I know, “I Feel Pretty,” the Amy Schumer comedy has been out for a while. Friends, hear me out: I am an unemployed mother of twins, changing careers at a most inopportune time in her life. Not to mention perimenopausal hormones have been kicking my ass left, right and sideways. I am a hot. ass. mess.
My self-esteem is virtually non-existent these days, which is why after the grueling morning routine of studying, writing and re-writing cover letters, submitting job applications, and afterwards, honing the craft I expect to get paid the big bucks for, it was time for some mindless t.v.
I scrolled through all the television series I watch and having binged watch them already, I moved on to movies on demand, scrolling and scrolling until I came across the “I Feel Pretty.” I’d wanted to see it in the theaters, and it was just the kind of light-hearted, mindless comedy I needed to lose myself in. The kids’d be home in a few hours giving me just enough time for an afternoon buzz. I grabbed a glass of Prosecco got comfy under the covers and settled in.
What the what? Amy Schumer’s character’s name was Renee, and this movie seemed to be telling my life story! I know there was backlash regarding the message the movie might be sending about body image, but check this out friends: apart from the fact this Renee is black, and I’m not working in cosmetics (though I’ve always wanted to ironically) I agree with Amy’s comments about body shaming, in fact, she’d have to be shaming herself, since she’s putting herself out there to be shamed, and that would be ridiculous-even for Amy! I would agree that the movie is about Renee’s struggles with self-esteem, and of course, if you are uncomfortable in the skin you are in, you will undoubtedly feel ashamed of your body whether that shame is inflicted by someone else, or yourself.
During the scene when Renee arrives home from a night on the town an unveils in front of the mirror, the dejected, rejected, humiliated look on her face resembled my own from having experienced so many nights like that.
I bawled like a baby at that scene.
Could have been the prosecco, could have been the hormones, probably both. But, I’m a 44 year old readily embracing mom jeans! Where did the time go and what did it do with my life?
I remember those nights (some of them becoming days) nearly 22 years ago, hanging out, living vicariously-through my glamorous sex-in-the-city girlfriends. I would write their stories as if they were my own and become the next (black) Carrie Bradshaw! But, I was not. I was unglamorous and invisible Renee. No man or woman was whisking me away for sporadic weekend trips, taking me to exotic dinners or shopping. Those things happened to my pretty friends. Pathetically, I watched from the sidelines. I developed a nasty attitude too, as a defense mechanism. You didn’t want me? I didn’t want you- get out of my way–of course, I was completely transparent. I remember dudes actually pushing me out of the way to get to my friends.
It is traumatic for a woman to feel invisible. Unseen. Unwanted. For a black woman, the struggle to feel pretty in a culture that values all the things a black woman is not, and we can discuss the fact that “white” pretty and “black” pretty mean very different things, but right here and now, I’m going to talk about the psychological beating women face on a whole. It is traumatizing, as a woman, well at least for this woman to try or want to live up to unrealistic, insulting, standards of beauty.
Yet, it’s what we want. It’s what I want. I have yet to meet a woman who has said, “I’m content to stay in the background-I’ll do my work from here, I don’t care If I never get noticed.” I’ve never met a woman who graciously accepts the fact that she was passed over for a job, promotion, or her place in line at the bar-simply because she wasn’t attractive enough. I’m that woman. The world is a kinder place to a pretty face–everyone trusts them. What woman doesn’t want to feel irresistible, desirable, irreplaceable (even though we find out that we are). How many of us have not gone to bed wishing, praying, like Renee did (and this Renee still does) to be “beautiful?”
Full disclosure, I’m writing with bias. Remember, I told you when we first got together that you’d get to know me uncomfortably well. I’ve been betrayed by a man I thought worshipped me. I thought I’d left all the cheating, shallow, hounds in da club, the bars, the house parties, open-mics, concerts, Burger King bathrooms, (just kidding about Burger King) where I found them those twenty-odd years ago.
When I “grew up” got married and had kids I thought I’d found stability. I thought my looks, or the size of my boobs wouldn’t be an issue anymore for anyone, until, after giving birth to the kids, they began to droop, along with the other parts of my body formerly known as “taut.”
When I found out I’d been cheated on, I was destroyed. I felt betrayed. I never thought my husband capable of such deceit! I met him at work, and we were always together. I wondered when I’d turned him off or when he found the time. I blamed him, I blamed her. I blamed myself. I even blamed my kids-they ruined my body! The descent into madness began. My mind began to re-visit those dark places I thought I’d escaped, and I became an insecure little girl again. What happened to my marriage confirmed everything I’d believed to be true about me:
I am not good enough. I never was good enough. I will never be good enough.
