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Body Beautiful, The (1990)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

A young woman recalls events of her childhood that shaped her relationship with her mother. Separated from her father by the civil war in Nigeria Madge Onwurah brings her young daughter to live in the North of England. Soon after Madge is diagnosed with breast cancer and at the same time as she is expecting a second child. Later Madge suffers from rheumatoid arthritis.

Madge reacts to her illnesses by closing out the outside world. She lives for her children and as they grow, they learn to look after her. At 16 the daughter becomes a model, travelling the world. Madge observes her growing success with pride mixed with a greater desire to hide from the world.

The daughter persuades Madge to accompany her to a sauna. In the sauna the mother falls asleep. The towel slips down her chest, exposing the marks of the mastectomy. The other sauna users look on with curiosity and disgust. For the first time the daughter sees her mother as other women see her and is hurt. Later in the lounge area she overhears boys laughing and joking over women's breasts in a magazine. While daughter grows more upset and resentful, Madge fantasises about one of the young men, a black man, making love to her.

Madge and the young man make love, the daughter encouraging them from the foot of the bed. However, though the young man is tender he does not touch the mastectomy scars. Daughter screams at him to touch her mother but the mother intervenes. The truth the daughter comes to realise is that if she were not the child of her mother, she too would have rejected her.

The daughter reflects on a world that sees things in black and white and makes judgments about female beauty or perceived lack of beauty.