Both women give moving and personal speeches at the Ms. Foundation for Women Gala

By Sheila Cosgrove Baylis
May 05, 2014 01:40 PM
Scott Roth/Invision/AP

What do Gabourey Sidibe and Amy Schumer have in common? For one thing – the power to turn self-doubt into self-confidence.

Both women gave moving speeches at the Ms. Foundation for Women gala, an event held at Cipriani 42nd Street in New York City Thursday night that doubled as a celebration of Gloria Steinem‘s 80th birthday.

Sidibe described how the Ms. magazine founder inspired her while growing up. “In the morning on the way out to the world, I passed by a portrait of my aunt and Gloria together. Side by side they stood … both with their fists held high in the air. Powerful. Confident. And every day as I would leave the house … I would give that photo a fist right back. And I’d march off into battle,” she said.

That battle was the constant criticism of her weight, a challenge that the Oscar-nominated actress, 30, still faces.

“It’s hard to get dressed up for award shows and red carpets when I know I will be made fun of because of my weight,” Sidibe said.

But Sidibe has learned to use obstacles as an opportunity for growth.

“If I hadn’t been told I was garbage, I wouldn’t have learned how to show people I’m talented. And if everyone had always laughed at my jokes, I wouldn’t have figured out how to be so funny. If they hadn’t told me I was ugly, I never would have searched for my beauty. And if they hadn’t tried to break me down, I wouldn’t know that I’m unbreakable,” she said.

Schumer, 32, said she also found strength through difficulty. For her, a degrading sexual experience in college was a catalyst for change.

“I became my own fairy godmother,” she said of getting herself out of a bad situation.

“Now I feel strong and beautiful. I walk proudly down the streets of Manhattan,” Schumer said. “The people I love, love me. I make the funniest people in the country laugh, and they are my friends … I have fought my way through harsh criticism and death threats for speaking my mind. I am alive, like the strong women in this room before me. I am a hot-blooded fighter and I am fearless.”

Like Sidibe, Schumer admits she still experiences setbacks to her confidence.

“But I did a morning radio last week, and a DJ asked, ‘Have you gained weight? You seem chunkier to me. You should strike while the iron is hot, Amy.’ And it’s all gone. In an instant, it’s all stripped away. … I want to throw my hands in the air, after reading a mean Twitter comment, and say, ‘All right! You got it. You figured me out. I’m not pretty, I’m not thin. I do not deserve to use my voice. I’ll start wearing a burqa and start waiting tables at a pancake house. All my self-worth is based on what you can see.’ But then I think, ‘F–– that.’ … I am a woman with thoughts and questions and s–– to say. I say if I’m beautiful. I say if I’m strong. You will not determine my story – I will,” she said.

“I stand here and I am amazing, for you. Not because of you. I am not who I sleep with. I am not my weight. I am not my mother. I am myself. And I am all of you, and I thank you.”

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