Lena Dunham, creator of Girls, has said many times in the past that she doesn’t aim to use shock value in the show. While this has been ignored in the past, after last week’s episode, ‘One Man’s Trash’, critics and ordinary viewers alike were completely sure she was having a laugh.
Dunham, who is also the star of the show, decided to strip everything away and have the whole episode centre around her character, Hannah, and a very wealthy, very attractive older man named Joshua (played by Patrick Wilson) that she just met. Aside from a brief appearance by her boss at the very start of the episode, we didn’t see another soul for the whole thing. What we did see, however, is a lot more of Lena Dunham than ever before, even though she’s been at least partially naked pretty much every episode this season.
Judging by the world’s reaction, it’s only okay to be naked on TV if you’re Mila Kunis, but it’s certainly not okay to be naked if you’re Lena Dunham. Dunham hasn’t exactly shied away from stripping down in the past, but in this episode her nudity felt like a response to the criticisms of the same.
It wasn’t exactly a subtle metaphor, and while critics jumped on board to say ‘Dunham is trying to be divisive and make a point’ and while they recognised the fact that she was practically daring people to say she didn’t deserve to be with someone so attractive, they still said exactly that. They even went as far as to say it’s probably just a fantasy on Hannah’s part, despite no solid evidence that it was, and Dunham never veering that way in any episode so far. It was different enough to stand apart from other episodes this season, but why should that be the first conclusion? Why should we assume that this is too good to be true? Just because she’s not Megan Fox doesn’t make it entirely implausible that a man, and a wealthy doctor at that, might take a second look at her.
Without any real thought, a value was assigned to Dunham based solely on her looks, or more specifically, her body; and it can only have been what she wanted. Dunham wasn’t asking viewers to bask in her glory, but daring them to think, daring them to tell her she can’t show her body shape or body type on the television. She didn’t bother to make us feel comfortable; that was the opposite of what she wanted to achieve, or has wanted to achieve throughout both series of Girls.
During the first season, so many people celebrated Dunham for being brave, for being a ‘real woman’ on television who wasn’t afraid of showing her body, even if the sex scenes with Adam were often played for laughs. The minute she punched slightly above her supposed weight, however, the public turned. How dare she flaunt her body like she doesn’t give a fuck.
No one mentions that Joshua is a 42 year old man, compared to Hannah’s 24. No one takes into account the fact he’s just separated from his wife, seems quite lonely and unhappy, and more than a little lost. There’s so much focus on Hannah’s body, and how Hannah looks, that no one even considers why this man decides not to tell this crazy person who turns up on his doorstep rambling at him about how she throws her rubbish in his bin and she’s sorry, to get out of his house. No one considers that maybe, just maybe, he’s not looking for a stick insect model. It’s like people want her to be grateful just for the opportunity to jump his bones, when really, he’s not without baggage himself.
Jenna, Hannah’s friend, is equally self-absorbed and over-privileged, with equally pointless problems in her life, but she conforms a little more to the ideal, a little more to what’s expected in a woman’s body on TV, so no one even bat an eyelid when her and Chris O’Dowd not only got together for a couple of nights, but ended up (albeit, briefly) married. No one asked how she got him, or why he’d even think about getting together with her, it just happened. And certainly, no one gets upset when Jenna took off her clothes and hopped in the bath in the previous episode, it was just taken as a given.
Perhaps Dunham shouldn’t be using her boobs as a political statement, but really, there’s not that much wrong with broadening the ideal, or broadening people’s expectations of women. What people see on television and in the media affects their sense of self and in cases like this, it affects perceptions of women’s bodies and often, women’s body confidence.
We’ve spent the last number of years listening to how the media is encouraging eating disorders, how the media are altering men’s perceptions of women’s bodies, how the media are pressuring young people to conform to an ideal and shaming anyone who doesn’t. There was a backlash with some nonsense about ‘real women’ and what ‘real women’ look like or should look like, in an effort to show that many different types of bodies are beautiful, but the minute someone who apparently falls in that bracket takes their clothes off, no one is happy.
Sure, what Dunham is doing with Girls, and with her body, is in your face, but she absolutely does not care, and perhaps that’s what we need. Wishy washy concepts like ‘real women’ which vilify those who don’t slot right in are no better than those that encourage size zero across the board. There’s no need for there to be such a structured ideal figure, and if the only way for people to accept bodies outside the slender norm is to throw them in your face, then Dunham’s on the right path.