive and the Most Hated Woman Alive.
“Where is the space for women to succeed?” Amoonclark asked. “Where do we see women who aren’t villains? Where do we see women who aren’t monsters? Where do we see women who succeed and are unapologetic about it? Where do we see working mothers who are not guilty about it? The spiral continues on and on.”
Amoonclark cited a Tumblr named “Is This Feminist?” which portrayed the numerous and varied pressures women face, the many expectations placed upon them and the feeling of failure if they do not embody all of the roles they are expected to play.
One of those roles is that of a healthy and beautiful woman, but the Amoonclark and Marinaccio expressed frustration at the definition of “healthy” in current society.
“I think there’s no way for a woman to succeed,” Amoonclark said. “There are signs that say, ‘Skinny is the new healthy,’ everywhere. Skinny is not acceptable anymore. Healthy is the new skinny – it is no longer enough to be skinny. You have to be skinny and have a six pack and have boobs and a butt. How can we encourage women to love the bodies they are? Our bodies are the only home we have. This is our space. How can we joyfully reclaim our space and take it back?”
The question of how to reclaim one’s body is one explored in Good Shape, and both Amoonclark and Marinaccio believe it starts with the choice to do just that.
“I think it starts with deciding that you want to change the narrative about your body, seeking out cultural resources that support that, maybe changing your media influence – as much as you can,” Amoonclark said. “I think it starts with deciding what you need for yourself and having the courage to go out and get it, and having the courage to not engage in body shame talk and not participate or support organizations that shame, demean or belittle women.”
Marinaccio said exploring shame and openly discussing shame, as well as sexuality, is also an important part of women reclaiming their bodies for themselves.
One aspect of shame that came up in the interviews for Good Shape was sexual harassment in the workplace, and the constant pressure of women to conform to one physical stereotype or another. Length of hair, whether to wear a skirt or pants, whether to show cleavage or not, and various other aspects of a woman’s physical appearance at their jobs were all areas where women were told they were doing wrong, in one way or another.
“No one will take a woman in power, in a powerful role, because you look too feminine, or you don’t look feminine enough,” Marinaccio said, recalling one of her personal experiences. “There was no way to win.”
“What we’re trying to create with our piece is a way to win,” Amoonclark said. “We want to create dialogue that empowers women to talk with the people in their lives towards a way to succeed. What would it look like where a woman was capable of succeeding and fully succeeding? Not succeeding halfway, and not succeeding in one area, but totally successful. We have plenty of examples of successful men. Where are examples of successful women that don’t have a footnote or asterisk following it?”
This perceived inability to succeed stifles women from telling their stories, Amoonclark said.
“When women are empowered to tell their own stories, then they can tell the truth about their experiences,” Amoonclark said. “Women are always subject to other people’s expectations. How can we be authentic?”
That authentic voice is what Amoonclark and Marinaccio hope Good Shape will help people find.
“Whatever works for you is your journey. You have to find your own journey towards health. And you should be supported by people who are invested in your total health,” Amoonclark said. “Rather than people who are invested in your conforming to a certain societal standard of appearing a certain way. So when we talk about Good Shape people think of good shape as a physical look. What does ‘good shape’ look like? But I think of ‘good shape’ as more of an internal feeling. Maybe not even the physical I can lift 50 pounds. But the feeling of feeling healthy and nourished and vibrant. And feeling like you have the right to take up the space that you are entitled to as a person.”