Why Amy Schumer's 'I Feel Pretty' Is Body Positive: Psychologist Weighs In on Fat-Shaming Backlash
Dr. Michelle Cohen tells TooFab she does not agree with the body-shaming backlash that has haunted the romantic comedy, which “helps us understand that most people have some type of self-esteem issue.”
Amy Schumer’s comedy "I Feel Pretty" is pretty darn body positive, according to one psychologist who specializes in self-esteem, anxiety and relationship issues.
With the romantic comedy facing criticism for body-shaming, TooFab dove into the issue with Dr. Michelle Cohen, the host of Los Angeles radio talk show "On the Couch with Dr. Michelle." While the mental health professional agrees "the entertainment industry and journalists must be mindful of how they depict important issues, such as how women ‘should’ look," she disagrees with the notion that the film’s premise promotes an unhealthy body image.
"While watching the trailer, I didn’t get the message that a woman needs to ‘get a head injury’ in order to think she’s pretty," Cohen told TooFab. "As a psychologist, my take away was that the writers and producers were trying to convey the concept of self-love, self-acceptance and the importance of embracing the fact that we are all unique and beautiful."
The film, which grossed $16.2 million in North American theaters this past weekend, was under fire months before it even strutted into theaters. The trailer alone was enough for many to come to the conclusion that the movie promotes an unhealthy body image, makes a joke out of fat shaming, and triggers those with a history of mental health issues.
Schumer vigorously defended the movie’s message on her press tour, arguing, "It’s just about somebody with really low self-esteem." The tagline for the film — "change everything without changing anything" — also suggests the insecurities are all in Schumer’s character’s head. Whatever issues were swirling around in her mind disappear when she hits her head during a spinning class fall and gets a sudden surge of confidence in herself and her appearance. Even though movie critics didn’t love the comedy (it’s sitting not-so-pretty on Rotten Tomatoes with just a 34 percent approval rating), many didn’t see any body-shaming issues, either.
But all that didn’t stop people who were offended from railing against "I Feel Pretty" on social media.
While responding to the criticism, Schumer recognized the trailer "trigged" viewers, but argued they "just kind of projected their own stuff on it." Cohen is on Team Schumer, telling TooFab the troubled reactions could have been "due to their own feelings of insecurity and inadequacy," which could easily arise from the mass media surrounding them.
"It has been reported that the current media ideal for women’s overall appearance is achievable by less than 2 percent of the female population," Dr. Cohen said. "Young women today see more images of exceptionally beautiful women, who are usually ‘touched up’ in photos and in social media. It’s no wonder that 7 out of 10 of the women patients I see are dissatisfied with their appearance."
The psychologist believes that the message of the film is simple: "We can change our thoughts and re-program our minds to be happy with who we are, and not perceive ourselves as being ugly or not fitting in with what society and social media defines as beauty."
And the premise of the movie is not even that far fetched.
"In cognitive therapy, patients learn how to literally change their minds and behaviors in order to have healthier and more realistic thoughts," Dr. Cohen explained. "Our feelings, thoughts and behaviors are all connected, and through the use of mindful and behavioral tools, which involve changing our automatic negative beliefs, we can move toward overcoming false or inaccurate assumptions."
In the film, model Emily Ratajkowski plays one of Schumer’s friends, who she perceives as particularly attractive because of her physical attributes. In one scene, Schumer jokes she wants to punch her friend in the face when the young woman says she’s dealing with "low self-esteem." Dr. Cohen told TooFab this is a very real emotional experience, and it’s called "The Halo Effect."
"A reality check about how we falsely perceive that beautiful women must be psychologically healthy," Dr. Cohen explained. So yes, even "pretty" women don’t always feel pretty.
"The point in the film is that anyone can have low self-esteem," Dr. Cohen said. "’I Feel Pretty’ helps us understand that most people have some type of self-esteem issue and that we can free ourselves of our own negative self-perceptions."
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