The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo - Amy Schumer (2016)
LETTER TO THE EDITOR
I’ve always been a sucker for magazines—even the ones that tell me I am doing everything wrong as a woman. I grew up covering my bedroom walls with magazine photos of Jason Priestley and Luke Perry. I’d steal Redbook from my mom and Mademoiselle from my dad. Hahaha, just kidding; my dad didn’t read Mademoiselle but I thought writing that would create a good funny rhythm. Amy, stop explaining your jokes and get on with it. I buy and flip through tabloids, which I believe causes cancer. I’ll also buy a Time magazine if I feel like looking like a genius, and I put it on top of the stack so if anyone sees me, they think, Hmmm, what a smart, important girl. I wonder what’s under that—Newsweek? The Economist? I can’t think of any other smart magazines, which lets you know I’m Long Island trash who came close to not graduating high school.
Anyway, I like magazines on a flight or when I’m laying out on the beach hungover. I’ve never thought too hard about them, and I definitely never, ever imagined that I’d actually be in them, much less see my face slapped on the cover. My first few appearances in magazines were as a writer. After I’d been doing stand-up for a few years, I started receiving offers to write funny articles for women’s magazines. I wrote for Cosmo a couple times, and it was really fun. I wrote about things similar to what I’m covering in this book. So when I was asked to write an article for Men’s Health magazine, I was fired up. I pride myself on being a comic who appeals to both men and women, so I was excited to get exposure in a dudes’ periodical as well.
I met with Ryan, an editor of sorts for the magazine. He was forty-five minutes late to our meeting—never a good sign—but he was really apologetic and complimentary of my stand-up, so of course, all was forgiven. We got down to business and brainstormed what I’d write about: sex! My cup of tea. All good in the hood.
Ryan and I started discussing the photo to go along with my article. I had some concepts I thought were pretty funny: me holding a copy of the magazine with a front cover that read “The Daddy Issue,” or me dressed as a sad stripper next to a “No Jokes in the Champagne Room” sign. Ryan laughed at my sick ideas and said he’d pass them along to the art department.
Over the next month and a half we settled on the finished piece. A few weeks later I was backstage getting ready to film the stand-up portion of my pilot for Comedy Central when I got an email from Ryan putting me in touch with the fact-checker about one last sidebar. And that’s when I saw the layout of the article. It was accompanied by three huge pictures—and I couldn’t help but notice that not one of them was me. Each one featured a very slender, heavy-titted model, whose ages ranged from old enough for military service to too young to rent a car.
Minutes later I had to go onstage in front of cameras under bright-ass lights and tell jokes that were supposed to be funny and empowering, but all I wanted to do was throw in the towel and switch to the path that Men’s Healthobviously saw for me. This path probably involved writing in a broom closet for the rest of my life or standing at the bottom of a hole putting lotion on my skin that they dropped down in a bucket for me. Or at least that’s how they made me feel. I could just hear them saying, “Schumer’s a very fun girl. Bright, with a face for podcasting.”
I emailed Ryan and asked about the pictures, and his reply was something along the lines of, “Sorry, it wasn’t my call! Now’s the time we really need you to sign off on that sidebar.”
I was brushed off. And even though I can imagine everyone at Men’s Health shaking their heads and saying, “Ugghh, just another crazy homely woman creating problems because she’s not hot enough,” I told him I wouldn’t do any more work until I got some answers. So Ryan—who was really a nice guy, just doing his job, probably—put me in touch with the editor, a man I’ll call Jake. And here is the reply I got.
Just read your note to Ryan, and I apologize if there’s been any confusion over the art treatment for your story. In fact, we very rarely run author images with any story, and that applies equally to Amy Schumer and Jonathan Safran Foer and Jesse Eisenberg and Augusten Burroughs and Garrison Keillor. All well-known names, all people we turned to for wit, intelligence, and nicely turned phrases, but not for photo shoots. So you’re in very good company among the non-photographed.
