When I first watched the for Amy Schumer’s new comedy I Feel Pretty, I was immediately skeptical.
The premise feels fairly familiar. Schumer plays Renee, a young woman who works for a beauty company in NYC, has awesome friends (played by Aidy Bryant and Busy Philipps) and has an overall pretty decent life, except that she suffers from a huge lack of confidence. Everything changes when she smacks her head on a bike during SoulCycle and when she wakes up, she sees herself as someone else with supermodel-level looks.
After watching the trailer, I realized my smile had dissolved into a tired frown. I’ve seen stories like this before, and they simply do not reflect what a true body positive journey feels like. There was immediate backlash to the trailer on social media; this tweet from comedian Sofie Hagen perfectly sums up my frustrations:
I MEAN, SHE HITS HER HEAD AND THEN FEELS BEAUTIFUL. This movie legit had to become SCI-FI for it to be realistic. Only in a MAGICAL universe could she possibly feel pretty. HER – blonde, white, thin, femme, cis, blah, she is ALL THE THINGS AND STILL SHE IS NOT CONSIDERED PRETTY.
— Sofie Hagen (@SofieHagen)
Amidst all the criticism about the trailer, Schumer defended the movie telling , “it’s not about an ugly troll becoming beautiful, it’s about a woman who has low self-esteem finding some. Everyone’s got a right to feel that feeling, regardless of their appearance.”
So I tried to keep an open mind, I really did. But within the first few minutes, Schumer collapsed a bicycle seat (insinuating that it couldn’t hold her weight) and she was later told that a store didn’t carry clothes in her size. We were set up to believe that she’s above average size, but Schumer herself has spoken against about this perception. In 2016, she bristled at being included in Glamour‘s -size issue. “I go between a size 6 and an 8…Young girls seeing my body type thinking that is size? What are your thoughts? Mine are not cool glamour not glamourous.”
It doesn’t help that the audience never actually gets to see how Schumer’s character sees herself when she looks in the mirror after her injury. “The assumption is that the woman I see when I look in the mirror is skinny,” Schumer said in the Vulture interview. Uh, yup, that certainly is the assumption. Wanna know why? Because when she wakes up, she marvels at how amazing her abs are! Which is really sad. Why not have her embrace her stomach and proclaim, “look how cute my belly is!” instead of painting a picture of someone with a much smaller body?
Though most of the film felt contradictory to my experience, there was one scene that felt like it had been written straight from my life: When Renee unexpectedly finds common ground with a super-hot acquaintance (Emily Ratajkowski) over being dumped. The two of them share a sigh of relief at their shared experience. It reminded me of a revelation I had in my early 20s, when I was working on a piece about the first time I wore a bikini. I was describing to my slim-figured editor how much I worried about being judged by others. “I completely understand how that feels,” she said to me. “You do?” My mind was blown. Until that moment, I didn’t actually realize that all women, regardless of their size, have moments of self-doubt and insecurity. If this scene had occurred earlier in the movie, maybe Schumer’s character would never have needed a knock on the head.
Even though I related to certain scenes, I cringed through the entire movie. Renee hates her looks, then loves them, then hates them again, then *spoiler alert* finally gains confidence as her true self at the very end. We don’t even get to see her living her best life in the body she came to love and frankly, that sucks. I wanted to see Renee hit the dance floor with her friends and express her newfound confidence by shaking it without a care, the same way she did when she was under the spell. I wanted to see her tell off those snooty salespeople or strangers in fitness classes who judged her. At the very least, I wanted to see her walk past a mirror and smile at her true reflection. Instead, I watched the credits roll.
Learning to love yourself is hard, I totally get that—and I was all for a film that explored that struggle in a nuanced way, but this wasn’t it. What I can say is that I’m a -size woman who struggled for a long time with her own insecurities, but still, I woke up today feeling beautiful. And it didn’t take a smack on the head to get me here: It took years of unpacking my own insecurities through therapy, educating myself on feminism and patriarchal standards, and surrounding myself with like-minded positive people.
When Aidy Bryant recently to I Feel Pretty’s critics in an Instagram story, she wrote: “Change cannot happen overnight and this movie is a step in the right direction.” She’s right on one point: change really doesn’t happen quickly. It takes a long time and work to overcome society’s bullshit standards to get to a place of confidence. To imply that a head injury is the only way for a woman to reach that place isn’t entertaining, it’s infuriating.
UPDATE: Amy posted the above selfie with Aidy this weekend as the film arrived in theatres. THIS is the kind of message we need to see more of. “We need to do the work to learn how to love ourselves,” she wrote. “It’s hard work for most people.” Kudos to her for posting. I only wish this statment ran at the end of the movie before the credits.
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