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.