It became my mission to become beautiful! I went hard at the gym-nearly experiencing Renee’s spin accident, (it’s crazy and a tad humiliating that I’m sharing with you how this movie mirrors my life but we’re all friends here, right? Besides my husband deserves this) spent exorbitant amounts of money on beauty products, buying into the belief that with a little make-over, my life would change! And, if my husband didn’t want me, I was going to make damn sure somebody did! I intended to be pursued and wanted. I also desperately needed for him to see me, the way he saw “her.” I wanted him to see me the way he did before life got in the way and we stopped looking at each other.
But how did this happen to me? There were times I judged women who’s husbands cheated on them, “tsked,”tsked” about them over cosmos at some new city hotspot with my girlfriends. Sipping my cocktail, I’d arrogantly proclaim, “a woman knows when her man is unfaithful, she just doesn’t want to admit it, or she doesn’t care,”
When I was single I dated men that were unfaithful to their girlfriends or wives, which made me feel beautiful, desirable. I was the “preferred” woman. It made me feel powerful. I had something he craved.
Now, I am that woman I judged. Wondering what the preferred “woman” looked like. Did she have bigger boobs than me? A tight ass? Flat tummy? Full lips? Long golden tresses? Surely she was stunning, gorgeous, sexy, alluring, available-everything I was not. He craved something she offered that I did not possess. I was powerless.
I found myself meditating for hours on end about what he might tell her about me-did she even know he was married? Did she know he had children? Did he run his fingers through her hair, whisper sweet bullshit nothings into her ear while he caressed her soft-skin, kissing her softly before he devoured her? It dawned on me that he hadn’t as much as kissed me on the cheek in 10 months.
My vulnerability knew no bounds. I spent what little money I had on ridiculously expensive cosmetics that promised if I dabbed a little bronzer on my cheeks or began wearing a daring shade of lipstick, perhaps tweaked my pheromones with a seductive new scent that the men would come flocking. I didn’t care if I didn’t get my husband back, I just wanted a man to come around and show him that I was worth something. I wanted that man to ask me, how could he let such an incredibly beautiful woman get away?
Awww the beauty myth, and the billion dollar industry that funds it by capitalizing on the insecurity women face having to live up to insulting beauty standards. While encouraging women to embrace their beauty, they also prey upon our insecurities. “You’re perfect the way you are,” the beautiful women in the ads tell us, but if you buy concealers, highlighters, correction creams and a new shade of lipstick, you’ll look a hell of a lot better!”
And so, as I stared at my overly made-up reflection in the mirror, (I went way too heavy on the smokey eye (I looked like a raccoon with a shiner) I wondered…
“Where did this need for validation come from?”
A woman is deemed worthless in a culture that celebrates youth and beauty if she is neither of those things.
A beautiful woman is a magician; a sorceress, and she has the power to get whatever she wants-simply by casting the spell with her beauty. With her “youthful figure,” “flawless” skin, the wink of an expertly made-up eye and the nonchalant flip of her fabulous hair, she can have whatever she wants. If a woman doesn’t have what she wants, whether it is a relationship, children, a promising career-whatever it is she desires, if she cannot attain it, nor have access to it-she is a failure.
It came to a point where I’d throw out magazines because the woman on the cover was just too beautiful–what the hell kind of advice would she give me? I couldn’t relate to her, she couldn’t relate to me. My favorites were the articles featuring beautiful celebrities decrying the negative impact that the beauty myth has on society yet their perfectly airbrushed smiles, coiffed hair and tailored outfits graced page after glossy page in high-fashion glamor magazines highlighting the hypocrisy.
” …It hurts them by teaching them how to avoid loving women. It prevents men from actually seeing women. It does not, contrary to its own professed ideology, stimulate and gratify sexual longing. In suggesting a vision in place of a woman, it has a numbing effect, reducing all senses but the visual, and impairing even that. “
It’s a question I’ve been struggling with since I was ten years old. I used to put yellow towels on my head, dancing in front of the mirror, flipping it back and forth, pretending it was my long, flowing, golden-blonde hair. All the boys (black and white) in the playground adored the girls with the blonde hair and blue eyes. I yearned for that kind of adoration, which eluded me until I turned 21. In an urban version of Cinderella, my fairy godmother (or father, depending on the bartender) transformed me into the most beautiful woman in the bar with shots of Jameson. As long as the drinks were flowing, I was the belle of the bar, using my drunken feminine guile to entice the boys that ignored me on the playground. Then came the morning after the lonely walk of shame left me feeling used and ugly.
Of course, cliche to form, “I Feel Pretty,” preaches that beauty is a feeling. It comes from within, not without.
Yeah. Ok. But what if Renee’s new boyfriend didn’t tell her that? Would she have believed it for herself?