White girls all around the globe are sending Amy Schumer huge hugs.
I am outraged that this film's message is still as relevant as ever…but it is. "What a woman looks like shouldn't matter." I have a Masters degree in Cultural Gender Studies and I have studied how advertising companies specifically capitalize on the insecurities of their consumers. I still look in the freaking mirror, I still worry about my cellulite, wrinkles, and bad hairs days, and sadly I still give a damn about my appearance. Even worse, I contribute to the over 60 billion dollar a year…A YEAR beauty industry. It's both pathetic and true, making me both well-educated, well-rounded, and still a slave to corporations, marketing geniuses, and capitalists.
It's no wonder white girls all around the globe are sending Amy Schumer huge hugs of gratitude. I count myself among these women who after seeing her latest film, I Feel Pretty, want to thank her for reminding us of our futile obsession with unrealistic standards of beauty. Even if you didn't love the film, and I'm not surprised if you didn't, (it wasn't earth-shattering cinema), it still hit the nail on the insecure head. It's so sad, but seeing a woman happy or proud or secure…with an average body is still shocking. In the film, Schumer looks like most of the women we know and love, and yet, her shaking her un-perfected, un-starved, and un-Botoxed realistic body on stage made us laugh out loud and squirm in our seats.
While this film likely did lift up women of all backgrounds in one way or another, I would be remiss if I didn't mention its huge blind spot around race. This film focused almost solely on white women's standards of beauty and it did this very well. What it did not do was acknowledge that while society asks the average white woman to care about and maintain ridiculous standards of heteronormative aesthetics, it asks women of color to do this two fold. Since white standards of beauty are the "norm" it means that even when a white woman "fails at" or resists these unrealistic standards, she still has white skin and straight or curly (not an afro) hair, making her appear more normative than her sisters of color.
What does more normative grant you? It grants you cultural capital, trust, and access. It means you are more "hirable," it means you can mess up more and still not get fired, and it means the white people at the top, the ones who can promote you, help you advance your career, are more likely to do so because they are at ease around you. It's a hall pass we call white privilege. This lack of racial awareness in the movie is a blind spot for sure. This doesn't mean it's not worth watching. This film still offers us some worthy gems. It still slaps audiences across the face and reminds us just how much time we spend caring about a vapid cause, one that surely doesn't result in lifelong happiness.
It is sad that the message of this movie is still as relevant as it was 30 years ago, 20 years ago, 10 years ago. While the discovery and cause of rampant eating disorders was discovered in the 90's and early millennium, it is 2018 and unhealthy body image is still as much of a problem as ever, perhaps more. This means Schumer's film is sadly as important as ever. If women spend even just 30% of their time concerning themselves with their looks, that's 30% less time they spend thinking about politics, career advancement, and for that matter, anything empowering at all. Now, let us not take the angle of blaming women for thinking about this stuff. One thing this film did not fail to show, is that hyper-heteronormative appearances grant you access, and women are smart for wanting access. We wouldn't strive for these standards if we didn't think they would grant us something.
So the question becomes one of a continued struggle. How do we fight for continued access, while discontinuing the participation in unrealistic standards of beauty… or better yet, how do we take beauty out of the "access equation?" How do we separate our own desires for beauty, our own definition of beauty, our own uniqueness… from cultural capital? How do we resist participating in this reward system?
Amy Schumer is doing this, as are all the women who play out the ridiculousness of what women are asked to be, to look like, to embody. When we see it played out on the screen it is hilarious and we are able to see ourselves as parody. Perhaps this is itself the best act of resistance. To lay out all of the insane beauty practices for the world to see. To show every detail of what goes into a "perfect" body making the process so imperfect that it no longer seems worthwhile. Secret sharing, myth busting, and demystifying the bi-nary, confined, and altogether lame practices of prescribed standards of female beauty may be where its at. Now in English… if we wore our spanks on the outside of our clothes it wouldn't be sexy, if we balanced on our tippy toes instead of high heels, it would be odd rather than sexy, and if we went out with green face-masks during the day people would giggle.
What if our goal was to make people laugh, instead of be attracted to our physicality? What if our jokes were our collateral instead of our cleavage? Yes this is an oversimplification for sure… but answer me this… did you plan on looking in the mirror today? Again, I know it's about much more than this but if it's still funny to see a normal naked body, content and confidant, than clearly we have much more work to do. Humor doesn't fade but youth surely does. Schumer gives us something we can keep forever - the beauty and magic of a good laugh.
By Rachel Hall, Rachel has a Masters in Cultural Gender Studies, and a BA in Communication & Culture, and works with all kinds of people to improve their ability to work with all kinds of people. She can often be found hiding in her laundry room from her two children. More about her on her website.