Does the fact that there is a $55 billion-a-year beauty industry bother you? Do you ever wonder if you are wearing that lipstick because you chose it or if you’re just being controlled by a patriarchal consumer-driven society? Non-profit social theatre company Girl Be Heard addresses these questions and more in their remarkably poignant and important show, Embodi(ED), at HERE Arts Center. In it, 12 girls ages 15 to 25 present their stories of experiencing what too many girls around the world experience: body shaming, eating disorders, and the impossible standards of beauty females are expected to live up to.
The incredible ensemble cast is made up of a dozen strong and beautiful actresses of varying shapes, sizes and colors, who also wrote and choreographed all 26 vignettes. The fact that these stories are so relatable is a testament to their skills as storytellers. It’s hard to highlight any one piece over another because they are all so powerful. These girls speak intelligently about body issues, trying neither to outright blame the beauty industry nor fully assume the responsibility for being susceptible themselves.
In a talkback after the show led by Ms. Foundation CEO & President, Teresa Younger, the girls mentioned that they did a lot of research to put the show together. Not all had personally experienced what they discuss in the show, but they interviewed other people and took those stories along with their own to devise the vignettes. Some of the girls in the talkback were candid enough to claim a story as their own. No matter whose story it was, though, all are refreshingly honest, courageous, and inspire outrage and change.
The research the girls did is apparent, as some pieces include statistics about the health and beauty industry, like the one that calculates how much profit these corporations generate a year (“Reality Check: 55 Billion” by Madeline Shaffer). On a pharmacy checkout line, Ashleigh C. Ricci lists all the harmful ingredients in diet pills that, after being proved to cause death, have simply been repackaged and marketed differently (“Clean up on Aisle 3”). Most pieces, however, are highly personal, like Maria Diez talking about her parents giving her a pair of too-small jeans every year to encourage her to lose weight (“They Said”). There is also the one by Allison Flom, who in college had to be hospitalized due to her eating disorders (“I Really Did It”).
Despite the discouraging statistics of corporate irresponsibility, the underlying message of Embodi(ED) is one of hope. These girls have overcome the powerful messages that we are bombarded with every day that say a girl cannot be accepted or worth anything unless she is pretty, thin, and sexy. What Girl Be Heard recognizes is that the only person who can say whether or not she is worthy is herself.