One of our smartest, funniest feminist comics has made herself the butt of a lot of jokes lately. Which would be fine if she didn't think hers was so big.
In Hollywood, her arms look so big, people think they’re legs, and they think her legs are tree trunks, joked comedian Amy Schumer last week at the Apollo Theater, while taping her second HBO special. Throughout the set, the rising star continued to make fun of her body, which included her usual riffs on sluttiness, sex, and in particular, her vagina.
But as I watched her from my orchestra perch at the Harlem theater, I asked myself the same question I always do when watching her Comedy Central Show, Inside Amy Schumer: Is she really fat? Is she even unattractive?
It’s hard to tell. The five-foot-eight blonde was, as always, wearing something shapeless: a flare mini-dress that came mid-thigh, revealing shapely thick legs, but hiding the rest of her torso. Still, with her long, flaxen tresses and big blue eyes, it was hard to objectively see her as anything but pretty.
Then again, why does it matter? This 34-year-old is mining her (exaggerated) life for laughs, and doing it really, really well. The sketches on her TV show—now in its third season—immediately go viral the moment they hit the internet. And she’s helmed Trainwreck, a comedy, with Girls executive producer (and inventor of the contemporary bromance) Judd Apatow, who is directing (the movie opening July 17). She’s been hailed as “groundbreaking” by CNN (“Amy Schumer Is Everywhere”) and a “raucous feminist” by The New Yorker (“The Raucous Tramp”), and has defended her weight and ability to get guys as the recipient of the 2015 Glamour Women of the Year awards when she declared “I’m, like, 160 lbs. right now and I can catch a dick whenever I want—it’s not a problem.”
I suppose it matters to me because we live in a world where women have recently broken the thin-women monopoly in entertainment and fashion: We have funny gal Melissa McCarthy, who likes to throw her weight around, literally—although thankfully did it less than usual in Spy, the hilarious action flick that opened this past weekend, in which she leaves her desk job to be an undercover cat lady field-op—and Tess Holiday, the “World’s Largest Supermodel,” who’s a size 22.
But where are the regular size 8 to 12 women, like me? You know, ones with arms and legs that have some flesh on them, or maybe a slight tummy or a disproportionate body part—but who don’t shop plus-size. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) Aside from a few Dove ads, we hardly see any representation of the average American attractive young woman: Not skinny, not fat. Someone like Mindy Kaling. Or … Amy Schumer.
That’s why it upsets me that Schumer’s so self-deprecating. “I dress in a way where I accentuate the parts of myself that … a lot of people respond well to my wrists,” she said in a recent bit on her show, which intersperses sketches with bits, man-on-the-street interviews and a featured interview at the end (like a recent one with the founder of Ashley Madison.com, a website for married people seeking affairs, or a male escort). “And maybe only you guys in the front enjoy my ankles, right? Great ankles!” she continued. “And then shit hits the fan, yay, here, right?” she says pointing to her midriff, which is covered by a loose-fitting top and leather pants. “You can’t totally tell but under this is just a lava lamp, shit’s moving around.”
And even though everyone is laughing their asses off at this and other bits like this at her live show, I feel awkwardly defensive of her, like she was my younger sister or best friend. I want to take her aside and say, “You know, you’re really very pretty and have a nice body. Can you please stop saying those things about yourself?”
I get it. She’s making fun of everyone else making fun of people like her—or more accurately, people who don’t look like Kate Upton (whom she sat next to at the U.S. Open, she says at her Apollo show, as well as on a recent episode of “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” with Jerry Seinfeld, who was appalled that her friend found the Sports Illustrated model funny. “I was like, ‘There’s no way she’s funny,’” said Schumer). She’s skewering Hollywood’s beauty standards, women’s magazines and the way they make women feel about bad themselves, men’s unrealistic expectations of how they want women to look—even if they’re nothing special themselves. (See Louis C.K.’s “So Did the Fat Lady Skit” about the double standard about weight among the sexes).
