Friday, February 6, 2004

Having issues: Christa Eleftherakis, left, Kiana Rivera, Maia Newell-Large and Rachel Secretario let their feelings known in "The Most Massive Woman Wins."

Seeking perfection

Four women meet in the waiting room of a liposuction clinic. Each is prepared to undergo a potentially life-threatening surgical procedure if that's what it takes to come closer to physical perfection.

But who really defines "perfection" and why do these women care?

'The Most Massive Woman Wins'

Where: Ernst Lab Theatre, University of Hawaii at Manoa

When: 11 p.m. tomorrow, 8 p.m. Sunday and 11 p.m. Feb. 13 and 14

Tickets: $8 general, $7 non-UHM students, seniors, military and UH faculty/staff, and $3 for UHM students with valid Spring 2004 student ID

Call: 956-7655

That is the question that graduate student director Jennifer Bolieu is posing this weekend with "The Most Massive Woman Wins" in the Ernst Lab Theatre on the University of Hawaii at Manoa campus.

"The words of the playwright spoke to me on many levels and I really related to them, but what I thought was interesting about the script was that I felt like any woman, regardless of her size, probably relates to it. I can generalize even further and include men in it ... but (the play) speaks to more than just being unhappy with the way you look or recognizing that society has a certain idea of what you should look like," Bolieu said.

Bolieu found she could relate to some of characters' experience because they reminded her of things she'd experienced growing up "not a small person" in a society in which a standard size 12 woman is seen as "plus size" by some and "outrageous" to others.

The production, which will include a post-show "rap session" following the 8 p.m. performance on Sunday, includes a "media element" that is intended to suggest the physical ideal many American women currently encounter. As Bolieu was collecting images of petite "ideal" women, she found that, after a while, "they all started to look alike."

"I (also) had to stop and remind myself, 'This woman is a Size 0,' she's not an average (size) woman. The average size of a woman in the United States is a 14," she said. Bolieu adds that "The Most Massive Woman Wins" is about more than just size and condition.

"It goes further than that in saying that no matter what you look like, or how perfect your body may seem, there are other things that make you unhappy with it. Your own perception of it can be quite different from what other people see.

"The difference between this play and a lot of other feminist or size-issue plays, or body image plays, is that the women don't have any self-pity. They don't whine about anything. They don't complain about any particular group. Some plays might rail against men or thin women, but this one doesn't attack any group. It's women dealing with their own internal struggles against what is being perceived as beautiful."

One of the four women is anorexic and bulimic, but all of them feel that liposuction will help them come closer to their self-set standard of perfection.

"The way that it's been cast, none of the women are really large women, so I think that brings that point home. We'll see these women, that many of us would be content to look like, and then see their discontent with the way they look. I think everybody experiences discontent (with their appearance) to some extent."

CAST MEMBER Maia Newell-Large agreed.

"Something that's really important in the play is the fact that all four women are not necessarily obesely overweight, but in our society today, every single woman, not matter what she looks like, experiences feelings of inadequacy and loss of self-worth because we feel we're supposed to look a certain way," she said, explaining that she sees her character as a woman who will never be completely satisfied with her physical appearance.

"She's never going to be 'perfect' enough, so she wants all those extra little things done that will make her so -- 'Fix my upper arms, trim my inner thighs, suck a little bit off my butt, so I can be perfect.' I would bet you money that I don't think you could find a woman who at some point hasn't been looking in a magazine and thought 'If I could just get this little bit sucked off!' "

Christa Eleftherakis portrays a woman with a history of self-mutilation who has "hit rock bottom" and who may see liposuction as a way of escaping her self-loathing. She, too, drew on personal experiences in getting into the role.

"I really was interested in doing the play because I felt I could really relate to it and a lot of the stories in it I could relate to my life when I was younger. It was (also) something I was attracted to because it wasn't so cut-and-dried. Things like MTV and everything us tells us that we should look like this and act like this -- and if you don't, you're a loser."

So is liposuction the answer? Eleftherakis doesn't think so.

"Jennifer (Bolieu) told me that the majority of people who get liposuction only have five or six pounds removed and, really, if you think about it, if you really wanted to lose five or six pounds, (you could) start running or exercise. If it's about (self-image), you can take away as much flesh as you want and underneath it all it will still be you."

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