When I heard your complaint, though, I winced a little. I hate for any of our contributors to be smarting over a detail of their piece. So we’ve hunted down a good photo of you—you’re right, there are plenty—and have incorporated it into the spread, so everybody knows who wrote this, and can congratulate you when they see you on the street (or marquee).
Please, accept my apologies.
Now, you want to write a funny essay about double standards in male beauty and female beauty? Game on.
Many thanks for the sweet piece, in any case. Our guys are going to love it.
• • •
I appreciate your response. That’s certainly an impressive list of authors. But I feel the need to point out that not one person on that list is a woman. I know you are aware that there is a difference. Were the nature of their essays sexual and did you run a picture of younger thinner dudes above their words? I’m having trouble finding the humor in the double standard at the moment.
Thank you for including a photo of me. [The photo they ran was pinky-nail-sized, smaller than one of the models’ nipples.] I would like some more details about that. Is it very small next to the giant model shots? I think that may just highlight the situation. What is the picture? I would like to see it. I know it’s too late to pull the whole story, but I would prefer that to feeling swept under the rug.
I do not accept your challenge for a follow-up story. Pardon me if my trust and faith in your publication has been shaken. I’m sure you are a great guy who is fun to get a beer with and has a good relationship with his exes, so know that this is not personal to you or your team. But I will not take this lying down. (You can have your comedic experts on staff add a joke after this line.)
• • •
Damn. I was doing much better after your first note.
Truly, I’m sorry you’re angry. We simply sought the best person to write the piece. And you were that, which you showed on the page.
Design/photo/artwork is an entirely separate realm, in my mind, so it never occurred to me that you’d be the photo subject for your own piece. You already did your part with the writing.
Think of a financial story: the writer expresses her expertise on money, and the artwork depicts cash. Writer does one part, photographer does the other, supporting the same idea. Then magazine people mesh words and images together on the page.
That’s what we do all the time, and in this case, too.
Not sure I can ever convince you, so I’ll stop trying. But it’s exactly what happened with this story.
• • •
Thank you for your financial advisor comparison. We are totally on the same page now. Want to get a drink sometime? I’m on a diet. I’ll give you a heads up when I’m under 110.
• • •
Yes, let’s grab a drink. I’ll have beer, you can have water, and all will be good.
Happy to send you a copy of The Women’s Health Diet to speed you on your way to 110.
• • •
I hope you are blessed with daughters. All joking aside, is it too late to pull the article? I honestly don’t want it to run.
I think the picture is distracting and has nothing to do with the piece. You look at the design, image, and photo as 3 separate things, but I believe the reader experiences it all together.
• • •
Presses rolling. I hope you win an award for it.
I have two sons. Maybe they’ll marry somebody’s daughters.
And that was that. I don’t know if Jake could tell I was being the biggest wiseass on earth, but interestingly enough, some time later, after that issue of the magazine was published, he added a large photo of me to the online version of the article, along with his defense for having initially chosen the model pics over a picture of me. Needless to say, my opinion of magazines shifted a lot after this experience. What was once just a glossy, mindless form of entertainment became something that seemed a little darker.
I know I don’t look like the models they use in Men’s Health. Their aesthetic is pretty consistent: a Svedka vodka–style fembot chick who just got out of the shower, with huge breasts on an otherwise young-boy body and an expression that says, “I’m sexy and powerful unless that’s not what you want, master.” Bless those gals; they work hard. So do the Photoshop editors, but I’m not going to buy into what the editors and their advertisers want. I’m not going to accept that that’s the way it should be just because that’s the way it is. People like women with more to their bodies too. Some people like a thick ass they can grab on to and a back they can touch without being met with a row of ribs. Nothing wrong if you enjoy the ribs. Just saying. I’m beautiful too. I am worthy of being in front of the camera. I can hear them around a conference table in their soulless office now: “She’s just mad that she’s busted; she should get over it!” But it’s not that simple.
