Vogue [now] has a woman who rightfully declares that her appearance, with all of its perceived imperfections, shouldn’t be hidden and doesn’t need any fixing. Lena Dunham has spoken out, frequently, about society’s insane and unattainable beauty standards. Dunham embraces her appearance as that of a real woman; she’s as body positive as they come. But that’s not really Vogue’s thing, is it? Vogue is about perfection as defined by Vogue, and rest assured that they don’t hesitate to alter images to meet those standards. It doesn’t matter if any woman, including Lena, thinks she’s fine the way she is. Vogue will find something to fix.
To be very clear: Our desire to see these images pre-Photoshop is not about seeing what Dunham herself “really” looks like; we can see that every Sunday night or with a cursory Google search. She’s everywhere. We already know what her body looks like. There’s nothing to shame here. Nor is this rooted in criticism of Dunham for working with Vogue. Entertainment is a business, after all, and Vogue brings a level of exposure that exceeds that of HBO.
This is about Vogue, and what Vogue decides to do with a specific woman who has very publicly stated that she’s fine just the way she is, and the world needs to get on board with that. Just how resistant is Vogue to that idea? Unaltered images will tell.
$10,000 works. Jezebel reports: “Within two hours of offering $10,000 for unretouched images from Annie Leibovitz’s photography session with the HBO star, we received six allegedly unaltered images.”
Charlotte Allen observes:
The elephant (sorry, Lena!) in this room of rage is that, let’s face it, Lena Dunham really isn’t that pretty.. Even glammed up for Vogue, those monster thighs lobster-clawing the neck of the guy who’s bearing her on his shoulders really do have some “perceived imperfections.” The best that you say about Dunham is that she has nice hands and wouldn’t be too bad-looking if she lost a few and paid a visit to Dr. Tattoff.
But nobody can say that–because “body positivity”–considering yourself a raving beauty no matter how much you weigh or what you actually look like–is a central tenet of feminism. That’s apparently why Dunham gets naked in nearly every episode of Girls, why Jezebel is going all pious (it’s Vogue’s fault!), and why Slate’s Katy Waldman feels compelled to call Dunham “lovely”:
Jez is not trying to expose Dunham—it’s continuing its crusade against the fashion magazines that make us all feel like crap and have, in many ways, contributed to a pop culture in which Dunham’s perfectly lovely physique is so outside the norm.
Yes, the point of fashion magazines is to “make us all feel like crap.” That’s why Vogue has 1.3 million subscribers. But let’s go on pretending.
Daily Beasts’ Caitlin Dickson and Abby Haglage take the curious, but recognizably leftist position, that one needs to appear in nude in public oneself in order to find Lena Dunham’s extraordinarily numerous displays of unattractive nudity in bad taste.
[L]ike everyone else who has endured listening to this senseless debate since the show first premiered, [“Girls”’ producers] have had enough. No one, especially those who watch any of HBO’s other gratuitously sexual shows, seems to have a problem with nudity as long as the bodies shown are unrealistically sculpted. Game of Thrones’ practice of spicing up boring scenes with nudity is notorious enough to have warranted its own word: “Sexposition.” If anyone is angry about seeing Khaleesi’s naughty bits, we’ve yet to hear about it. True Blood’s Sookie Stackhouse and Boardwalk Empire’s Lucy Danziger are welcome to get down with their bad naked selves all day long. A “thigh gap” and/or “bikini bridge” are practically a free ticket to nakedville. But normal-bodied characters, please keep your clothes on.
It’s only when faced with the fleshy body of a real life human being—one perhaps uncomfortably similar to the one they have (or are afraid of having)—that people start to freak out. The deluge of questions about Dunham’s nudity conveys the message that imperfect bodies should be hidden in shame.
The point, which unfortunately needs reiterating, is that Girls is a show about the experience of a group of 20-something Brooklynites. Their trials and tribulations might not always be 100 percent realistic or relatable to the majority of Americans. They’re not supposed to be.
