REDEFIN­ING BEAUTY

AMY SCHUMER GETS BACK AT HER CRIT­ICS WITH HER LABOUR OF LOVE I FEEL PRETTY

The Gulf Today - Panorama - - Contents - by Amy Kauf­man

Amy Schumer gets back at her crit­ics with her labour of love I Feel Pretty

Amy Schumer looks at her­self in the mir­ror. She is nearly naked, save her bra and the nude Spanx she has on to flat­ten her belly. As she stares at her re­flec­tion, her eyes be­gin to fill with tears. She doesn’t say any­thing, but what she is think­ing is very clear: “I’m dis­gust­ing. I hate the way I look. Who could ever love me?”

Although this de­scribes a mo­ment in Schumer’s new movie, I Feel Pretty, it’s a scene we all know — fac­ing your mir­ror im­age, com­pletely de­void of con­fi­dence and over­whelmed by a crip­pling self-ha­tred.

I know it, any­way. I know it so well that lately, as I head through my early 30s, I avoid look­ing at my re­flec­tion at all — in el­e­va­tor mir­rors, glossy win­dows — ex­cept for when I’m ap­ply­ing make-up to cover my flaws. It’s not easy to ad­mit that. I know that I am not an ogre and that I pos­sess many qual­i­ties more valu­able than my looks. I am a suc­cess­ful jour­nal­ist who re­cently man­aged to write a New York Times best-selling book and keep my dog, Rig­gins, alive and thriv­ing.

And yet, I still worry that when peo­ple look at me, all they see is my dou­ble chin.

This is part of why I’ve felt con­nected to Schumer ever since I met her in 2015 when she was pro­mot­ing her first movie, Train­wreck. Here was a woman whose body looked a lot like mine, and she was star­ring as a ro­man­tic lead in a ma­jor stu­dio com­edy. Every­one in town couldn’t stop talk­ing about how funny and smart she was. Her dou­ble chin hadn’t stopped her from any­thing.

Since then, our re­la­tion­ship has evolved into some­thing more of a friend­ship than a tra­di­tional in­ter­viewer/celebrity rap­port. I wasn’t, like, chill­ing with her and J-law at her re­cent wed­ding or any­thing, but we mes­sage a lot, and she wrote a re­ally nice blurb for my book, which is about The Bach­e­lor.

Which is why when I wound up at the fancy house where she was stay­ing in Bev­erly Hills, our con­ver­sa­tion about I Feel Pretty be­came less of an in­ter­view and more of a heart-to-heart.

When I walked in, Schumer’s hus­band, chef Chris Fis­cher, had just fin­ished cook­ing lunch, so she was eat­ing a very pro­fes­sional-look­ing plate of sea bass and Brus­sels sprouts while wear­ing sweat­pants. Her dog, Tati — named after ac­tress Ta­tiana Maslany — was star­ing at her long­ingly, hop­ing for a piece of fish.

A cou­ple of stylists were wan­der­ing around, un­load­ing heels and dresses for the I Feel Pretty press tour, so Schumer sug­gested we move to the back­yard to talk. I told her I wanted us to can­didly dis­cuss body im­age, as well as the back­lash to the new film.

When the first trailer was re­leased, it made a lot of peo­ple mad. In the movie, Schumer plays Re­nee, a 30-some­thing with low self-es­teem who yearns to be what she de­scribes as “un­de­ni­ably pretty.” One day, dur­ing a Soul­cy­cle class, she falls off her bike and hits her head, and when she comes to, it ap­pears her wish has been granted: She looks in the mir­ror and sees ev­ery­thing she’s al­ways dreamed of.

On Twit­ter, crit­ics ar­gued

that the premise was tone deaf. Schumer is “blonde, white, able-bod­ied, femme and yes, thin … so­ci­ety’s beauty ideal,” so how are those even fur­ther out­side tra­di­tional beauty norms sup­posed to feel about them­selves if Schumer is con­sid­ered ugly?

But while Schumer doesn’t think it’s fair to “say who you do and don’t think should be inse­cure,” she un­der­stands why the story makes some peo­ple un­com­fort­able.

“I don’t know that the coun­try re­ally has an ap­petite to hear the story of a white, blonde woman with a belly,” she ad­mit­ted. “I get it. I per­son­ally feel wo­ken up about in­equal­ity for women and peo­ple of colour in a way I didn’t be­fore see­ing Get Out and Hamil­ton and At­lanta — and all these po­lice shoot­ings and the elec­tion. I thought things had got­ten bet­ter. But I had no idea. I just grew up think­ing every­body was equal, and that’s not enough. I need to do some­thing, oth­er­wise I’m just part of the prob­lem.”

But she also thinks the mes­sage be­hind I

Feel Pretty is im­por­tant. She wants women to feel “em­pow­ered to live up to their full po­ten­tial” — to not be held back by the fear of be­ing per­ceived as fat or ugly.

Both of which in fact, are things she says she’s been called since the mo­ment she en­tered Hol­ly­wood. After watch­ing the trailer for Train­wreck, one award sea­son blog­ger ar­gued that there was “no way she’d be an ob­ject of heated ro­man­tic in­ter­est in the real world,” given her “wide fa­cial fea­tures” that made her look like a “blonde Lou Costello.”

