Playwright Danielle Pinnock conducted over 300 interviews in the U.S and UK in which she asked her subjects—of various ages, races, and genders—“How do you define beauty?” She transcribed those interviews, and studied the dialects, and reveals the characters in her one-woman show Body/Courage.
For more than 80 minutes, Pinnock is the embodiment of multiple characters and interviews. She is male and female. Young and old. Straight and gay. Mother and grandmother. She is trans-gendered. She is bulimic. She is Indian. She is Irish. She is Jamaican. She is Black. It’s a phenomenal performance!
WCW: How did you get the courage to integrate your body image story into the play?
DP: Five years of interviews inspired me to sit down to interview my mother, and tell our story. When I was 8, I was diagnosed with dermatomyositis, a muscle disease that caused me to spend most of my childhood in hospital rooms and wheelchairs, slowly gaining weight whilst swallowing prednisone hidden inside mint chocolate chip ice cream. My mom made it her duty to help me lose the weight through fad dieting. I’ve tried every single one. In fairness, my mother did the best she could. As a single mom, she felt the camaraderie of these shared diets brought us closer. However, as an adult, I began to experience a paralyzing fear of food. My “I’ll start a new diet on Monday” mind-set lasted for 16 years as I compulsively ate and deprived my body. I was worried that I was not attractive enough. So obsessed and afraid no one would hire me as an actor if I didn’t win the battle with the numbers on the scale, in February 2011 I attempted suicide and landed in the hospital for multiple days.
We do extreme things to our bodies because of those numbers. Numbers that cannot talk with us or love us. On March 20, 2014, I threw my scale in the trash, and to ensure I wouldn’t rescue it, I threw chicken stock on it. I have had to practice looking in the mirror and telling myself I am beautiful. I have had to stop judging my belly, stop starving myself, stop getting on the scale and staring at those numbers. It took me years to find the courage to stop pressuring my body. Food is still an integral part of my life, and I still struggle to this day after living a life of “quick fixes.” But, I have come to the realization that my life is more important than those numbers on the scale and that the quality of the life I live is more important than how I look in the mirror.
WCW: Body Courage started as your master thesis. What made you decide to present it on stage?
DP: In theatre, I was tired of seeing people who did not represent me on stage. I wanted to focus on the topic of body image because I was on the road to finding accepting my body at that point. I was so at odds with my body in graduate school and I was tired of feeling like the only one in this struggle to find beauty. So i interviewed over 300 people worldwide about their body stories and that is how the show came about.
WCW: Do you always use the same interview questions?
DP: Everyone is asked the same 10 questions. However, over the years I have altered a few questions to get deeper responses. One of the newer questions I ask: Are you at Peace With Your Body?
WCW: Which question do you start with?
DP: What is your favorite childhood memory? This questions allows people to bring their guards down and to really open up. I hear some hilarious stories as well which really helps break the ice!
WCW: This is documentary theatre so there’s no creative license to wrap up the stories in a grand conclusion or happily ever after kind of theme. What would you say to audience members that walked away questioning what the author intended for us to take away from the experience?
DP:I want the audience to go home and take a long look in the mirror and to discover where they are at in their personal body acceptance journey. The show has helped promote a lot of conversation on how to become positive about ones body in such a comparative world. I think it first starts with the mirror and I hope this show will reflect the beauty inside of the audience so everyone walks away with a little bit of peace.
WCW: How do you unwind after a long stretch of rehearsing and performing?
DP: Discipline is no joke! Haha! After the show is over I do not speak. I have developed a short hand with my husband and best friends around me. I only allow myself one 20 minute conversation a day and on my days off I speak to no one. On my days off sometimes I will treat myself and get a pedicure or massage!
WCW: Are you at peace with your body image?
DP: My relationship with the mirror is not perfect but it is a lot better than it used to be. I love the body I am in now. I went through a lot of fad diets in my life and I had to come to a place where I realized those things were killing me. I have had to learn, with the help of a licensed nutritionist and personal trainer, how to learn to eat balanced meals without depriving myself. I had to learn my body is not a quick fix it is here for a lifetime and I need to treat it preciously.
WCW: When do you feel most like yourself?
DP:I feel most like myself when i am doing the things in my life that truly make me happy. I love being on stage and working on this show. I hope it inspires people to spread the word and to love themselves more.
We can thank Twitter for our introduction to Danielle Pinnock, and I am so grateful for the invite because the performance was life-changing. The icing on the cake was the post production chat. Check out the pictures here and click here to purchase your ticket.
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