Why I Care About Lena Dunham’s Body

For me it was the dance party.

The scene, which sold me on the first season of Girls, is a perfect microcosm of my 20s experience thus far: after releasing her anxiety into a carefully crafted tweet, Hannah and her roommate Marnie process the latest crisis by putting down the computer and dancing out their frustration and confusion to Robyn’s fantastic “Dancing On My Own.”

It was at this moment that I realized I love Girls and its take on postcollege urban life, but I totally get why some people don’t. The show represents a very particular experience, and if you don’t happen to be a 20something woman then its oh-my-goodness-YES moments might not hit for you like they do for me. What I don’t get is why the first thing everyone feels the need to comment on, whether they have actually seen the show or not, is Lena Dunham’s body.

A little background: Girls is an HBO comedy about four women figuring out life and love in New York City, and no, it’s not Sex and the City 2, because a) that’s already a thing, and b) these girls live in Brooklyn and they’re “poor.” Lena Dunham is the 26-year-old creator, producer, writer, director, and star. And she  has a body she isn’t embarrassed to show (frequently and fully).

Wait, this is show business. Why do people care so much about this particular 26-year-old showing some skin? Apparently, because she looks like this –>

In a brutal review of Girls‘ second season, New York Post writer Linda Stasi describes Dunham as “a woman with giant thighs, a sloppy backside and small breasts” and registers her disbelief that Hannah could find not one but two men who “can’t get enough of her blobby body.” She concludes her review with the observation that “Interestingly, the gorgeous Marnie is the one who is now totally unlucky in love. Sometimes it just doesn’t pay to be smart, breathtakingly beautiful, nice and kind. Not when there are blobbies who are willing to take their clothes off in public constantly — even when they aren’t in character.”

While I’m not a huge fan of on-screen nudity, I find Lena’s attitude toward her body downright revolutionary and even inspiring. Example: her outfit on the right, which shows off her not-stick-thin legs. Lucky magazine would NOT approve; isn’t the whole point of wearing clothes to hide your imperfections?

Lena’s not even trying to suggest she’s perfect. In the Girls season one finale, her alter ego Hannah says, “I’ve been 13 pounds overweight and it’s been awful for me my whole life.” Every person in the world can point to areas of their body they would change, or that make them feel insecure. It’s a constant struggle to learn to accept our bodies and stop caring so much about what other people think. But then Lena seems to actually get it, to say she doesn’t give a crap if people like what they see when they look at her, that she is still a person with something to say and a person worthy of love and good things in life, and it scares people.

An article on xojane.com titled “The Audacity of Lena Dunham, and Her Admirable Commitment to Making Us Look at Her Naked,” interpreted all the hate as reflective of the complicated relationships women have with their own bodies, and with each other. “Lena Dunham looks like what millions of women see in their mirrors every morning, women who see themselves and immediately catalog all the things they must ‘work on’ in order to be passably acceptable enough to show their bodies, publicly or privately. By attacking Dunham, we are, to an extent, attacking ourselves.”

“There is also an element of anger in our reaction: How dare Dunham get dates and have sex without working as hard to deserve them as other women have? Why does she feel so entitled? She has no right to such confidence. What good is being ‘beautiful, nice and kind’ (as the New York Post writer identifies another Girls actress) if it doesn’t ensure you will always have more gentleman callers than women who only qualify as one of the above?” She goes on, “How do we compete with Lena Dunham, who refuses to play? There are no RULES to this game. And so we get angry.”

This is why I care so much. Because I see Lena Dunham’s body on screen, and I see her dating guys, and I think to myself, oh, maybe there isn’t just one way a woman’s body should look and maybe it’s okay after all if my body doesn’t look like every other female body I have ever seen on a screen or page, and maybe some guy really will find me beautiful and not be disappointed that I’m not this other thing I will clearly never be.

Every time I look in a mirror I can’t help but mentally catalogue “areas for improvement.” I don’t love this about myself, but I can’t believe I’m the only one who constantly compares myself to an ideal to which I can never, and should never, aspire. So yes, I resent it when people criticize female celebrities for having imperfect bodies, and for “subjecting” those bodies upon our poor, unsuspecting eyes, because I too subject myself upon the world every single day. I resent it when people balk at the realism of a woman with Lena Dunham’s body somehow conjuring up not one but TWO men who might find her attractive and even choose her over the more conventionally-attractive Allison Williams (not that it matters that these women have personalities that might play some role in attracting particular partners).

I hear people crap all over her body and I lose hope. I lose hope that I, or any of us, can ever reach that mythical place where we accept our bodies and trust that other people will, too.

I’m not saying that our bodies, and the way other people see them, are the be-all and end-all of life. I know it’s way more important to accept God’s unconditional love and all that. But the thing is, and this is the thing Girls captures so well, the phsyical really does play an important role in the way we relate to ourselves, to each other, and to the world. And I’m learning, more and more, that our 20s are a time where we’re really figuring all that out in new and often confusing ways.

So thank you, Lena Dunham, for forcing us to think about the way we think about our bodies. I’d like to think it’s part of your artistic vision, though I can’t imagine you saw this kind of reaction coming. And thank you for showing us, and me specifically, that this mythical place might actually exist, this place where I can acknowledge my imperfections and still love myself for who I am, and where I can believe that other people can love and accept me too.

You’re doing it right.


4 thoughts on “Why I Care About Lena Dunham’s Body

  1. Fantastic post, Laura. And know that “this mythical place” does exist–well, maybe not entirely, but you can grow closer to it. Maybe not in your twenties, but your journey can move you in that direction. I can testify.

  2. Pingback: Why Can’t We Say It? | Cult of Clair

  3. Pingback: The Quest for Thigh Gap and Why It’s The Most Depressing Thing Ever | Cult of Clair

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