Since the first trailer for Amy Schumer's I Feel Pretty dropped in February, folks have had quite a lot to say about the film's perceived message. Across social media, critics spoke out against the film's apparent fatphobia — the fear or hatred of fat bodies — while others pointed out that Schumer has been criticized for her weight throughout her career.
First, to be clear — I am a fat woman. And from what I gathered when I watched the trailer, I assumed that I Feel Pretty would be a 2018 woman-led version of Shallow Hal, a film that shaped my perception of romantic relationships and how I needed to lose weight to be considered sexually attractive all through my adolescence. Films about fat people are rarely written or directed to be in our favor.
I went into I Feel Pretty wanting to give it a chance. I wanted to like it. And to a certain extent, I did. But in reality — while I Feel Pretty is more nuanced than the trailer suggests (thankfully) — it's not by much. The film relies heavily on fatphobia for the butt of its jokes, and Schumer's character Renee is mocked by almost everyone when she discovers her newfound "supermodel confidence." It was hard for me to sit in the audience and watch. Every time people laughed, I found myself cringing, not only because of what they were laughing at, but because they were laughing at all.
Fatphobia points to systemic discrimination against fat folks, which makes it harder for fat people to find jobs and earn a decent wage, which makes it harder for us to find clothing that fits and looks professional, which starts the cycle all over again. A new study from Temple University and Wisconsin HOPE Lab points to the correlation between food insecurity, poverty, and obesity in American college students. Long story short: when people are pushed into poverty, it leads to poor eating habits, which leads to more problems with weight and exercise.
In I Feel Pretty, Schumer's character also calls out one of the biggest elements of fatphobia: how online dating is harder for fat people, especially fat women.
Women say their number one fear of online dating is the guy will be a serial killer. Men say their number one fear is the woman will be fat.— PostSecret (@postsecret) August 2, 2015
In this respect, I Feel Pretty does many things absolutely right. It calls out discrimination in social situations, discrimination in online dating and discrimination in the job market. Renee works for a major cosmetics brand, but isn't stationed at the company headquarters in downtown Manhattan. Instead, she works in a cramped basement in Chinatown alongside another fat person; when she goes to HQ to drop off paperwork, she's visibly mocked by the people who are allowed to be seen.
As Renee gains her newfound confidence following her accident, this slowly begins to change. Her confidence gives her a door into working as "the new face" of the cosmetics company, and she's even asked to help with their new diffusion line (a secondary line from a high-end brand that's available at lower price points). But that, too, is hard to swallow, because fat women are expected to be poor. Diffusion lines from high-end brands often occupy small sections of the makeup aisles at local drugstores — and despite I Feel Pretty repeatedly talking about how important it is for "average women" to feel confident and beautiful, this point sticks to the ribs.
Even in a film that purports to be about body acceptance and finding inner confidence, ingrained social opinions about fatness undermine the entire point of the movie. That won't help fat women.
And the body-positivity message obviously isn't being communicated clearly enough. As I left the theater, two audience members commented on how "annoying" the end of the film was — one even said, "I wish she could have just shut up." This made me wonder — how many others who saw the film left without any deeper understanding of how fat people are discriminated against in day-to-day life?
However, I imagine there are a lot of audience members who saw themselves in Renee and related to her struggles. They likely left the theater feeling that maybe it's possible to find that kind of confidence and then soar. But was that number significantly lower because of how the implicit biases damaged the overall message Schumer set to present?
One of the most believable facets of the film was Renee's friends — who loved her before her accident changed how she saw herself and who continued to love her after, even though her newfound supermodel confidence turned her into a mean girl.
The most fat-positive aspect of I Feel Pretty was Aidy Bryant's character doing her thing and loving herself regardless of how Renee belittled her. Bryant was amazing, and I wish she had a larger role in the film.
At the end of the day, while the message of I Feel Pretty isn't quite as damaging as the trailer makes it seem, the execution is still super-lacking. It points to a lot of implicit bias on behalf of the filmmakers as well as the intended audience. Until we address that these "funny fat-girl films" won't help fat women, they'll only make us feel more alienated.
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