I’ve been thinking a lot about the controversy surrounding Amy Schumer’s new movie I Feel Pretty. Basically, the gist of it seem to come down to the idea that—based on the previews, at least—the movie is fat-shaming Schumer, implying that it’s hilarious for an average-sized woman to feel gorgeous. On the other side, there’s also been the criticism that it’s ridiculous that Schumer—who is already white, blonde, and conventionally pretty—to be portrayed as an “ugly duckling.”
I had a very different reaction when I saw the preview. I related to it.
For better or worse, women in this society internalize the idea that their most valuable asset is their appearance. I certainly have. It doesn’t matter that I had parents who continually praised my intelligence and accomplishments, or that I now have a husband who adores my creativity and wit. I am a woman. I’m supposed to be pretty. I see it every time I turn on the television or read a magazine. I hear it every time a male friend or coworker tells me he wouldn’t even bother going on a date with a woman if she’s not attractive enough. I re-learned it every time I flipped through online dating profiles and read things like “I really want a woman who takes care of her appearance” (translation: no ugly girls), or “I want a woman who cares about her health and working out” (translation: no fat girls).
I also know that I’m not society’s standard of beautiful. I’m solidly built and I carry a little too much weight. My legs are too short. My face is too round. I look like I have fourteen chins if you take my picture at the wrong angle. One of my eyelids droops lower than the other. The bags under my eyes make me look like I’m auditioning for the next season of The Walking Dead. My fingers somehow manage to be too short and too big at the same time. And my breasts are ridiculously disproportionate to the rest of my body, which basically means every shirt I own fits me like a tent, adding the appearance of yet more weight to my figure that I just don’t need.
In short, I look like an average person, not like an actress or a supermodel or even a girl who would serve wings at your local Hooters. And every day, I feel like this is an inadequacy on my part.
But I’m not inadequate. I’m smart and funny. I have a husband I adore who adores me right back. I know everything you would ever want to know about cats and then some. I have an amazing memory, and I kick ass at trivia nights. I’m awesome at karaoke, not because I’m a great singer but because I’ve got moxy. I write books, for crying out loud! How many people can honestly say they’re living their childhood dream? I can. But on top of hating ourselves for our appearances, we woman are expected to downplay or brush off all the amazing things that we’ve done, all the cool things that we’ve accomplished, lest we be thought of as arrogant or boastful. We can’t win.
This society is designed to make women feel bad about ourselves. We internalize the idea that our looks are the only thing that matters, and our looks are never good enough. We’re taught to be modest and self-effacing, to beat ourselves down until all we hear are the voices in our heads telling us how not good enough we are.
I haven’t seen the movie yet, and Schumer has—for better or worse—earned a healthy degree of skepticism from the viewing public. But to me, the film didn’t look like the story of a woman who only believes she’s beautiful because of a head injury. It looks like the story of a woman whose self-esteem has been beaten down by a toxic society that tells women they’re never good enough, and who finally learns to own her awesome.
And ultimately, regardless of what I Feel Pretty says, that’s a good lesson for all of us. Not all of us are going to be cookie-cutter supermodels—and fuck society for making us feel like we need to be! Own your awesome. I’m going to try harder to own mine.