As I sat stuffing my face with popcorn, watching Amy Schumer’s latest film, I Feel Pretty, over the weekend, there was one part in particular that irked me more than any other. ‘I’ve always wondered what it would feel like to be undeniably pretty,’ Schumer’s character Renee gushes as she goggles at Emily Ratajkowski, the model famous for cavorting with Robin Thicke in the ‘Blurred Lines’ video.
This line pretty much sums up the entire premise of the film, which follows the hapless but lovable Renee as she struggles through life failing to live up to accepted beauty standards until she hits her head and suddenly believes she’s a supermodel.
Many pieces have been written about how the movie has dealt with the idea of attractiveness, our perception of it and its place in society – most notably taking issue with the fact that the protagonist has to physically injure herself in order to feel beautiful – but it was this line, uttered by Renee, that really got me rolling my eyes.
The phrase ‘undeniably pretty’ implies that, even without all the bells and whistles of beauty products, which are in some way a cover-up, a person is beautiful beyond any doubt. The problem with this is that it supports one of society’s greatest confidence crushing menaces – the notion of ‘effortless’ beauty.
‘Effortless beauty’ is a phrase that women are constantly confronted with – from celebrity interviews in which the subjects are described as still being total knockouts without a scrap of makeup, to hour-long Youtube tutorials that use countless products to achieve an invisible makeup finish – hugely contradictory.
Here’s the thing. ‘Effortless beauty’ is a myth. In order to live up to the standards that society sets for beauty – a Victoria’s Secret Angel level of beauty – women have to work pretty damn hard. Even ones who look like Emily Ratajkowski. The glow on her cheekbones? That’s highlighter. The fullness of her pout? That’s an expertly applied lip liner or dare we suggest a carefully administered vial of ‘filler’.
The Guardian reported last year that ‘ Cosmetic surgery is falling, but a generation raised on YouTube has embraced a dizzying number of non-surgical procedures – from Botox to cheek-fillers.’
The problem is that though society pressurises women to always look their best (as we see Renee attempting to do in I Feel Pretty), there’s a premium placed on the kind of beauty that looks like it didn’t require any effort to attain. We watch Renee staring at Ratajkowski in envious wonder as she glides through a convenience store looking every part wonderful.
When the writers chose to include the phrase, ‘undeniably pretty’ they inadvertently contradicted the message they were trying to put across, a message about finding inner confidence and in doing so feeling beautiful (even if you don’t have the genes, the personal trainer, nutritionist, dermatologist and beauty/hair squad of a Victoria’s angel) and instead implying that any woman who doesn’t fit the archetypal bill is in some way lacking.
Sure, choosing to focus on this tiny extract may seem somewhat pedantic, but considering how many young girls are flocking to watch the film, it’s an important part to discuss.
It’s a vicious superficial circle.
If we don’t find a way to label beauty more inclusively, movies like this one will always slightly miss the mark, supporting the very problems they are trying to solve.