Fashion Food for Thought…
Today is Lena Dunham’s 28th birthday. I’d like you to take that in—consider all she has accomplished by this young age, and how much you yourself achieved, or hope to achieve, by 28. In honor of her birthday, one of my favorite fashion magazines posted a picture on Facebook of Lena in a lovely dress, with a link to a compilation of that magazine’s favorite witty and wise quotes from Ms. Dunham. This made me happy…until I saw the first four comments. One man wrote, in all capital letters, “FAT SLOB.” I browsed this guy’s profile pictures. He is well overweight. Another man wrote, “What a mess!” Yes: a young woman with a wildly successful and dynamic career, incalculable accolades for said career, and a positive self-image…such a mess! Another young woman commented, “She is fate.” Since that doesn’t make sense, I presume this person was attempting to write, “She is fat.” Actually, Lena Dunham is a talented writer, and one should probably grasp the spelling of first-grade level, three-letter words before deciding to scathe her. The only remotely positive comment I saw on this post read, “LOVE YOU NO MATTER WHAT!” Assuming the woman who wrote this is not Lena Dunham’s mother and doesn’t know Lena Dunham personally at all, what does that even mean? Dunham has never been accused of any kind of lewd or criminal behavior that we often see and associate with young starlets, and her evidently loving, healthy relationship with her musician boyfriend has never, to my knowledge, been scandalous enough for the tabloids. So—and maybe I’m the one with the problem here—I can’t help but figure that this Facebook user’s “loving” remark was her way of saying, “I enjoy your work even though you are not conventionally attractive.”
Ok, where do I begin? Everyone wants to know why Lena Dunham chooses to expose her body so frequently on GIRLS, but fewer people seem to wonder why Sports Illustrated needs an annual swimsuit edition (although I must send good vibes to those who called out the magazine for that totally bizarre Barbie thing), or why the annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is such a hyped-up televised event. Here’s the thing, and I know this may shock some people…but skinny folks aren’t the only ones having sex. In fact, skinny people aren’t the only ones who receive sexual attention and affection. HBO’s GIRLS, whether you like the show or not, attempts to depict the real-life experiences of twenty-somethings (who come in all shapes and sizes), and sex is a big part of that. Sex generally plays a large role in most of stages of life, but as a twenty-something myself, I think I can attest to the fact that sex and dating cause especially extreme confusion during this chapter—and I can’t speak for everyone, but I’m pretty sure most people don’t wear clothes during intercourse. With the freedom HBO gives its shows, why should Dunham have to reduce the verisimilitude of the highly relatable sexual content in GIRLS just because she doesn’t look like those girls in Sports Illustrated? (Isn’t that kind of the point of the show itself?—that is focuses on regular girls?) Something tells me Dunham is more satisfied with titles such as writer, director, actress, and Golden Globe-winner than she would be with Victoria’s Secret Angel, and society needs to allow her to take pride in those roles she does fulfill. After all, it’s not like she sought out to be a style icon. If anything, viewers should feel vexed by how other TV shows that claim to convey the human sexual experience, such as Showtime’s Masters of Sex, seem to exclusively cast actors who do meet society’s unrealistic standards of physical beauty. I also can’t help but speculate that, if Dunham did fit into our culture’s warped conventions, people wouldn’t be so disgusted by her nudity, and the vast majority would harp on how miraculous it was that a “beautiful” woman could also be so intelligent and successful.
Please do not think I am shaming models or any female public figures who do fit the typical description of “beauty”; as a fashion enthusiast and blogger, I am aware of the genuine hard work that goes into modeling careers (plus, for every five remotely attractive pictures you see of me on this blog, there are about a hundred blackmail-worthy shots, too), and as a lover of “high fashion” in particular, I know and appreciate that the models in fashion magazines and on high-profile runways usually have unconventional features, themselves. In the interest of full disclosure, I should probably also admit that I am entirely guilty of worshipping various models, actresses, singers, etc. based on their physical features and outfits alone. Still, it bothers me that someone like supermodel Miranda Kerr receives little to no criticism for building a career based on her body, and is constantly praised for things like birthing a child, practicing yoga, and sleeping with magic “healing” crystals on her nightstand, while Dunham’s accomplishments are so frequently overshadowed by the scrutiny of her physique. However, as I’ve mentioned before, this issue does come full-circle: while society urges Dunham to put more effort into her looks, many of us who do take fashion seriously are automatically stamped as shallow and unintellectual. Although writing a fashion blog may seem to highlight the importance of appearances, my goal as a fashion blogger is actually to highlight the importance of self-expression, and in that regard, Lena Dunham is more of a role model to me than many of the people who are directly connected to the fashion industry. As a devoted fan of GIRLS, I can honestly say that Dunham’s body never phases me, because her body is essentially beside the point. Of course some of those scenes make me uncomfortable at times—ambiguous relationships and sexual encounters in the midst of quarter-life crises are fucking uncomfortable—but I watch each episode feeling relieved and empowered, because Dunham so accurately portrays and represents the excitement and the awkwardness that come with romantic and sexual discovery. Regardless of my dress size, when I watch Lena Dunham on GIRLS—that “fat slob,” as some call her—I see myself. And so, I just have one question: why are you still talking about her body?