Oberlin’s most famous alumna, Lena Dunham, appeared in Vogue this month, prompting Jezebel to offer a $10,000 reward for copies of the pre-Photoshopped images of Dunham.
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.