Eve Ensler, author of the international sensation "The Vagina Monologues," explores what has driven women to strive for physical perfection from the 1950s until now in her new book "The Good Body."
Read chapter one of "The Good Body."
When I was a little girl people used to ask me, What do you want to be when you grow up? Good, I would say. I want to be good. Becoming good was harder than becoming a doctor or an astronaut or a lifeguard. There are tests to pass to become those things—you have to learn dissection or conquer gravity or practice treading water. Becoming good was not like that. It was abstract. It felt completely out of reach. It became the only thing that mattered to me. If I could be good, everything would be all right. I would fit in. I would be popular. I would skip death and go straight to heaven. If you asked me now what this means, to be good, I still don't know exactly.
When I was growing up in the fifties, "good" was simply what girls were supposed to be. They were good. They were pretty, perky. They had a blond Clairol wave in their hair. They wore girdles and waist cinchers and pumps. They got married. They looked married. They waited to be given permission. They kept their legs together, even during sex.
In recent years, good girls join the Army. They climb the corporate ladder. They go to the gym. They accessorize. They wear pointy, painful shoes. They wear lipstick if they're lesbians; they wear lipstick if they're not. They don't eat too much. They don't eat at all. They stay perfect. They stay thin. I could never be good. This feeling of badness lives in every part of my being. Call it anxiety or despair. Call it guilt or shame. It occupies me everywhere. The older, seemingly clearer and wiser I get, the more devious, globalized, and terrorist the badness becomes. I think for many of us—well, for most of us—well, maybe for all of us—there is one particular part of our body where the badness manifests itself, our thighs, our butt, our breasts, our hair, our nose, our little toe. You know what I'm talking about?
It doesn't matter where I've been in the world, whether it's Tehran where women are—smashing and remodeling their noses to looks less Iranian, or in Beijing where they are breaking their legs and adding bone to be taller, or in Dallas where they are surgically whittling their feet in order to fit into Manolo Blahniks or Jimmy Choos. Everywhere, the women I meet generally hate one particular part of their bodies. They spend most of their lives fixing it, shrinking it. They have medicine cabinets with products devoted to transforming it. They have closets full of clothes that cover or enhance it. It's as if they've been given their own little country called their body, which they get to tyrannize, clean up, or control while they lose all sight of the world.
What I can't believe is that someone like me, a radical feminist for nearly thirty years, could spend this much time thinking about my stomach. It has become my tormentor, my distracter; it's my most serious committed relationship. It has protruded through my clothes, my confidence, and my ability to work. I've tried to sedate it, educate it, embrace it, and most of all, erase it.
Excerpted from "The Good Body," by Eve Ensler, copyright 2004.