“I like you Amy. You’re clever but not too brainy, you’re pretty-ish but you’re not gorgeous… you’re approachable,” says Tilda Swinton, power-boss to Amy Schumer’s uninhibited modern chick in the upcoming film “Trainwreck.” The film dares to take a crack at defining the millennial woman who avoids monogamy in favor of sexual liberation.
But can someone please define “pretty-ish” and how that hybrid makes a woman more “approachable” than a woman who is “regular pretty” or god forbid, “sexy”?
Traditional ideas of sexy recall women like Marilyn Monroe, whose 1950’s media-endorsed pinups exuded an untouchable aura of sex. But in 2015, it appears that the aesthetic appeal of sexy has been replaced by a sexy way of thinking. Women like “Trainwreck” Amy are considered sexy because of their mindset regarding sex and relationships, not because of their bold lip or bust.
Merriam Webster defines sexy as “attractive or exciting” in comparison to the definition of beautiful, which is “pleasing the senses or mind aesthetically.” If we are going by definition, women described as “beautiful” (synonymous with “pretty”) are represented by their aesthetic appeal while women described as “sexy” are attractive and exciting because of something intangible they possess.
Marilyn Monroe embodied this intangible appeal. She remains the pinnacle of sexy some fifty years after she committed suicide. Caitlin Flanagan, journalist for The Atlantic, captured Marilyn’s persuasion in a March 2013 editorial.
“Marilyn was the first Playboy centerfold… she was a nudist and a champion of free love long before these concepts emerge into the national consciousness,” Flanagan wrote.
Marilyn’s looks—her signature mole, red lips, perky breasts and metallic blonde hair—are not as enduring as her concepts of free love and mysticism that made her fast for her times. This fact may be a key influencer in how sexy has evolved to be a mindset, a way of being that is superior in the modern age.
The idealized version of sexy is seemingly effortless, like the way Amy in “Trainwreck” finds a new man to sleep with every night. In the millennial age of feminism, as women liberate themselves from sexual norms, sexy is a woman that does what she wants, especially in the romance department. And in modern times, sexy means a woman doesn’t have to be aesthetically beautiful to do it.
In a New York Times profile of Amy Schumer, reporter Melena Ryzik calls on Emory University film and media professor Michele Schreiber to tell audiences just how sexy women are becoming.
Schreiber explains that Schumer’s ability to strike a balance of political and funny as a female (dare I say, feminist) comedian “makes her kind of sneakily, incredibly powerful.” It is a potential explanation for the hype surrounding the impending release of “Trainwreck.”
The media has grown since Marilyn Monroe’s time. Pinup posters are among the many forms of media that celebrate and exploit women. Technology makes media more accessible, so much so that we can’t escape it. Of all media forms, film has been especially useful in defining society and cultural norms and releasing them for gross consumption. For better or for worse, this is how little girls conceive what beautiful is, what sexy is and find the women they want to emulate.
Marilyn Monroe said “I seem to have a whole superstructure with no foundation” and maybe, this was for the best. She provided the superstructure of sex appeal, which is allowing women like Amy Schumer to create a foundation for the new “sexy,” which extends beyond a banging body.