Lena Dunham and Girls: Media Images That Heal

I’m not an especially astute critic of media.  I selectively consume it and don’t have a lot of free time to ponder its significance in my life.  Every now and then something gets my attention.  Take those Dove ads.


It’s not that I’m cynical, but when those Dove ads came out celebrating women of all body types I just felt like it was too little, too late.  I was already in my mid-thirties before I saw those real-sized woman in their underwear up on a billboard.  By then, I’d already come to terms with normative beauty standards (and how I didn’t feel like I measured up) and worked through my Ally McBeal – Carrie Bradshaw envy/hatred thing.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure how it really helped actual women to see non-emaciated women standing around in their skivvies to sell more soap.

And while I’ve always championed the idea that more diversity in the media– body size, skin color, sexual orientation, religion — was good for everyone, I could never point to a specific image that helped me, though I would say that I loved Natalie from Facts of Life, Nell Carter, and I sure loved to tell anyone who would listen that Marilyn Monroe was a size 12.  “A size TWELVE!”

Then I started watching Girls.  Ya’ll are hip and cutting edge and have been watching it since the beginning, so I’m late to this phenom.

My first reaction: Good lord, where was Lena Dunham when I was in college?!  (Answer: She wasn’t born yet.)

Damn if I don’t blush through 50% of what happens on that show– there’s so much sex and nudity and then more sex.  I have seen Lena Dunham naked more than anyone besides Jeff and my one roommate who rejected clothing at home because she thought it was “patriarchal.”

As if it’s not enough for Ms. Dunham to be a brave, genius wunderkind, she’s also making me feel more beautiful in my own skin.

And it’s because her body looks like mine– it jiggles, it bounces, it flops.  And she gets to have friends, and boyfriends, and dreams, and sex.  Actually, she has a lot of sex judging by my somewhat uptight, Midwestern, Catholic-girls’-school standards.  Sometimes when an episode is over, I lay on my back thank God I invested my entertainment budget dollars in Girls so that I could have this experience of seeing someone who looks like me star in a show that she created, wrote and executive produced.  I feel so filled with hope and promise that I almost believe this world is going to be a better place for my daughter.  She’ll get to see more diverse images of women throughout her wife– before she turns 35.

I love Lena Dunham for creating a main character who isn’t a size 2 or even a size 6, but who doesn’t have to be pigeon-holed “as the fat chick” or the “side kick” to the thinner girls.  I love that she hasn’t dieted or hated on her body or written a story line (so far, as I am only through Season 1) that is all about how her life would be great if only she lost XX amount of weight.  I love her for creating a story about a young woman who’s pursuing writing and love and searching for all the things my heart so longed for (and still does) without reducing her dreams to having a different sized body.  I love that her character reads Saul Bellow, hates running, refers to a Brie cheese binges, and eats straight out of the fridge when she visits her parents’ home in Michigan.  She eats in almost every episode without perseverating, or counting calories or hating on herself for eating something “unhealthy” or “fattening” or “nonorganic” or “full of sugar.”

I love the show for how it ignites my brain and tells that most impressionable part of me– that part that grew up thinking I had to look like Courtney Cox or Kate Moss to have anything good in my life– that being the size I am isn’t a real barrier; it’s just one that I have bought into.

So, it matters.  It matters what images I feed myself because they directly affect how I feel about myself.  And as soon as my daughter is old enough to understand sex, we are going to sit down and watch this together.  Like, say, when she’s 29.


32 thoughts on “Lena Dunham and Girls: Media Images That Heal

  1. I know. I wish girls like her had been more in the media when I was growing up. Still, now I have hope for my future children…

  2. The media is a large scale high school, who took the prettiest, most popular girl who really isn’t, but SHE (or they) thought she was, everyone else followed suit, and thought they should be like whatever this person is, instead of themselves. Or maybe I am stuck up?

  3. I’m hating myself a little for saying this after you wrote such a great piece, and I think I’m probably in the minority, but I kind of loathe Girls. I appreciate it for, like you said, the way it portrays leading ladies who look like regular women, but I absolutely can’t stand the characters, and end up mad at them every time I watch it.

  4. It’s not that I’m cynical, but when those Dove ads came out celebrating women of all body types I just felt like it was too little, too late.

    I’m cynical. Apparently, even Dove can’t let go of Photoshop, according to an article I read somewhere. After all the furor about digital editing in the media (you know– the impossibly long legs on models and such), it was said that even these Dove ads had been subject to digital retouching techniques. They weren’t unedited.

    I’m more inclined to think of Jamie Lee Curtis. She was determined to show how the media frequently edited photos of her, and published an unedited photo of herself. I remember reading a great Good Housekeeping article about her home organization techniques (wow). The author (one of the magazine editors, if I remember right) took a fair amount of space to explain how personable and unpretentious she was.

  5. I haven’t seen the show. Is all the sex she’s having realistic for her age and place in life? If not, that’s a whole other fallacy for women to deal with.

  6. I love the show. I love pretty much every smutty strange thing HBO does. Girls is so voyeuristic. I don’t know if it’s really how 20-somethings live in NYC, but if it’s even close, there’s hope for every weird dude and not so starved girl out there.

  7. Oh how I love this show. I’ve seen every episode and I miss it. Okay, I just took a quick break from this comment to see when Season 3 premieres. January 12th and I can’t wait. This chick is brilliant! I love that her character is a writer. The show is unique and real (to me). Spoiler alert…she never worries about food and continues her nekid sex-capades. The characters are so self absorbed, as I remember being when I lived with my girlfriends in the city in our early 20s. Some stuff is way too familiar.

  8. i love this post, but i’m mixed on my honest beliefs. i love girls and i do think lena is incredibly brave and real. i spend half the show being impressed by her but inside i know i’m thinking – wow, i’d never put that out there. i think she came too late to save me from early brainwashing.

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