Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Feminism/Uncensored: Lena Dunham, GIRLS and the Politics of Body Positivity


I'm beginning to think that Lena Dunham is a brilliant political mind.

You may have noticed that I've all but abandoned my GIRLS reviews. I love the show, and I still watch religiously every week, but I simply don't have the time to dissect the various shenanigans of Hannah Horvath and company. But I really want to talk about this week's episode, and the subsequent reaction to it.

One Man's Trash was baffling and nonsensical where the plot was concerned. At least to me. Let's just say there was misplaced garbage, and affairs with older men, and naked ping pong, and fainting in the shower, and immature breakthroughs, and a whole host of other things that simply didn't make sense in the larger context of the previous four episodes of this season. It is very possibly the most navel-gazing episode of GIRLS ever to be broadcast.

But that's irrelevant, because this piece is about Hannah Horvath's "blobby" body


You see, I don't think it was an accident that this episode did very little in the way of furthering this season's plot, and I don't think it's a coincidence that a large portion of this episode saw Hannah Horvath very very naked; unabashedly so. I think Lena Dunham knew exactly what she was doing by spending an entire episode reveling in her character's gratuitous nudity, and active sex-life.

I think this episode had nothing to do with the world of GIRLS, and everything to do with the audience who watches it. Lena has been criticized since the show began for everything from the lack of racial diversity in the show, to the unlike-ability of her characters. Some of that criticism has dissipated, but no matter how hard we try, the audience of GIRLS can't seem to come to terms with the fact that Lena Dunham has the audacity to be naked on TV while not being a size 2. Not, topless, not in skimpy clothing: NAKED. Total, full frontal. And I think that addressing that fact was the crux of this episode.

Because you see, Hannah is not only naked about 90% of the time (hyperbole for effect), but she has SEX (gasp!) and LOTS OF IT! (double gasp!), with guys who are generally considered pretty hot by conventional standards! (triple gasp and faint!) And if the internets are to be believed, all of this is highly unacceptable to the public at large.


The thing is, I'm pretty sure that this episode was Lena's giant FUCK YOU to the various dipshits who complain about her body, but continue to tune in each week. I'm pretty sure this was her FUCK YOU to the critic who lamented having to face her "blobby body" week after week. I'm pretty sure this was her FUCK YOU to the societal standard that dictates that all women above size 2 hide their bodies in shame, and refuse to go out in public. Carlye of Awkward City says it best:
"The majority of us watching this show look something like her, to one degree or another, and Lena’s no longer making it easier for us to disassociate from that fact. If it makes me uncomfortable, it's because I'm projecting my own personal issues upon her imperfect body, not because anyone larger than a size 6 should be cloaked in bedsheets or carefully chosen '50s-style lingerie whenever facing a video recording device."
And it's true. We're not upset that Lena looks like this. I don't think most people even care. But the fact remains that the western world has trained itself to prefer thin bodies, even though that body type is impossible for most women to maintain long term if they are not already genetically predisposed to be so. That thinking has fostered an intense culture of body shame that has led to self-hate, and the projection of that hate onto other people.

Because the fact remains that if Lena Dunham looked like Giselle Bundchen, no one would be complaining that she was naked all the time. Or maybe they'd be be complaining that she was throwing her perfect body in people's faces. I wouldn't put it past them.

So, even though common sense and plain logic says that it shouldn't be, Lena's refusal to keep her clothing on onscreen is a very powerful political statement that I can get behind. She isn't saying "Real Women have Curves" or "I think I'm super sexy so please stare at me". She's saying very simply, "This is my body, and I will do with it as I please." That's it. And in a day and age when the legislative attack against women's bodies is at an all time high, that is FUCKING AWESOME.

The truth is, I also have a "blobby body", even more so than Lena Dunham, and if I'm telling the truth, I think Lena is pretty fucking hot. And yet, I don't think the same way about myself. 

There's an exchange that Hannah has with Joshua that really struck a chord with me, because it's one I've had several times in various forms:
Joshua: You're beautiful.
Hannah: You really think so?

Joshua: I do. Don't you?

Hannah: Umm, No I do, it's just not always the feedback that I've been given so...
Joshua: Well you are. Very beautiful.
And listening to her say that made me realize just how insecure I was about my body, and how ridiculous that was. Seeing Lena Dunham naked in all her glory every week makes me feel better about my own body. If she gets to be naked then so do I! If she gets to live her life without shame then so do I! If she gets to be completely comfortable with the body she has naturally, then why shouldn't I be?

By simply being naked on TV, Lena is sending the message that there is nothing wrong with her body. Her constant nakedness is almost a tool she's using to familiarize us to the reality of the average female body. It's not even about beauty; it's about acknowledging that THIS IS THE WAY THAT MOST WOMEN'S BODIES LOOK. This is NORMAL. (Or at the very least, average) We are not all Adriana Lima, nor should we all try to be. By simply being in a highly visible way, and refusing to be pushed out of the spotlight, Lena is forcing us to challenge what we consider to be normal and acceptable, and why.

And Lena is more than aware of this. She's said in various interviews that she considers it a backhanded compliment to be told that she is "brave" to be naked on TV, because it implies that she should be ashamed to do so. Make no mistake, I think that Hannah's nakedness is a very calculated move on Lena's part to refuse to be shamed into hiding her existence. Women with bigger bodies have stories to tell too, and Lena is hell-bent on telling hers. So for all the transgressions that Lena Dunham has made, (and there are many) I can forgive them all for what I consider to be a significant contribution to the body positivity movement, as simple and passive as it is.

Because the fact remains: bodies are bodies and people have sex. Even the fatties. And there's nothing wrong with that.

2 comments:

  1. I came across your blog and I just had to respond to it. I think too many Lena defenders have totally missed the point on Lena's nudity and it is bad for her and bad for the show. (Which by the way, plummets in viewers week after week.) The reason that Lena's nudity stands out so much is simply this - she is the only one who gets naked on the show. Which is weird since all the "Girls" are sexually active. It is also weird because Lena the producer hasn't even asked her other actors to get naked. We know this because both Jemina Kirke and Alison Williams have been asked about getting nude and they have both said that would not. Usually on a show like Girls that would be asked right at the beginning and if the show was going to have nudity they would have to agree to that. There were several occasions on How To Make It In America where much bigger actors than Kirke and Williams got naked so I am guessing Lena never even brought this up to the friends she ended up casting. That kind of infers that Lena was planning on being the only naked actor on Girls from the start.

    Why do I bring this up? Because when a show has one character who doesn't act like the others it generally pulls the audience out of that show. Imagine if everyone on Star Wars were in costume except Harrison Ford? Unless there was a real good reason for him to be wearing modern clothes it would have been really weird. I know that may seem like a strecth when compared to Girls, but when Lena's scenes play like Skinamax softcore porn and the other actors are more like the rest of cable TV it takes viewers out of the story. And it makes people ask why Lena is doing it. If everyone got naked I doubt that many people would say much about Lena. The same goofballs talking about her on-line would be too busy talking about how hot Alison Williams and Jemina Kirke are.

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  2. I agree that Lena wants people to talk about her nakedness, but I disagree that it's bad for the show. Whether or not she planned to be the only naked one, we may never know, but, I think the point is supposed to be that she is naked often, although she doesn't have a traditional amazon body, whilst Marnie, who is closer to the current ideal, is shown to be much more shy about showing her body. I think the contrast IS the point, and it's meant to make us think about how we view sex and sexuality when it comes to larger (ie average) bodies.


    Either way, thanks for stopping by and commenting! I hope you find other stuff that will make you want to stick around.

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