Amy Schumer can never win.
Full disclosure before we begin: I am a fan of Amy Schumer. I love her. I think she is hilarious, and her sense of humor often overlaps with my own. Whether or not the fact that I am a fan of hers will make me biased in this area is ultimately not up to me to decide, but I will say that the problem I am about to address is not really about Amy Schumer: it’s about the ridiculous bull that solely women endure in the media.
If you know who Amy Schumer is, I’d be willing to bet you’re indifferent to her, or you hate her for reasons such as she’s “too vulgar” or “too raunchy” or other adjectives I won’t use here. And that’s your prerogative to feel that way. People are free to like and dislike who and what they will, and it is important to understand that. I’m not someone who refuses to let someone dislike a celebrity even though their reasons for not liking them are bogus. However, I will acknowledge that people who dislike Amy Schumer because her stand-up comedy is too vulgar are really at the mercy of an ideological and cultural double standard that oppresses female comedians because they joke about their sexuality, their sex lives, their bodies, their body image, or things of this nature. People think comedians like Dane Cook or Russell Peters are hilarious when they make dirty jokes about themselves or the women in their lives on stage, but when Amy Schumer makes a joke about her vagina at the Apollo, she’s too vulgar. That’s it, that’s all, we don’t like her. She doesn’t have any more layers to her than that, and to top it off, she’s too fat. Amy Schumer needs to shut up and go away seems to be the consensus if you search her name on the Internet (in fact, the immediate video results that pop up when you Google her name are videos like “This Is Why It’s Hard to Like Amy Schumer,” “The Worst of Amy Schumer,” or “Proof That Amy Schumer Steals Jokes.” Spare me.)
Schumer’s body and appearance are another contributing factor in this double standard that, quite frankly, makes me want to vomit and move to another planet where garbage like this doesn’t exist. Amy Schumer is not a supermodel. I’m sure she would tell you that herself. But because she doesn’t generally fit Hollywood beauty standards, she is constantly made fun of and called fat by the media in different read-between-the-lines kind of ways. She appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair in May 2016, where she spoke about things like body image and how she’s made a name for herself just like any male comic has done—and has enjoyed the effects of the double standards surrounding it (her jokes have also been called out as racist in the past in further controversies that are just as stupid). It is Schumer’s assertiveness in both stand-up and in Hollywood that has gotten her both a following and a reputation—but reputation for what? Being funny in her own way? Not conforming to your beauty standards? Calling it as it is? Oh, that’s right, for being a woman who is being herself.
But what makes it worse is that people who will openly call bullshit on Hollywood beauty standards and how most supermodels have unhealthy lifestyles in order to remain unrealistically thin for a runway will still imply that Schumer is fat or ugly, at least for Hollywood, and she needs to take her privileged white woman self away from the spotlight. Anywhere you look on the Internet, this seems to be the consensus for the case of Amy Schumer. And frankly it’s not surprising. We like to think we live in a modern world where strong women can be themselves and flip the bird to conventional beauty standards, but we don’t really live in that world, especially when it comes to Hollywood. But Amy Schumer just keeps on doing her thing, continuing to bother people in the process for reasons they sometimes can’t even articulate, and remains stronger for it.
“People feel how they’re going to feel. I was just kind of like, I’m a comic. Like, can we just skip this thing where I become famous and then you guys look to burn me at the stake for something? Is there any way we can skip that?”
—Schumer, Vanity Fair, 2017
A few weeks ago, Schumer unveiled the official trailer for her new movie, I Feel Pretty, which is scheduled for release in April. Because she bothers people for being her unabashed self, I know to just expect negative comments when it comes to Schumer being in a new movie or announcing a new project. The disgusting consensus towards her was clearer than ever to me last May, when her mother-daughter adventure comedy Snatched co-starring Goldie Hawn came out in theatres. I thought it looked super funny, obviously because of Schumer also because of Hawn, who made her first film appearance in 15 years in the buddy chick flick. But it felt like everyone I knew was turned off by it. “I don’t wanna go see a movie where Amy Schumer runs around the jungle with one-too-many-facelifts Goldie Hawn, y’know?” I just thought it was rude. Not because I like Schumer, but just because no one reacts this strongly when a male comic comes out with a new movie everyone knows is going to be stupid. Adam Sandler hasn’t had a decent movie in over a decade, yet do people make such a huge stink when his latest stupid buddy comedy flick comes out? Uh, no. But none of the negative comments that I saw when Snatched came out would prepare me for how angry I would be when the trailer for I Feel Pretty was released.
