If you’re a woman with an Internet connection and an active Twitter account, then you probably noticed there’s been some negative commentary around Amy Schumer’s new movie I Feel Pretty, out April 20, from users—including some of my favorite feminist voices—who watched the trailer and were irked.
“As someone who looks considerably less attractive than @amyschumer in a bikini, has considerably less middle class privilege, & a chronic illness – what am I supposed to take from #Ifeelpretty – that I’m hideous to society and need brain damage before I can believe in myself? Ffs,” one user wrote. “Amy Schumer is blonde, white, able-bodied, femme and yes, thin,” another said. “She IS society’s beauty ideal. So they give her a ponytail and remove her make-up and suddenly she’s ugly? Why not just give her glasses or a fatsuit? What is wrong with this world?”
And I get it: It’s easy to view the trailer alone and think, Wow, a white woman plagued by modern beauty standards hits her head and suddenly becomes beautiful and is absolved of all her problems. There are more important narratives to tell, from marginalized voices we don’t often hear from, who objectively have it way worse. I get it! But here’s the thing: I Feel Pretty isn’t that movie.
It’s so rare we get to see women tell their own stories onscreen and behind-the-scenes, let alone both. Schumer produces and stars in her own major studio comedy, so that alone is a win. But it’s so much more: From the many, many ways in which women are taught to self-loathe, to experiencing an utter loss of self-worth, to our compulsive need to put people in boxes, this movie is brimming with progressive and much-needed social commentary. I Feel Pretty centers female-specific narratives about confidence and body dysmorphia that you just don’t see in your average romantic comedy, where the real-life-looking girl would typically play the hopelessly single, quirky friend while only the unattainably hot—probably Jennifer Aniston—protagonist gets the guy. It’s about damn time we get a movie that breaks down body image issues in an acerbic, dark, deeply feminine way, while still allowing her to have a happy ending. For that reason, calling I Feel Pretty anything but feminist should be a crime, punishable by getting dragged on Twitter.
Women are given endless opportunities per day to compare ourselves with other women. From our early days of adolescence, we’re taught to pick apart our bodies, our quirks, our interests, our traits…until there is nothing left but fear and shame. We stack ourselves against those who are different—whether it’s a woman with a better job, more money, someone who just seems happier, or the hot girl we follow on Instagram for no reason other than, well, she’s “goals.”
Then, of course, there’s the magazines, the billboards, the commercials, the actresses, the fitspo ladies, the girls on nebulous yacht vacations off the Amalfi coast. If you’re gay, like me, you get to swipe through dating apps and wonder why you don’t look like the bottomless score of “hers.” It is constant, unfettered, and unrelenting. Women’s brains are programmed to become comparison machines, and before we even recognize that it’s taking a harmful toll on our psyche we are wholly bogged down by the weight of coexisting next to Bella Hadid.
Calling I Feel Pretty anything but feminist should be a crime, punishable by getting dragged on Twitter.
That’s why we need a movie like I Feel Pretty, which follows Renee Bennett (Schumer), a woman who hates her job, her life, and her body. One fateful morning she falls off her bike at Soulcycle and smacks her head, which leaves her in a temporary state of heightened body dysmorphia. Even though she appears the same to the outside world, when she looks in the mirror, she sees a supermodel. It’s a loaded role, but Schumer infuses Renee with a gravitas that’s at worst Oscar-worthy and at best tough to watch.
In an early scene, the 36-year-old actress strips down in front of her bedroom mirror and just stares at her body, a woman and her flesh cage. She wells up as the camera locks on her distraught visage for 10 long, gutting seconds. That oh-too-recognizable look of pain was all I needed to be sold on I Feel Pretty. We’ve all been there, and we’ve all been there hard.
With that being said, I hear you, Twitter. Schumer’s experiences differ greatly from women of color, those who are heavier or less able-bodied, and people who don’t benefit greatly from systems of privilege in the way the actress and writer does. And we almost never see those kinds of women onscreen. But in that deeply personal, stripped-down confrontation with her body, I realized that this movie is not about being fat, nor does it say being fat makes you ugly—like some on Twitter assumed it did. This film is about feeling bad about yourself and being insecure.
But wait, there’s more! I Feel Pretty also offers a broader glance at self-loathing and feeling hopelessly devoid of worth, whether that’s derived from a body image issue or something totally different. When Renee “transforms,” she displays a confidence that’s so youthful and unadulterated that it’s childlike. She embodies what it’s like to be a six-year-old girl who thought she looked dope as hell in whatever Limited Too outfit I—er, she—had on. That unfiltered self-love that we forget to carry into our adult lives.
That’s why Schumer’s solo moments are the bread and butter of this movie. They reflect loss: loss of childhood, loss of undiluted admiration for yourself, and loss of me. Like, the actual me—not the me that survived decades of telling myself I was uglier, shorter, stumpier, stupider. In addition to views about ourselves, we’re taught a lot of incredibly stupid things about others in our early days: racism, discrimination, homophobia. Renee represents what it would be like to totally jettison everything that makes your feel like shit about yourself, or if you could unlearn those garbage views. It’s freeing to watch.
But even though I adore a movie that gives avid representation to people who hate themselves, the best part of I Feel Pretty are its characters. They refuse to be confined to the parameters that our society constructed for them. There’s our loveable lead Renee, who parlays her newfound self-esteem into landing a job at the front desk of Lily LeClaire, a high-end fashion brand that typically only hires Instagram models. She faced endless stares, judgments, and pushback from both the company’s employees and clientele, but she demanded a presence there. Then there’s her love interest, played by Rory Scovel, who always does stereotypical feminine things, like cry, and do Zumba, and talk about crying, and being able to name any given Zumba pose off the top of his head—it’s mostly crying and Zumba stuff. But they don’t judge each other for the qualities that others might view as misgivings or oddities. Doing the opposite allows them to flourish.
All Renee wants is to feel beautiful because, for her, feeling beautiful is the path to self-esteem and self-worth. Is that a great message? No. Luckily, that’s not the message I Feel Pretty delivers. Renee and her boyfriend embolden each other to be themselves in their purest forms, not who the world wants them to be. It asks you to face yourself—eccentricities, inner demons, insecurities, and all. We lose parts of ourselves when we grow up. That’s inevitable. It’s also impossible to return to a state of unsullied self-love. But relearning to be that person, reteaching yourself positive affirmations, and learning to look in the mirror and say “I am enough”? Now that is truly beautiful.
Jill Gutowitz is a writer in Los Angeles. She has written for Vice, Broadly, Teen Vogue, AwesomenessTV, Dame Magazine, and more. Follow her on Twitter @jillboard.