Lena Dunham: Bare, Brave, But Still Objectified
Here I want to pause and explain why immodesty is not my chief concern. There are times when nudity in art is not sexual or objectifying but beautiful and powerful. For centuries, Christian art has long upheld this distinction. Dunham's nudity is, arguably, sexually objectifying, since it is usually paired with sex. Even so, I don't want to miss the deeper issue here. Rather than dismiss Dunham as immodest and move on, it is worth pressing in further to understand just how American culture views the female person.
I don't believe that Dunham's project will accomplish what it hopes. While Dunham might reclaim normal breasts, normal thighs, or the normal female body, she does not address the fact that women are constantly reduced to those parts. In America, women are treated as bodies. Rather than treat women as whole human beings, women are reduced to their bodies, their body parts, and the sexual function of those parts.
Put another way, our culture has an incoherent concept of the female self. Women are not valued for who they are but the size and shape of their bodily components. Which means that even if we reclaim "normal breasts," we will not have changed the culture that reduces women to breasts. We will have changed the terms of objectification, while failing to overturn the practice itself. Knowing this, the only way to subvert the objectification of women is to do so with one's whole self—body and soul. Rather than asserting power using those body parts that women have been reduced to, the whole person is necessary.
What does this kind of cultural subversion look like? As Christians, we have an excellent example in Christ. He became human so that he could redeem the whole of us—not just our spiritual parts, but our bodily ones too. The Incarnation is evidence that God is interested in the whole person: the whole body and the whole soul. The Incarnation exemplifies this perfect unity between the body and soul. Jesus' bodily presence and physical touch communicated the very heart of God.
Likewise, there is power in the simplicity of bodily presence. Women like Susan B. Anthony, Rosa Parks, Sandra Day O'Connor, Sally Ride, and almost every woman that Jesus encountered in Scripture, are evidence of this. These women entered spheres where women had previously been unwelcome. Their physical, bodily presence contested the objectification of women in a way that the mere exposure of body parts cannot.