by Laura Kressly
Strips of raw steak hang in pairs around a clinical-looking platform covered in white plastic sheeting. They also dangle from a clothes peg pinching ELOINA’s vulva in a literal depiction of the crude term, ‘beef curtains’. She hated this part of her body when she was 10 years old. Since then she has come to understand this self-loathing, that can result in surgery to minimise and reshape a person’s labia, is the result of unrealistic genital depictions. Whilst there’s little she can do to change the porn, media and pop culture industries, ELOINA can raise awareness and foster self-acceptance.
She aims to achieve this through her own testimony and recorded anonymous voices reflecting on their relationships with their labia, labiaplasty, and fighting to love this part of their bodies. She also talks the audience through her anatomy and invites them to look at or examine her genitals up close – all whilst completely naked. She has a calm and friendly presence, emphasised by amusing, subtle shifts in movement and facial expression. Her performance is often low-key; at times she just listens to the voiceovers of women she interviewed. Though these moments lack theatricality and could be more effectively integrated into the performance, they’re moving.
The strongest sections are those with her real mum, who first helps her prepare a chimichurri to top the steaks ELOINA removes from her labia, tenderises and grills. Later, mum helps her swing the strips of meat hanging about the stage. They rock in time, like pendulums, in a soothing acceptance of bodily rhythms and the swing between self-love and self-loathing. At another point, the two embrace. This is part of a greater point that labia are determined by their ancestors, and one that would hold up to being emphasised even more.
ELOINA’s candidly-told journey indicates that accepting our bodies in spite of patriarchal norms takes a lot of work. Actions at a grassroots level, such as talking about labia size, make a difference and is part of this work. This is inseparable from the gentle sense of community she creates through her casual yet direct engagement with the audience. Though at times the piece feels like it’s still in development, it has an inclusive, joyful fire that celebrates all shapes and sizes.
High Steaks runs through 3 September.
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