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Body Awareness by Annie Baker

I went to see The Wilbury Group’s production of Body Awareness last Saturday night.  It was directed by a dear friend and mentor, Wendy Overly.  In a nutshell, a lesbian couple,  live in a small town in Vermont with one of the women’s sons.  Phylis works as a Psychology Professor at the local college, Shirley State, and is in charge of their eating disorder awareness week, which has been re-named Body Awareness Week.  The play takes place over the course of those five days.  Joyce, Phylis’s partner’s son, Jared, is 21, lives at home, and appears to have some kind of spectrum-based disorder.  Phylis and Joyce have given him a book on Asperger’s and he is defensive and stubborn about having it.  Frank, a visiting artist, is staying with Joyce and Phylis for Body Awareness week. He is in town with his photography exhibit that looks at women of all ages and sizes in the nude. 

The inclusion of mental health issues in a play that examines body image issues was interesting.  Of course I am more interested in the feminist messages of the play.  Right from the start, over a discussion with Jared about his use of pay-per-view porn, Joyce informs her son that she thinks women with no body hair is gross.  She says to him “You now people don’t really look like that. It will be extremely hard for you to find a real person who looks like that.”  (She is wrong on this point).  She goes on “I assume you know we have pubic hair for a reason.” 

One of the conflicts in the play is between Joyce and Phylis around Frank’s exhibit.  Phylis thinks it’s pornographic and that Frank is a creep for doing this kind of work.  Joyce decides to meet with him during his stay to get her picture taken.  As much as she appreciates his art, Phylis’ criticism has rubbed of on her and she’s very nervous.  She questions whether his taking pictures of naked women is creepy or makes him a sleazeball.  He responds “what if Michaelangelo masturbated to the statue of David?  Does that make him a bad sculptor?”

This exhibit in the play, I believe is based off of an art exhibit called The Century Project by artist Frank Cordelle.  We brought his exhibit to UMass Dartmouth in the last 90s, I believe.  It was very controversial because we exhibited it in our Campus Center and people had to walk by it unless they chose to walk outside the building.  The discussion continually came back to the issue of porn versus nudity, something I feel very strongly about.  I think many of us are raised in families where nudity is not acceptable unless you are a baby.  This, of course, limits how we then feel about our sexuality, our body, our body image.  I had a mom who was very comfortable walking around naked.  I always embraced nudity as a positive, never seeing it as pornographic.

Today, however, the only nudes that people get to see, outside of the art world, are the cloned-pubic-hair-less-fake-titted women who all look the same, minus the hair color on their heads.  It’s sad that the only acceptable look of a woman nude in our culture today is one type.  Three years ago I taught a class called The Female Body:  Women’s Health, Sexuality and Reproductive Rights.  One of the groups did their presentation on Playboy through the years to show how diverse the women use to be.  This came out of numerous discussions we had about body hair and how young women and men police other women about their need for no hair “down there.”  They believe it is “dirty” to have pubic hair.   

The play has an interesting climax that deals with other “body” issues like exposure and sexual violence.  It runs this weekend at The Wilbury Theatre Group. As there is so little theatre, written and directed by women, this is a must see.

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