Take the “12 Angry Men” sketch on Inside Amy Schumer: Shot in black and white with a star-studded cast that includes Jeff Goldblum, Paul Giamatti, and Dennis Quaid, the sketch mimics the original film to a T, but here, one juror tries to sway the other 11 that … Amy Schumer is hot enough for her own cable TV show. Taking up the entirety of the show, the sketch is supposed to be a commentary on whether a woman is allowed to talk dirty; why men like Kevin James, her favorite punching bag, don’t have to be attractive; and how hypocritical our society is.
It’s just that I’m not sure everyone gets the joke. Forget the fact that half her audience likely never saw 12 Angry Men (at the live show I attended, the audience was mostly composed of twentysomethings). I’m guessing that they don’t fully grasp that this is not simply another way Schumer puts herself down.
That’s what worries me.
As we spilled out of the theater, I looked at these nubile young things, white Brooklyn visitors who were diverse in size in a Lena Dunham Girls’ way, and I wondered: Did they understand that Schumer was sacrificing herself for the sake of a joke for the greater good, by sending up the tough standards of the entertainment and beauty industries? Or did they simply relate to her because they thought she felt bad about her body and they do, too?
If it’s the latter, I worry Schumer is doing more harm than good. Not that it’s comedy’s job to improve society—all it has to do is make us laugh, and, hopefully, think. But since she’s being hailed as a great feminist powerhouse, I hope her fans appreciate the satirical aspects of her body-image shtick.
And that’s why I wish she’d scale back on that part of her act.
Look, I know how brutal it can be to live in L.A.—I lived there in my thirties, like Schumer. And, like her, I also hail from New York, where I’d considered myself was a solid 7 (or at least a “Jewish 7”). Like Schumer, it was a shock for me to find myself downgraded in the City of Angels to a 5 amid the leggiest, blondest, most beautiful women in the world.
Like Schumer, there was no shortage of men to go out with. But when I found myself on a date with a guy who would say, “I don’t usually meet people outside the industry,” (Hey, Rob!), or “You’re the first Jewish woman I’ve ever been out with,” (Hi George!), I quickly got rid of them because I knew these were guys who had always dated MAWs (Model/Actress/Waitresses) and would not be dating the likes of me—a five-foot-three curvy marathoner. They’d view me as an anthropological experiment, one he could placate his grandmother with, telling her he did go out with a nice Jewish girl (but she wasn’t for him).
In the end, after eight years in L.A., my fortieth birthday looming (i.e., “my last fuckable day”), I moved back to New York. It was so refreshing to come back to a city where you get hooted at in the street, where you can feel like the prettiest women (okay, prettier) in the room, where I felt visible.
Not that I’m suggesting Schumer leave SoCal, or that the phenomena she talks about are anything but real. I just wish she wouldn’t lend it so much credence. Because sometimes it feels like she buys into it.
I actually think she’s at her funniest when she doesn’t make herself the butt of the joke. Her best sketches were about birth control—“Ask your doctor if birth control is right for you, then ask your boss if birth control is right for you; ask your boss to ask his priest, find a Boy Scout and ask him what he thinks…”—and the amazing “Last Fuckable Day,” which starred Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Patricia Arquette, and Tina Fey (“In every actress’s life, the media decides when you finally reach the point where you’re not believably fuckable anymore”), which skewered Hollywood’s age and beauty standards.
For me, both of these sketches work better than, say the “Plain Jane” sketch, where she plays a detective in Miami, whose perceived unattractiveness renders her invisible, or the “Girl, You Need No Makeup” boy-band parody, where the boy-banders ultimately decide Amy does need makeup. I don’t want to have to think about whether Schumer is hot enough or as meh-looking as she claims (she’s not meh-looking), because she’s so damn smart, bold, and laugh-out-loud hilarious. And this past season, she’s been on fire, and bolder than ever.
As she said recently in accepting the Glamour award, “No I’m not going to apologize for who I am, and I’m actually going to love the skin that I’m in, and I’m not going to be striving for some other version of myself.”
Now that’s a message I think everyone deserves to hear.
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