I’m mad because girls as young as eight years old are being shamed about their bodies. Fifth graders go on diets and admire Instagram pics of celebs in waist trainers. Some of the people I’m closest to have struggled with eating disorders. I’m mad at an industry that suggests that painfully thin is the only acceptable way to be. Please don’t get on me for skinny shaming. If that’s how you are shaped, God bless, but we gotta mix it up, because it’s upsetting and confusing to women with other body types. When I’m onstage performing for over ten thousand people, I look out at the crowd and about half of the women in the audience have their arms folded to cover their stomachs. We’re endlessly shown that being dangerously thin is the only way to be valuable—or even acceptable.
Why can’t girls above a size 4 walk a runway? What are they afraid of? Will the whole runway tip over? Do they think models size 6 and above can’t make it to the end of the runway without stopping midway for a burrito? Enough, enough with these waifish elves walking your impossible clothing down an ugly runway with ugly lighting and noisy music. Life doesn’t look like that runway. Let’s see some ass up there. And not just during the specially themed “plus-size show.” We girls over size 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16 . . . we don’t want a special day, we want every day, and we want you to get out of our fucking way because we are already here! You are living in the past, all you dated, strange magazines representing the weird fashion world that presents bizarre clothing that no one I have ever met wears.
Now that I’ve been on some of these magazine covers, I can tell you that even the chick on the cover doesn’t love this situation. When you pose for a cover, a lot of magazines don’t allow you to choose how you look or what you wear, and they generally Photoshop you until you look like everyone else. Google “magazine covers women,” then click “Images,” and you will get a screen full of dozens of magazine covers. Now squint just a little bit, and you’ll see: everyone looks like the same person. It’s sick. Why are we taught that we all need to look like one girl? Some of us want to look like ourselves. How we were born, a little goofy with some rough angles and some beautiful ones. I have been lucky to be part of some photo shoots that gave me license to look and feel like myself, thanks to photographers like Annie Leibovitz and Mark Seliger. Underappreciated fact: photographers are artists who enjoy mixing it up and presenting creative and varied images to delight and surprise people. Can you imagine photographing women in the same cover-shot pose all the time? There is nothing wrong with celebrating beauty, but beauty comes in many forms!
And how about we all agree that we don’t need to slap a warning label on the page any time we show some form of “alternative” beauty? The “plus-size” label sends an us-vs.-them message: These are the special magical plus-size ladies who are still lovable and beautiful—despite their size. Why create categories for women’s bodies? “Plus-size” is a pointless term that implies anything above a certain size is different and wrong. When Glamour put my name on the cover of their “Chic at Any Size” issue without asking me, I was frustrated, because I don’t want to be a part of that message.
A few days after I got Jake’s last email in that fun pen-pal exchange, I got out of the shower and stopped to look at myself in the mirror. I looked blotchy and messy and not at all like the girls in those magazines. But I was still fucking beautiful. I’m a real woman who digests her meals and breaks out and has sweet little pockets of cellulite on her upper thighs that she’s not apologizing for. Because guess what? We all have that shit. We’re all human beings.
I’m mad at myself for wasting any time caring about a magazine that runs articles with titles like “How to Tell If She’s Good in Bed” and “Nine Ways to a Stronger Erection.” What the fuck do I care? I want no part of that noise. I want something else. Women’s magazines, I’m looking at you! Maybe run some fun photos, make some waves, and add more than one article per issue about women who are smart, creative, or interesting. I know there are bigger problems in the world. But this is something I care about deeply. This is my thing. I want to shout it from the fucking rooftops: You can’t shame us or label us anymore. Join us instead—and EVOLVE FASTER so we can all work together!
I don’t think magazines are the enemy. But I think they can do better. I want to be a part of that. If more magazines will have me, I will continue to scrunch up my nose and laugh on their covers; I will continue to pose pantsless with fire Photoshopped on my crotch; I will keep running fearlessly through Chinatown in shapeless silk pajamas and a blizzard of confetti. Beauty doesn’t have to be so strict, stringent, and serious. Some of these magazines have sold us short. They have asked us to believe in their labels and their sameness. For a minute, I subscribed. But that minute is up. And I hope it’s up for all of you.
Photo taken in an amusement park photo booth.