I Feel Pretty stars Schumer as Renee, a young woman who is constantly insecure and dissatisfied with her appearance. Right away, it becomes clear that her character is embodying everything most people think and feel about their bodies but often don’t say out loud because they know they shouldn’t feel that way about themselves, but they do. In a turn of events, Renee hits her head at the gym and wakes up believing she is the most beautiful woman in the world, free of insecurities about her appearance. That was all the Internet needed to know before they pounced—not only on Schumer, but the movie itself. People’s controversial reactions to the trailer immediately trended on Twitter, causing a lot of backlash on (you guessed it!) Ms. Schumer. The media’s treatment towards Schumer aside, it seemed that it was more the premise of I Feel Pretty that bothered people more than anything else—that a woman needs to have suffered a head injury in order to believe find confidence in herself and her appearance. People were immediately angered and started tweeting strongly worded reactions basically saying “women need to stop being so hard on themselves.” One tweet in particular read, “CAN THIN CONVENTIONALLY ATTRACTIVE WOMEN STOP PRETENDING THEY ARE SO FAT AND UGLY AND LIFE IS THE MOST DIFFICULT FOR THEM.” Oh, so now you believe that Amy Schumer is thin and conventionally attractive? After everyone has shat on her not being Hollywood beautiful with the body to go along with it? Now this is an issue for you? Interesting. Schumer most probably took this role because the character and the premise spoke to her, y’know, based on how people like you on social media beat on her for not adhering to your beauty standards, but now it’s an issue of “this movie is disgusting, women need to stop being so hard on themselves, that is NOT how to develop the confidence to succeed, blah, blah, BLAH”? Oh, okay. I see how it works.
Here’s the thing, chicken wing. I know we’d all like to believe we live in a world where everyone is born with this massive sense of self-confidence and we can grow up and live in a world where we are just so strong and so brave and so confident to take on everything. Just like the beauty standards you force on female stars like Amy Schumer, that is unrealistic. Not everyone bleeds confidence. Humans are not born with an immediate sense of confidence in themselves: things like that are learned and developed in different and not always constructive ways. We know we’re not supposed to stand at the mirror and criticize every tiny aspect of our appearance until we’ve convinced ourselves that we’re ugly and not worth anyone’s time or love. We know that we’re not supposed to do that and we’re supposed to have this natural sense of confidence in ourselves, but it doesn’t always work that way. We like to think that Dove and Special K commercials are the key to helping people achieve body positivity, but it’s more complicated than they would like you to believe. Tweeting out that this new movie is appallingly disgusting because “ugh! Women need to stop being so hard on themselves!” is not helping the problem, it’s contributing to the problem. You’re basically telling everyone to just be confident and tune out the haters; because they’re just gonna hate hate hate! Easier said than done, sweet pea. This is why I think it’s a refreshingly interesting premise to have a woman plagued and worn down by negative thoughts of herself and her appearance to actually have something change in her brain to make all those thoughts go away: just think, who would you be without that perfectionist in your head while you brush your hair or put your face on in the morning? I think that’s what this movie is trying to accomplish. I don’t think it’s going to be some “oh poor me” white woman narrative where a “thin conventionally attractive” woman tries to change herself in unhealthy and ultimately unnecessary ways. She hits her head one day and suddenly all of her insecurities are gone. How would you live your life if that happened? I don’t think many of us would be able to answer, because some insecurities are so ingrained in our beings that we wouldn’t know ourselves without them.
But, ultimately, I think the outrage over the I Feel Pretty trailer goes deeper than people being enraged over the idea of a woman having to hit her head to develop confidence in herself. I think the issue circles back around to who is starring in the movie: one Ms. Amy Schumer. People weren’t pleased last year when she starred in Snatched because people believed it was the female equivalent of a stupid Adam Sandler movie, and also, Amy Schumer sucks and is unfunny. Okay. Then this year, she will be starring in a comedy that tackles important themes and issues such as body image and self-confidence, two things that are unfortunately huge in our world but oh wait—no, it’s problematic, it’s disgusting, and it makes people so angry. So you shit on her when she does stupid adventure comedy movies, running through the jungle with “one-too-many-facelifts” Goldie Hawn, you shit on her for being too raunchy and vulgar in Trainwreck (her 2015 comedy in which she wrote and made her film debut in a leading role), and now that she’s starring in a comedy addressing issues that you seem to have with her, it’s outraging? Disgusting? Makes you so angry you want to punch a wall? Again, interesting.
Damned if she does, damned if she doesn’t: Amy Schumer can’t win. She’s too fat, too raunchy, too vulgar, and not funny. And yes: I think it has a lot to do with her being a woman. I know it bothers people. I know it does. I know it bothers people to see a woman grab her own crotch during a stand-up routine, or appear on television or in a movie not appearing like other women in Hollywood. I know it bothers people. But, in a way, it’s good that it bothers you. Maybe by bothering you, it will start to tear down the double standards we all like to pretend aren’t there.