What anyone can relate to is the need—not to mention desire—to be naked. Dunham’s body, and the fact that Hannah, like everyone else, has to shower, get dressed, and have sex in the nude—no matter how curvy, bony, or lumpy they are—is the most realistic part of the show.
Anyone who still has questions for Dunham about her nudity should be forced to ask them in the nude.
The notion that a character in a television series must be displayed to nation-wide audience nude and/or engaged in a variety of normally private activities and bodily functions for the sake of realism is, of course, just so much piffle.
Any artistic depiction of human life will inevitably exercise a variety of principles of selection, and will include only scenes and episodes required for some specific story-telling purpose.
The unidentified reporter at tthe 2014 Winter Television Critics Association panel discussion who asked why Lena Dunham’s character is “often naked at random times for no reason” was merely asking an obvious question which has undoubtedly occurred to the overwhelming majority of the show’s audience.
The show’s producers, and their allies at Daily Beast’s, response reveals that Dunham’s unseemly and unattractive nudity is purposeful. It is ideological. It is the practical assertion of a radical left-wing form of egalitarianism which would insist that ugly people should be considered just as worthy of admiration and attention as beautiful people, that a fat and homely girl is just as entitled to display her body to a nationwide audience as a slender and beautiful model or movie star.
Reading this rather outrageous nonsense, I thought that Ayn Rand had actually overlooked one form of villainous leftism which she could have devastatingly featured in Atlas Shrugged: the Lena Dunham nude scene.
Betsey Woodruff, in National Review, identifies Lena Dunham’s HBO comedy Girls as a cultural canary-in-the-coal-mine which, if observed carefully, could have told you where the recent presidential election was heading.
At its core, Girls feels like a deliberate, dissective examination of a group of people who stubbornly refuse to grow up and are lucky enough to be able to pull it off. The main thing Dunham’s characters share is the idea that just because they exist, somebody else should give them stuff. In and of itself, depicting that isn’t at all a bad thing. Girls is an interesting project, it’s well executed, and it can be really, really funny. Look, I like Girls, and I’m excited about the second season.
But Dunham’s stupid little YouTube ad for the president might have ruined it all for me. That’s because she sounds like she’s channeling her character, Invasion of the Body Snatchers–style. They share the same baffling, naïvely egomaniacal understanding of justice — they both seem to think that because they exist, the universe needs to make sure that all the sex they choose to have is consequence-free.
You can almost argue that Lena Dunham sees President Obama as the perfect surrogate for everything missing in her characters’ lives: He’s their gentle lover, supportive parent, and empathetic friend. He’s special. He won’t let them down. He’s Prince Charming. And that kind of defeats the purpose of feminism.
You’d think the feminist elevation of agency would result in women who take pride in being responsible for their own bodies. You’d hope that telling women that they can do whatever they want would imply that they’re responsible for what they do. You’d think serious feminists would argue that true empowerment is something you lay claim to, not something the federal government dispenses in all its benevolence. But for Dunham, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
In fact, for all practical purposes, the patriarchy no longer decides whom American women can sleep with and when. That’s great. But if you don’t want men in Washington telling you how to use your sexuality, you shouldn’t expect them to subsidize it. But Dunham seems to actually believe they should. Dunham makes tons of money, and I’m quite confident she can afford to pay for her own birth control. But she doesn’t seem to take pride in that; it’s not what her characters aspire to, and given her foray into the delightful world of presidential-election ads, it doesn’t seem to be something she aspires to, either.
Second-wave feminists lionized the independent woman who paid her own rent and busted through glass ceilings and ran for Congress. Being totally self-sufficient was the goal. The idea was that women didn’t need men, whether those men were their fathers or husbands or boyfriends or presidents. By contrast, Dunham’s new vision of women as lady parts with ballots is infantilizing and regressive.
So Girls isn’t the eschaton, and neither is one vapid YouTube video. But if Dunham’s show were a metaphorical canary in a metaphorical coal mine, it would be struggling pretty hard right now. There’s a reason it’s called Girls, not Women.