Edinburgh based plus size style and fat positive blogger AmandaApparel critically discusses the trailer for Amy Schumer’s new comedy “I Feel Pretty.”
Amy Schumer has just released a trailer for her latest comedy “I Feel Pretty," and to be frank, it’s a hot mess that is giving me a LOT of feelings. The basic premise is this:
“Renee Bennett knows what it's like to be average in a world of the genetically blessed. After falling off an exercise bike and banging her head, she believes a spell has suddenly made her gorgeous. Except to everyone else, she looks exactly the same. Renee's new confidence suddenly sees her climbing the ranks at the cosmetics company she works for, getting the respect of her idol and boss, Avery LeClaire. Ultimately Renee realizes 'the spell' has lifted, but through the process learns true beauty is not skin deep.”1
Sounds positive enough right? You’d think so, but maybe give the trailer a watch before you get too optimistic:
So what do you think? I…I have some concerns.
The biggest issue is that for this plot to work the audience must believe that Schumer’s character is so wildly unattractive that it would be preposterous for her to think she’s hot and to be confident in her own skin. “But Amanda,” you may be thinking, “everyone has issues with body confidence and insecurity no matter what they look like!” That’s absolutely correct, and this post isn’t meant to deny or undermine those feelings. However, it is important to acknowledge that Schumer actually IS the epitome of Eurocentric beauty standards.2
Schumer ticks pretty much all of the privilege boxes: white, able-bodied, presumably cis-het, and thin, but for some reason (spoiler alert: the reasons are capitalism and its supporting fatmisia3) Hollywood doesn’t acknowledge that she’s thin. Let’s refer back to the first scene in the film trailer:
Assistant: Are you shopping for a gift?
Schumer: Kinda browsing for me.
Assistant: So sizing is a little limited here in the store,
but you could probably find your size online.4
Okay so like, this is clearly meant to depict the Plus Size Shopping Experience,™ but Schumer herself was outraged that Glamour magazine included her amongst plus size celebrities like Melissa McCarthy and Ashley Graham.5 She clapped back at Glamour declaring that "plus size is considered size 16 in America. I go between a size 6 and an 8.”5
I just…ugh. I admit I haven’t lived in the states in six years, but where in the USA would a size 6-8 shopper (UK size 10-12) walk into any major clothing retailer to find that their size wasn’t catered to? The only way I can describe this is performative oppression. Is Schumer held to ridiculously high beauty standards as a comedian and actress in Hollywood? Absolutely. But does she have unrestricted access to more clothing than plus size individuals could ever dream of? Oh yeah, she certainly does. Let’s refer back to another scene from the trailer:
Schumer: Are you okay?
Friend: I’m like, dealing with low self esteem and like…
Schumer: I want to punch you right in your dumb face right now.4
As I’m sure my fat sisters are aware, this is the classic “If she’s fat, then what am I?” schtick. One could argue that this is more accurately “If she’s ugly, then what am I?” but I would argue that this film and Hollywood in general use fat and ugly as synonyms. The reason I find this so frustrating is because Schumer isn’t exactly the fattest actress in Hollywood. She isn’t even the fattest actress IN THIS MOVIE. SNL star Aidy Bryant co-stars with Schumer in I Feel Pretty, and she wears a size 186 which is considerably larger than Schumer’s 6 to 8.
As a plus size woman, Bryant has actually experienced the type of size discrimination portrayed in the opening scene in the trailer. For her work on SNL and Girls she has discussed relying on costume designers rather than fashion designers because unlike fashion designers, costumers “dress all kinds of bodies.”6. Bryant and her team had to get creative for her work on screen, but they had to get even more creative for the red carpet. I’ve often joked about sewing two small garments together to fit my fat body, but Bryant’s team ACTUALLY had to buy two size 12 garments and cleverly sew them together for a red carpet appearance.6
In the trailer, not much is revealed about Bryant’s character’s relationship with Schumer’s character. All that seems clear is that they’re friends. I’m interested to see how they interact with one another, because there are different degrees of marginalisation. A woman who wears a size 6 will be more marginalised than a size 2, but a woman who wears a size 18 will be more marginalised than both of them. I just, I have so so so SO many concerns.
