Amy Schumer's new movie I Feel Pretty has a lot to teach women--and even men--about the true effects of confidence.

Do you feel inadequate? Most of us do, about at least one thing, but more likely several things in our lives. We don't make enough money or don't have the right degree. We failed to get the raise or promotion or the big sale we were hoping for. We're too old or too tall or too short or have the wrong hair. Or, most commonly, at least for women, we're too fat.

That last one is particularly potent because we live in a society where it's close to impossible to have a healthy body image or even a reasonable idea of what a healthy body ought to look like. There's a full blown obesity epidemic--the Center for Disease Control says more than 70 percent of Americans over 20 are either overweight or obese, and the average weight of an American adult woman is 168.4 pounds, up dramatically from what it was 50 years ago. But if the reality skews fat, the ideal skews unreasonably thin. We live in a world where a size 4 model can be fired for being overweight and where I've heard more than one female acquaintance describe how they became desperately ill and dangerously underweight, only to be complimented on their beauty and invited on dates by men who previously ignored them. No wonder so many of us have some sort of eating disorder.

How do you see yourself?

Into all this confusion comes Amy Schumer with the movie she says she made for her 12-year-old self. She plays Renee Bennett, a chunky employee of a glamorous and upscale cosmetics company who wants more than anything to be thin and beautiful. After making a wish one night she gets knocked unconscious in an exercise bike accident and wakes up believing that she's magically become the gorgeous version of herself she wished to be even though her actual body and face are completely unchanged.

Yes, there are a few holes in this plot line. If she thinks her body has changed, why is she still wearing the same size clothes, for example? But never mind. The idea is to get us to the point of the movie, which is that when Renee starts seeing herself in a different light, so does everyone else. Her newfound confidence inspires her to go after the man she wants and the job she wants and to expect the best instead of the worst. It allows her to put herself out there in ways that have mostly good results and to attract the kind of attention she always wanted and never believed she could have. 

Of course, Schumer is lovely and of an average weight outside the stick-figure-women worlds of Hollywood and the New York fashion and beauty industries. As various critics have pointed out, the movie would seem very different with a non-white, non-blond, or more definitely overweight protagonist. But precisely because Schumer can glide back and forth between appearing beautiful and schlumpy, it's easy to believe that others' perceptions of her can be altered by how she perceives herself. 

That's the lesson here for 12-year-old Schumer and everyone else. Confidence in itself is an asset. We all know people who are a lot more appealing than their looks alone would suggest, merely because they bring confidence and a strong sense of self-worth to every interaction. True confidence (as opposed to arrogance or bragging) is a deeply attractive quality that will make people want to work with you and associate with you as well as inspire interest from potential romantic partners.

For most of us, confidence is something we derive from external signals or events. You do get that raise or that better job or someone praises your work or places a big order or tells you how good you look and so you believe positive things about yourself. But I Feel Pretty is a useful reminder that becoming more confident should really begin with how you assess your own value. It should never require anyone else's permission. 

So go see the movie. Or better yet, go look in a mirror right now. Know that the person looking back at you is beautiful and capable, just as you are. The rest of the world will know it too. You just have to show them. 

Published on: Apr 23, 2018
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