Renee Barrett doesn’t fit society’s definition of beauty and she knows it. She longs for the life of a “beautiful” woman – the blessings and privileges bestowed only upon 5 five 10 inches tall, 120-pound women with thin thighs, no arm flab, and shiny hair.
But what happens? In the new movie, “I Feel Pretty,” Amy Schumer’s character Renee, injures herself in a spin class accident and wakes up believing she’s that woman.
Thanks to head trauma, Renee can see herself as beautiful.
The body positivity movement screams loud their response. And, I understand it. The fact that a woman – one who’s only a few pounds away from meeting Hollywood’s beauty standards – would only be able to see herself as beautiful after brain injury feels disheartening to most women.
If Amy Schumer is the new definition of ugly, we’ve got work to do.
But, the movie’s tagline intrigues me most: Change it all without changing a thing.
Though, I’ve not seen the movie (and, candidly, am not usually a fan of Schumer’s style of comedy), I wonder if there could be a hidden, yet redeeming message here.
Is beauty where confidence comes from?
In real life, Schumer’s not afraid to spell it out as she personally sees it. Looking like Gisele Bundchen or a Kardashian sets a woman up as one of beauty’s elite, said Schumer in a recent interview with Ellen. “Things ‘start happening’ when a woman is that beautiful.” She explained.
But, when her character, Renee, bangs her cranium at just the right spot, she’s enabled to see herself as this kind of beautiful. Nothing has changed about her physically, yet she begins to operate with something that is (according to the plot) surprising for a woman “like her” to have: Confidence.
The movie is fiction, a comedy. And as I’ve researched, intended mostly for a laugh not moralizing. But it begs a question many women would love to answer.
Is it possible to change our body confidence without changing our bodies?
Last Summer I released a book on this very topic “Compared to Who,” encouraging women to see their body image struggles as issues of the heart versus issues of the mirror.
The internal transformation that must happen in order for a woman to overcome body image woe doesn’t require a swift blow to the head or the use of Jedi mind tricks to convince oneself she’s really magazine cover material. Instead, changing the way we feel about our bodies requires us to examine what we really believe about beauty and to reveal her lies.
The beauty lie
It’s a tough concept for most of us to swallow. In a culture obsessed with equating beauty and value, the thought of not striving for more physical beauty causes many to bristle.
But what if beauty isn’t all it’s cracked up to be? What if more beauty isn’t necessarily better?
Could it be that beauty’s sold us an enormous lie and our body image battles are nothing more than a walk on the tightrope in her cruel circus?
Whether it’s buying into the marketers’ pleas (using the expensive foundation to defy the aging process) or rebelling against make – up altogether because (as Schumer has advocated) we should feel comfortable in public without war paint, I wonder if beauty’s joke isn’t on us. We’re so desperate to wear her label, we’ll do whatever she asks.
Beauty laughs at us, all the way to the bank.
The heart of our body image battles don’t have anything to do with how we look or how much physical beauty we possess. Instead, body image battles are rooted in the lie that beauty matters. A lot.
Beauty whispers to us that if we can just be more like her, we’ll have all that we really want – love, acceptance, freedom, even joy. If we could just have enough beauty, as Schumer espouses, we’ll move to the easy path in the game of life.
We trust beauty to offer us insurance of a charmed life. Surely, our paths will be smoother when the scale reads 10 pounds lighter or the reflection in the mirror looks flawless.
But her promises deceive us.
Read the headlines surrounding those perfect photos on the tabloid cover. Great beauty doesn’t mean you will never be cheated on, abuse substances, or live a crisis – free life.
Great beauty doesn’t promise a fabulous career, healthy children, a perfect marriage, or even a boyfriend.
Yet, secretly (or stubbornly), we believe it would work out different for us.
What if we could recognize that some of the greatest physical beauty this world has ever known has been snuffed away through substance abuse and even suicide? Why can’t we see how beauty didn’t deliver on her promises in these lives?
Beauty won’t give us the keys to a freer life while we are its slaves.
Dear Hollywood, it’ll never work
The real fallacy in the message conveyed by “I Feel Pretty” is this. It’s not that a woman couldn’t change her life without changing her body. The mistake rests in the belief that feeling beautiful is where unshakeable confidence derives.
Hollywood misses this truth. Real, lasting confidence comes only when we are able to free ourselves from beauty’s game and recognize that we have God – given value and worth not affected by the size of our jeans or the color of our skin. When we understand that we have a unique purpose for our lives and that God has already given us, physically, every thing we need to accomplish that purpose, then we can find real freedom.
In other words: I don’t need thigh gap (or a hypnotist to convince me I have thigh gap) in order to have confidence.
In a culture where plastic surgery numbers are rising so we can take perfect selfies, and where little girls start dieting at age five, why not shift the conversation away from the extremes? Both body positivity (which preaches every body is a “beautiful body” and love your stretch marks) and the beauty standards esteemed by the Kardashians keep our focus on meeting someone’s definition of physical beauty.
Instead, shouldn’t we teach our children (and ourselves) that physical beauty – no matter how you define it – will never fulfill us? There’s something better than feeling pretty – feeling free from beauty’s spin bike.