Based on the trailer, this film seems to be a classic case of good intentions that were horribly executed. In my opinion, good intentions are not enough. At a shallow level, the film asserts that true beauty lies within. It encourages all women to live fearlessly, with unrestrained confidence. You can change everything without changing anything. But delve deeper, and the film furthers the use conventional body and beauty standards. Because again, for this plot to work the audience must believe that Schumer’s character is so wildly unattractive that it would be preposterous for her to think she’s hot and to be confident in her own skin. When Schumer’s character suffers a brain injury, she essentially begins acting as though she has all the benefits that come alongside pretty privilege, which is still a relatively new concept.
“It’s problematic when a pretty person denies they’re pretty,
and pretty people must take ownership of the fact that they
get special treatment. We do ourselves a disservice by
saying looks ‘don’t matter,’ because looks do matter.”9
As with any other type of privilege, pretty privilege results in power and subsequently happiness and certain freedoms.7 Author and activist Janet Mock says “‘Pretty’ is most often synonymous with being thin, white, able-bodied, and cis, and the closer you are to those ideals, the more often you will be labeled pretty — and benefit from that prettiness.”8 In other words, privilege is just as intersectional as oppression, and Schumer benefits from all the benefits described above. Pretty privilege is conditional and is not often extended to women who are trans, black and brown, disabled, older, or fat.9
Various identities can be performed in order to gain an ounce or two of privilege. Take white privilege for example. Black and minoritised ethnic people cannot easily change their skin tone, but they may choose to perform their racial/ethnic identity differently in White spaces such as the corporate world.10 Another example is thin privilege. In a world where fatness is viewed as revolting and thinness is praised, fat women may choose to dress a certain way such as relying on restrictive shape wear or opting for “flattering” silhouettes to make themselves appear thinner.11 Performing prettiness might also be called performing femininity. In fact, it’s been noted that hyper-femininity (aka performing prettiness) is often expected of fat ladies.12 That means a full face of makeup, not a hair out of place, and being fully done-up at all times.
So why does all this matter? What does this have to do with I Feel Pretty? After suffering her head injury, Schumer’s character performs as though she benefits from every single drop of pretty privilege the world has to offer. In my opinion, this is problematic because in real life Amy Schumer really DOES benefit from all the pretty privilege the world has to offer. This is similar to The Devil Wears Prada when the whole cast acts like Anne Hathaway’s character is fat, so the audience believes it too.
TL;DR - If the social lesson of a film is that true beauty is not skin deep, then it may be better to cast a lead actress who doesn’t tick all the boxes of modern Eurocentric beauty standards.
IMDB, 2018., I Feel Pretty: plot [online]. Viewed 19 Feb. 2018. Available here.
LEAVER, K., Amy Schumer’s latest ‘body positive’ film I Feel Pretty seems so offensive and morbid it’s frankly exhausting [online]. Viewed 20 Feb. 2018. Available here.
OCONNOR, L., 2017. What is fatphobia/fatmisia? [online] Viewed 20 Feb 2018]. Available here.
MOVIECLIPS TRAILERS, 2018. I Feel Pretty trailer #1 [online]. Viewed 19 Feb. 2018. Available here.
RESPERS, L., 2016. Amy Schumer to Glamour: I’m not plus size [online]. Viewed 19 Feb. 2018. Available here.
CHAN, L., 2017. The full story behind the size 18 dress Tanya Taylor made Aidy Bryant [online]. Viewed 20 Feb. 2018. Available here.
WOOD, M., 2016. Pretty privilege: top 3 perks of being beautiful [online]. Viewed 19 Feb. 2018. Available here.
MOCK, J., 2017. Being pretty is a privilege, but we refuse to acknowledge it [online]. Viewed 19 Feb. 2018. Available here.
BEAUCHAMP, S., 2017. Janet Mock breaks down the uncomfortable truth of pretty privilege [online]. Viewed 19 Feb. 2018. Available here.
FLETCHER, T., and HYLTON, K., 2017. ‘Race’, ethnicity and whiteness in the governance of the events industry. Journal of Policy Research in Tourism, Leisure and Events. Forthcoming special issue: Equality and Diversity in the Professional Planned Events Industry. Available here.
GURRIERI, L., and CHERRIER, H., 2013. Queering beauty: fashionistas in the fatosphere. Qualitative Market Research International Journal. vol. 16, no. 3, pp. 276-295.