When I was growing up, my mum and dad never stopped telling me how amazing, clever, funny and beautiful I was. I know we’re cautioned not to tell our daughters they’re beautiful too often so that a huge weight isn’t placed on that one quality as they grow up, but it made me feel quite invincible, thrown in among the ‘you’re so clever’ and ‘you’re so funny’ compliments. At 11 I went to an all-girl’s high school and spent years happily uninterested in boys, my ego totally undamaged by them. I was silly, hard-working and my world revolved around my friends.
Then when we were about 14 or 15, we started getting invited to parties and I realised my time had come – I was going to unleash this witty, precocious (I felt sure that was a compliment at the time), charming almost-woman on boys and I was going to get to choose one for my first kiss. The first party, it didn’t happen. But I was sure it was probably just my debut – they’d have to pluck up the courage to approach me. Then it didn’t happen at the second party. By the third party, all my friends had kissed someone. I hadn’t been approached. At the fourth or fifth I was approached! But the tall 14 year old just wanted to ask for advice on how to nail my friend. When it started to get me down, another girl suggested my hair – which I’d put up in a series of complicated twists and spikes with about 73 kirby grips and some plastic butterflies – might intimidate boys? I thought about dumbing it down, about not letting my train tracks show when I smiled. But I got into bed with my mum when I got home and she let me cry and then told me again how wonderful I was. Still, I wavered.
For the next five years I continued to waver. These boys had the power to make me question everything. I couldn’t win them over with humour or with my grades. I mean, when you’re just trying to grind up on a girl, you don’t need their Barbra Streisand impression to get things going.
I didn’t feel pretty anymore, and that seemed very important, more important than any of the things I thought I was good at or what my friends saw in me. I knew how adults around me tried to get pretty – dye your hair, be skinny, wear makeup, shave stuff, suck stuff in… And a lot of my favourite films were involved makeovers – She’s All That, Clueless, Teen Witch, Grease – a quick eyebrow wax and a blowdry (or a perm…a perm!!) was all it took to make the protagonist desirable to the hottest guy at school. I wore Spanx, I stopped making jokes, I tried to grow my hair long, I tried living on Melba Toast for a bit, I did 100 sit-ups a night… Anyway, eventually, I came out the other side, and I hate that for a while, the opinions of boys – or, the opinions I assumed they had of me – counted more than what I thought of myself. But now have this incredible daughter I worry will be vulnerable to the same feelings. And so when I went to see I FEEL PRETTY I took a whole bunch of feelings with me.
It felt like the premise revolved around the idea that it’s so ridiculous that anyone would find this woman attractive, or think that she could fit into the army of model-like executives working at her dream office. It has echoes of the Shallow Hal joke that a man is going round worshipping an obese woman because he doesn’t realise she’s obese. OBVIOUSLY if he had realised, he would have been repulsed! HAHAHA! I watched that film and WAS repulsed actually, because once again we were being framed to laugh at someone who was just automatically considered an unrealistic love interest on account of her size. Even Jack Black’s eventual redemption didn’t do it for me.
*semi spoiler alert warning*
But I Feel Pretty is a little different. Because it’s really about a woman – played by the AMAZING Amy Schumer, whom I love very deeply – with low self esteem who finds an abundance of it (thanks to a head injury…hmm), and actually by being confident and loving herself, convinces even the twattiest people she encounters that she really IS awesome. She might not look like a supermodel but she loves herself. GOOD MESSAGE! Bad message? She’s conned into thinking that way by a head injury. But it’s a journey and she eventually realises she looked the same all along and it was her attitude that changed, and tells everyone to throw off the constraints of physical beauty and feel good, worthy and powerful for all our combined strengths and weaknesses – GOOD MESSAGE!
What made me uncomfortable was the sniggers – both on screen and from fellow viewers – whenever she said how fabulous she was. I wanted to punch those fuckers right in the smug faces. This is where I’m confused – is the joke on her if she’s making it? Is it on all women who aren’t in that narrow market or ‘perfection’? Are they laughing at all of us? I kept thinking of 15 year old me, strutting into a party in my blue sparkly lurex dress from Morgan, and feeling so angry and sad about the moment that confidence and self assurance was dismantled, because I didn’t fit. Plus, Amy is (I would say) shaped like the majority of women, and is an attractive person, so the characters in the film AND those assholes around me laughing their faces off were laughing at a non-supermodel woman loving herself, as if that’s absurd. But here’s why I think Amy and co. might have the last laugh…
Amy recently told Oprah about why she joked about ‘grey area rape’ in her stand-up routine. She lost her virginity to her boyfriend who penetrated her without consent while she slept and she made jokes about it, she says, so that any men in the audience would absorb that message – you have to get consent. It was a message to all men disguised as a joke so they wouldn’t shut down or ignore it. And while it’s NUTS that in 2018 we still have to dress up stark warnings like this, it made sense to me. And I think maybe that is what is happening with this film? Hollywood needs a romantic interest and a sexy job to shoot for to make sense of it all. Amy Schumer is a pull because she’s made some funny films already. So it’s like an easy, ‘safe’ entry point to the people with the shit attitude towards beauty, and then she hits them with it – it’s not ok to shame somebody for their shape, appearance or self confidence [you douchebag].
I don’t think you can go into this film thinking you’re going to get a classic Schumer comedy. Judd Apatow had nothing to do with this film. Amy didn’t write it, although she said she collaborated with the writers, and I feel like it would have been sharper if she had written it, maybe? But I hope all the assholes who body shame, slut shame and generally mess with our self esteem and create impossible ideals will feel uncomfortable like I did, and I hope they’ll get that not-so-subtle message into their heads. And as a mum? I hope that message spreads far and wide before my daughter starts feeling inhibited and self conscious.
NOW: Go and see it, I need to discuss with people who have seen it….