I Feel Pretty: Can Confidence Make a Woman Beautiful?
Amy Schumer’s mediocre film raises important issues about self-esteem and beauty.
Amy Schumer’s new comedy, I Feel Pretty, has a promising premise: how much happier will a woman feel about herself when she sees herself as beautiful?
The only woman in her gym who isn’t bone thin or magazine-ad beautiful, all Renee has ever wanted was to feel “undeniably pretty.” She gets her chance when she falls off her Soul Cycle machine. Her concussion has the Hollywood effect of magically transforming her vision: in the mirror, she sees a whole new Renee, no longer the slightly zaftig, slightly clumsy, plain-looking 30-something Manhattan single. Renee now sees herself as beautiful and irresistible. She is the only one who sees this “new” Renee, so the drama hangs on how differently she will feel and be treated by everyone else, now that she is convinced she is an alluring beauty.
Unfortunately, the movie is not very funny, and Renee’s confidence does nothing for her shallow character. She talks incessantly and often inappropriately, lacking self-awareness that she’s laying it all on a bit thick. Renee also seems clueless that even in her “new” state, pursuing a job that immerses her further in the cosmetics industry is probably not a good path to building self-esteem that will be more than skin-deep. She will only learn the cliched lesson about what really matters at the predictable end of the movie.
There is no denying that in the real world, beauty is a clear benefit for a woman. Whether in attracting husbands, friends or jobs, pretty women have an advantage. Men are visually driven, which is why you will see average-looking men (or less than average-looking) married to beautiful women 100 times more often than you’ll see a handsome man married to a homely-looking woman.
Judaism promotes inner beauty as more important in defining your essence than outer beauty, but it also recognizes that God created a world of beauty, in the natural world and in the human form. We are meant to enjoy and appreciate it.
Modesty is meant not to hide a woman’s beauty but to highlight and protect her dignity.
But there is a limit to how much of a woman’s self-esteem should arise from her physical beauty alone. Girls are often told how pretty they are; it’s more important that they be told how beautiful their actions and words are. These will build her inner world and her confidence, helping her to project an attractiveness that comes from a spiritual source.
Today, the boundaries between public and private are increasingly erased. This makes it much harder to convince teenaged girls and women about the value of modesty, tzniut, as a tool to build their confidence. Modesty is meant not to hide a woman’s beauty but to highlight and protect her dignity, and to train men to view women as whole human beings, not primarily as objects of desire. Many parents, as well as principals of Jewish girls’ high schools, struggle to successfully convey this message to young girls today. They are fighting against the dictates of secular society that encourage women to bare as much skin as possible, oblivious to the damage this causes on many levels.
Too many Jewish men have also fallen for the unnatural, shallow Hollywood “ideal” of beauty. They often resist going out with women who are not necessarily gorgeous but are nice-looking or average-looking – you know, just like most of those same men happen to be. They have lost the notion that attraction grows between a couple who love and understand one another. This phenomenon is also painful to the majority of women who are reasonably attractive, but not to the absurd and shallow standards the men have bought into.
When beauty becomes a detriment
While beauty is an advantage for women, exceptional beauty can be a detriment. I have known women whose extraordinary good looks made men fall in love with them without really knowing who the women were inside. Some of these women have had multiple divorces, similar to Hollywood stars, endowed by their Creator as well as the most expensive cosmetic treatments available. In these cases, physical beauty was a barrier to developing true inner confidence and intimacy.
(Men can also be too handsome for their own good. In the Torah, Joseph’s awareness of his striking good looks made him vain, and he was chastised for this conceit. But he more than redeemed himself by resisting the advances of Potiphar’s wife, who relentlessly pursued him for an immoral liaison.)
As someone who grew up struggling with my weight and having been told more than once, “But you have such a pretty face! Why don’t you lose weight?” I have real sympathy for the Renees of the world. I understand the desire to feel beautiful, the desire to achieve an ever lower dress size, but despairing of it ever happening. Even when my loving husband tells me I’m beautiful, some little voice inside me thinks, You’re just saying that because you love me.
Some of the most beautiful women I’ve seen have been women wearing little or no make-up, were middle-aged or older, and were dressed in simple clothing. Their beauty was wholesome. It reflected an intangible but very distinct spiritual centeredness. It reflected confidence, faith, and kindness, and it all added up to great beauty.
In the Woman of Valor song that we sing Friday night, the final lines read, Sheker ha-chen, v’hevel ha’yofi, charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting. “Isha yirat Hashem, hee tithalal,” – the woman who fears God, she is worthy of praise.
A woman who is nurtured by the idea that she is a precious individual to her parents, her family and community, and to God, is also likely to be a woman whose inner glow will add to her outer beauty.
This article discusses Jewish values as they relate to contemporary culture. Aish.com and Jewlarious do not endorse any particular film.