Lena Dunham: Bare, Brave, But Still Objectified
This time last year I had not heard of Lena Dunham, 26-year-old actress, filmmaker, writer, and director behind HBO show Girls. Now, Dunham seems to be everywhere.
The second season of Girls ended Sunday, and since the show's debut, TV critics have debated its portrayal of 20-somethings millennials in New York City, raising questions about privilege, race, and whether Dunham really is the "voice of a generation." Still, the most talked-about aspect of the show is not Dunham's voice, but her body.
Dunham has appeared topless in a number of episodes, and while nudity is rather common on HBO, Dunham's body isn't the type we're used to seeing naked on TV. She is not thin or busty. She is a regular woman with an ordinary body.
Dunham's nudity has stirred up quite a bit of controversy. Radio personality Howard Stern derided Dunham as "a little fat chick." Fashion critics have wondered about Dunham's off-screen fashion choices. After Dunham was photographed displaying her thighs in revealing outfits, observers failed to understand why she would accentuate her large thighs, rather than try to disguise them.
In response to this backlash Dunham has been defiant. For her, nudity and thigh-revealing outfits are calculated efforts at subverting cultural standards of beauty. As she rightly points out, many viewers are offended, not by the display of skin itself, but by the "unattractiveness" of her body. Many Americans don't mind scantily clad super models, but are only offended by the sight of bodies like Dunham's.
Dunham's detractors aside, her courage and confidence have been an inspiration to others. The Daily Beast featured a post titled "Stay Naked Lena Dunham!" in which the author shared, "Lena Dunham is really the first woman I've ever seen on screen who looks like me. But not only that—she's comfortable in her skin, in her nakedness, in her sexuality, and as herself."
Dunham's project is provocative, to say the least, and she is undoubtedly brave. She is also doing something subversive. By exposing her breasts and thighs, she challenges unrealistic standards of beauty. Because of Dunham, viewers are reminded of what most female bodies actually look like, and she does this from a platform traditionally limited to an aesthetic minority.
Yes, Lena Dunham is courageous and well-meaning, but will her approach undermine the objectification of women? I don't think that it will because it doesn't address the underlying problem. It does little to resist a culture that reduces women to their bodies or their body parts.