“Beautiful, gross, strong, thin, fat, pretty, ugly, sexy, disgusting, flawless, woman.”
That’s how Amy Schumer described her nude photo by Annie Leibovitz for the new Pirelli Calendar, seizing the words from the tweets and thinkpieces by her critics and cheerleaders, all of whom will reliably bicker over the headline-making photo shoot from the star, who has turned the unapologetic, self-deprecating embracing of her body image into a zeitgeist-seizing art form.
In the photo, Schumer is nude with nothing but a pair of underwear and some heels on, her arms opting to conceal her nipples instead of the rolls on her stomach as she slouches, and holding a coffee cup as the flash of a bulb startles her face startles into a candid, quite beautiful pose.
The Trainwreck and Inside Amy Schumer star is a model for photographer Annie Leibovitz’s “quite different” 43rd edition of the Pirelli Calendar, typically known for classic pin-up poses from the world’s most glamorous and flawless sex symbols—Naomi Campbell, Penelope Cruz, Kate Moss, Cindy Crawford—but which this year features some of the world’s most distinguished women, all noted for things other than, but also including, their looks.
“The goal was to be very straightforward,” Leibovitz said in a press conference unveiling the images. “I wanted the pictures to show the women exactly as they are, with no pretense.”
In addition to Schumer, other models for the calendar include names not classically associated with the phrase “pin-up”—Selma director Ava DuVernay; Yao Chen, the first Chinese goodwill ambassador for United Nations High Commission for Refugees; tennis phenom Serena Williams—and therefore reappropriates the phrase to encompass new layers of sexiness and beauty: the kind that triumphs confidence, intelligence, class, and strength as part of the idea of exhibitionism.
The remainder of the calendar’s models include Lucasfilm producer Kathleen Kennedy, Yoko Ono, writer Fran Lebowitz, executive Mellody Hobson, former supermodel Natalia Vodianova, philanthropist Agnes Gund, blogger Tavi Gevinson, and Iranian artist Shirin Neshat.
As for her own image, which bucks the celebrity tradition of airbrushing out curves and rolls, Schumer says, “I never felt more beautiful.”
The more radical message she's sending: We’re all our fiercest champions, but we're also our biggest critics. That tension? That is natural. That is beautiful.
It’s easy to sound trite or maybe even patronizing when praising a famous person for embracing their body, and for being candid about all the insecurities they still acknowledge. But to deny the power not just in Schumer’s involvement in this calendar but also in the way she has shared the photo would be an injustice to the effect it will undeniably have.
“Beautiful, gross, strong, thin, fat, pretty, ugly, sexy, disgusting, flawless, woman,” she captioned the photo when she posted it on Twitter and on Instagram Monday morning.
These are words that seem in contradiction with each other, almost like an insufferable beat poet who thinks she is being deeper than she is. But they’re not. Schumer is redirecting the body-positive movement in a more realistic, and maybe even emotionally healthier way.
You can feel confident and proud of your body. You can find your curves sexy. You can embrace what some might call an imperfection. And you can also hate your body sometimes, too.
Because to have a relationship with your body and your self-confidence means being honest about insecurities and your feelings about them. Otherwise you’re just projecting a false pride, convincing yourself that you’ve accepted parts of your body that you don’t like merely because a body-positive movement says you will be happier if you do.
Schumer has always been candid about her body image, partly because she recognizes the radical power of being a successful and sexual woman in Hollywood while not having the body type of a waifish clothing rack with cartoon boobs. With great power comes great responsibility, and if not necessarily considering it a responsibility to discuss her body image struggles (because, dear God, how awful), she considers it an opportunity, and one that she’s relished.
But she’s also been candid because we’ve forced her to. How many interviews has Schumer sat through, forced to answer questions about being a “trailblazer” because she’s carved a place for herself in show business without being a size zero?
The brilliant comedian that she is, she’s used it as part of her comedy, especially in an often repeated bit about how in L.A. her arms register as legs. (It’s a good bit, even if we’ve heard her perform it so often by this point we could recite it ourselves.)
The eloquent human that she is—the one who has been so incomparably gifted at channeling our own frustrations and complicated feelings with a razor-sharp wit laced with surprising shocks of emotion—she’s also used this candor to be more authentic than most celebrities have ever been about what it’s been like to be insecure with your body while under the scrutinizing gaze of the public eye. And then eventually conquer that.
“Some nights I just didn’t even want to go on stage because I couldn’t find an outfit I looked good in,” she said on the Today show last month. Then, tearfully, “It’s been a struggle for me my whole life, especially just being in the entertainment industry, standing on a stage in front of people. I can’t perform my best or be confident if I’m not sure if I’m pulling at something. Sometimes I would just want to throw in the towel and say, ‘I’m not going to do stand-up tonight.’”
We don’t often let our strong role models to have chink in their armor, especially ones that betray any sort of emotion or vulnerability. Amy Schumer, role model for all confident women, called bullshit on that, and we’re all better for it.
So it’s with a careful honed grace, sharpened from so much of that, that Schumer shares the photo with the perfect message, a collection of words that some will use to describe how she looks, that she will use to describe her looks as her relationship to the photo and her body evolves (like all of us do with our own), and that actually mean something real—more real than any rote “This is beautiful!” plastic endorsement.
Perhaps unintentionally, there’s a bit of cheeky poeticism to this photo being included as part of the Pirelli Calendar, which is routinely associated with “pin-up” poses.
In an episode of Inside Amy Schumer that spoofed 12 Angry Men, jurors did not debate whether the defendant (played by Schumer) was guilty of committing murder, but instead the crime of not being hot enough to be on TV. At one point, one of the jurors bemoans the end of the days where only women as sexy and perfect as Marilyn Monroe—the iconic pin-up girl—were allowed on TV.
Monroe was a size 8, another juror points out. Schumer is a size 6.
A beautiful, gross, strong, thin, fat, pretty, ugly, sexy, disgusting, flawless size 6.