“I Feel Pretty” is mostly an exasperating attempt to appeal to all women as it blatantly marginalizes others.
by Candice Frederick
I have seen most of Amy Schumer’s live action projects, including “Snatched”, which is an abomination for many reasons, including racist stereotypes. Like so many comedians, her best work is in stand-up, specifically on “Inside Amy Schumer”. Schumer’s work has helped normalize the idea that (white) women can be brash, unapologetic, feminist, and successful. She is funny, when the material is hers and when it isn’t fat-shaming or racist. The criticism she’s received is based in truth; after all she is a white, blonde woman from Long Island who can joke about her lower back tattoo, blow jobs, and waking up in someone else’s bed after a wild night and be celebrated for it—she’s privileged, whether she recognizes that or not, and this shows in her newest film, “I Feel Pretty”.
When I first saw the trailer for the movie, in which she stars as Renee, a woman who suffers from low self-esteem about her physical appearance and wishes herself to be “beautiful” in order to achieve success, it gave me pause. I was conflicted, but I was interested in her addressing a real issue that plagues so many women who believe their self-worth is based on their physical appeal. It’s right on brand with who Schumer is as a comedian, and it is an important topic to explore. Yet, after watching the movie, I was acutely aware of one other thing: Schumer’s brand continues to highlight what’s wrong with white feminism.
I can pinpoint this to one particular scene in the film: Renee goes to a spin class and, ridiculously, falls off the stationary bike onto the floor and bangs her head so severely that it knocks her out. She wakes up to find Tasha ( Sasheer Zamata), the super hot, super fit, Black front desk clerk standing above her with a bag of ice to soothe what is likely a concussion. Tasha is tasked with taking care of Renee, who she loudly announced wore size 9 ½ double wide spin shoes and at another point described her belly as “full.” It’s clear by their few interactions (Zamata only appears three or four times in the film) that we’re supposed to see Tasha as someone who looks down at Renee. Through Schumer’s lens, someone who looks like Zamata has everything going for her and is fine being relegated to the background to make way for her.
Zamata is just one example of a Black woman with all the comedic talent Schumer has, with a fraction of the success. You may recognize her from “Saturday Night Live” of which she was a part of for three years, as well as other small projects over the course of her career, but her success has been moderate despite her experience. Women of color like Zamata are so often relegated to supporting roles to make space for white women like Schumer. This includes Wanda Sykes, Mo’Nique, Constance Wu, and Cristela Alonzo, who have all enjoyed moderate to massive success (Mo’Nique is an Oscar winner, for crying out loud) yet must still hustle and struggle in order to simply be seen. The barometer of success for white women is just not the same for women of color—especially when they are cast to do little else than clean up after Schumer’s character after she falls down.
This is particularly frustrating when you look at Schumer’s resume. In contrast to “I Feel Pretty”, Schumer’s success paints a different picture than the one we’re shown: she’s a woman who by her own definition isn’t “pretty,” but still has graced multiple magazine covers, helmed her own successful TV show, received various awards, and is labeled a trailblazing icon for women comedians. Granted, self-esteem is about how you see yourself, and not about how others see you. So despite her success, it doesn’t mean that Schumer hasn’t still struggled with self-worth (which she has recently confirmed). However, her lack of awareness was extremely clear in this film. She doesn’t realize that shameless, “unpretty” white women—who just look like the average white woman which within white standards are somehow below average—still have the currency to command millions of dollars from major studios, star in terrible movies and say whatever they want with almost no consequence.
As well intentioned as Schumer’s message may be in “I Feel Pretty”, and as universal as she might think its presentation is, it just reminds me of the many times women of color are asked to unequivocally support women’s platforms that have routinely and explicitly left them at a disadvantage—including the pay gap discussion. “I Feel Pretty” is sometimes funny, sometimes inspirational, but mostly an exasperating attempt to appeal to all women as it blatantly marginalizes some.