Hol­ly­wood view

“I don’t know if you guys no­ticed, but I am what Hol­ly­wood calls ‘very fat,’” she said two years later in The Leather Spe­cial. “They pho­tographed me once, and this was the head­line: ‘Schumer buys pas­try so she can work out.’ Kind of mean, right? No, they hit the nail right on the … head. That’s what I do to work out. Be­fore I work out, I go buy a scone, and then I slowly walk around a reser­voir, and I eat it. My work-outs are like a woman in hospice. Just, like, nib­bling on a baked good, look­ing at the trees and the birds.”

I asked Schumer what her aim was in say­ing such mean things about her­self, even in jest. She said she’d grown up watch­ing fe­male co­me­di­ans like Joan Rivers and Phyl­lis Diller — women she thought were beau­ti­ful — make cruel jokes about their ap­pear­ances, and that “worked.”

But these were also the kind of things Schumer has heard her­self since she was a girl. In sixth grade, she bought an out­fit at the Gap she re­ally liked: A ribbed ma­roon top and tight black pants. When she walked into school, a boy looked at her and ex­claimed: “Whoa, Big Bertha!”

“It just robbed me,” she re­mem­bered. “It just set me back. And then, in­stead of cry­ing, I would just fire back and make a joke my­self. It was like train­ing for a roast.”

She re­gained her con­fi­dence in high school, find­ing self-worth as an ath­lete on the volleyball team. But when she en­tered col­lege at Tow­son Univer­sity in Mary­land, she felt like she was back at square one — judged solely on her looks again.

“I’d never get hit on at bars — I was just in­vis­i­ble,” she re­called, echo­ing an ex­pe­ri­ence that has also been my own. “One hun­dred per cent of the guys I’ve dated have been be­cause I was the ag­gres­sor. I’ve al­ways been with guys that I was friends with — guys who knew me for a while who would then be­come at­tracted to me.”

Freed by trolling

When she shot Train­wreck, she de­cided to go on a diet, as per the

stu­dio’s sug­ges­tion. She got down to a Size 4, and when the movie came out, she was “still be­ing trolled for be­ing heavy.”

“So I just de­cided, ‘Oh, cool. Well, then, I’m not gonna play this game at all,’” she said. “It’s not worth it to me to live this life where I have to be re­ally hun­gry.”

And in a weird way, the trolling freed her too.

“In box­ing, you know how you’re scared of get­ting punched and then you get punched and you’re like, ‘Oh, I’m OK?’” she asked, and I nod­ded my head, even though I had no idea. “I’ve been told I’m fat. I’m ugly. I’ve seen memes of me be­ing the gross­est woman in the world — me as Jabba the Hutt. The fear is gone.”

She also started go­ing to ther­apy and be­gan fo­cus­ing on the things she was grate­ful for.

Her dad has suf­fered from mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis for years, and see­ing his phys­i­cal lim­i­ta­tions made her ap­pre­ci­ate the use of her legs. She changed her diet a bit, still “eat­ing crap” some­times but balanc­ing it out with nour­ish­ing food that en­er­gises her. And she let her­self have fun.

“I just de­cided to be­lieve my own hype,” she said. “If you think of the things you would say to your friends when they’re hav­ing a bad day — why don’t you let your­self take care of your-self like that? I un­der­stand that that’s re­ally scary and makes you feel re­ally vul­ner­a­ble. But, like, Obama’s The Au­dac­ity of Hope, how about the au­dac­ity of lov­ing your­self? Se­ri­ously, let your­self do it for 30 sec­onds. It’s all in our heads.

In I Feel Pretty, Schumer wanted to be sure that she showed her body on-screen the way it truly is. There’s one scene in which her char­ac­ter — post head-bump — de­cides to com­pete in a bikini con­test along-side half a dozen stat­uesque women who are stick thin.

“In post, they asked me if I wanted to re­touch any­thing, and I was like, ‘What? No,’” she said. “I love it. I think I look sexy and strong.”

A few months after shoot­ing that scene last sum­mer, Schumer met her hus­band. (They wed Feb. 13.) She was the heav­i­est she’d ever been — about 15 more pounds than she weighs now. At first, there was no spark. He was just hired help — the brother of her as­sis­tant whom Schumer was pay­ing to cook for her fam­ily on a va­ca­tion. Dur­ing the trip, she had a bad re­ac­tion to an antibiotic and got sick while she was out for a walk.

“I came back to the house and told every­one I’d had to stop to (defe­cate) in the woods,” she said with a laugh. “And there he was, cook­ing. We re­ally got to know each other as peo­ple, and then when we be­came in­ter­ested in each other, it was like, ‘Cool, you’ve seen me at my phys­i­cal worst.’”

“But, Ame, ev­ery­thing aside, I know you’re gonna find your per­son,” she said, un­prompted. “And I can’t wait to read your writ­ing after that. And I can’t wait to talk to you after that.”

We hugged and I walked back to my car, feel­ing awk­ward that an in­ter­view with Amy Schumer ended up turn­ing into an in­spi­ra­tional pep talk. That night, I emailed her some fol­low-up ques­tions. She re­sponded, sent me a photo of some pasta without any ex­pla­na­tion and this James Baldwin quote:

“In or­der to sur­vive this, you have to re­ally dig down into your­self and re-cre­ate your­self, re­ally, ac­cord­ing to no im­age which yet ex­ists in Amer­ica. You have to im­pose, in fact — this may sound very strange — you have to de­cide who you are, and force the world to deal with you, not with its idea of you.”

Schumer and Bill Hader in the ro­man­tic-com­edy Train­wreck (2015).

Amy Schumer plays a woman deal­ing with body im­age is­sues in I Feel Pretty.

The ac­tress wed chef Chris Fis­cher ear­lier this year.

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