In recent years, brands have latched onto buzzwords like "inclusivity" and "self-love" for their marketing strategies, using empowerment rhetoric to stay relevant to younger demographics and expand consumer reach. Amy Schumer's latest film, I Feel Pretty, explores this concept, by centering its plot around a fictional luxury brand, Lily LeClair, cynically trying to capitalize on these ideals, but the film ends up missing the mark.
The narrative follows Schumer’s Renee who, after an unfortunate SoulCycle accident, becomes unapologetic in her existence as a non-size 0 woman. This newfound self-confidence not only leads to Renee's happiness with herself on a personal level but also to Renee becoming an integral part of iconic beauty brand’s new "masstige" business strategy. But while the film presents itself as being simply about Renee's victorious journey toward understanding that she was always pretty, even if she couldn't see it, it's hard to ignore its other message: a makeup brand can capitalize on women's self-esteem issues, and make a few extra bucks while at it.
Promoting women's self-esteem is considered an automatically good thing, and yet the corporate exploitation of women’s insecurities about themselves, all wrapped up in a message of self-esteem, is the very opposite of empowerment. In I Feel Pretty, Lily LeClair is not in the business of selling products out of a genuine desire for inclusivity—even if the optics have changed, it doesn't mean that the bottom line has. And, in fact, the key to Renee's newfound success at work isn't that she's done anything differently but, rather, that she's the same "average" woman as always, and Lily LeClair has just realized that "average" women have money, too.
At the end of the film, Renee is presented as the new face of the brand; it's supposed to be an empowering moment, indicating that she has overcome the hurdles of self-doubt and low self-esteem. But she has done that via the exploitation of other women’s insecurities. She "wins" by successfully marketing a line of products specifically designed for people hungry to be associated with the brand—even though they'd once been told they could never embody its ethos. The irony of empowerment simply meaning a newfound association with the existing power structure is real, if unremarked upon, in the film.
Like the “empowering” messages so many brands adopt, I Feel Pretty’s feels hollow and full of unhelpful platitudes. Sure, it’s great to be inclusive and allow people previously shut out of certain markets feel like they, too, can be part of the conversation, but, at the end of the day, how much self-esteem can one actually gain from buying drugstore lipstick repurposed with a high-end logo? Do you know anyone who felt better about themselves in the long run for buying Kirkland-Borghese foundation at Costco? Me neither.