Essays, Feminism, Pop Culture

Lena Dunham: Why Are You Still Talking About Her Body?

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?10312416_10152260589807562_3503956057375354444_n

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Essays, Fashion, Feminism, Humor, Pop Culture

Talking Fashion

During a recent pause my in my anthropology class, a female classmate and I got into an enthusiastic conversation about fashion—about how street style culture in Boston is definitely on the rise, and about some of our favorite designers. One of the boys in class (who, by the way, wears one dangly earring, and in my opinion has a pretty distinct sense of style) interjected to patronize us, saying, “I don’t get why anyone cares about designer labels. I rip the labels off my clothes.” (I guess he’s never considered that some underprivileged children might have worked really hard to sew those labels in. But like, what could be worse than adhering to labels!? Oh, wait—being the person who says, “I don’t adhere to labels” out loud.) I looked at him and asked, “Do you like music?” and because he is a living, breathing human, he said yes. So I explained to him that being a fan of a fashion designer is no different than being a fan of a musician (or a painter, or a writer, etc.). I explained that I wear certain labels because I appreciate their work—because it speaks to me on a personal level. If their work were to become shitty (poor in quality or simply not relevant to my personal style), I wouldn’t keep buying their stuff…the same way people reject musicians or authors or movie directors when their work goes down the toilet. A designer’s body of work is like any other artist’s, and those of us who understand fashion reference it similarly. Specific collections and eras in fashion are just like albums and eras in music, and all other artistic media. (1950s Christian Dior, “Led Zeppelin II,” 1990s Helmut Lang, Picasso’s blue period…You get it.) And I added, “Music, and all art forms, are just as superficial as fashion, and I’m amused by people who think it’s any different.” He shifted his weight awkwardly from one foot to the other and grumbled, “Well, now it’s like that…” as if the music industry was molested by its drunk uncle and then ran away with its already corrupt friend, the fashion industry, to self-destruct and destroy all our souls—as if music hasn’t had a strong superficial side since long before this kid was even born. In my opinion, mainstream music has become more about image and less about artistic integrity while fashion has strived to exponentially push creative boundaries. But because fashion is so directly linked with physical appearances, people constantly assume it’s a shallow and artless industry, and that people who take an interest in fashion are empty, superficial people. This…is bullshit, and an ironically judgmental and superficial point of view.

I was struggling in my sixth grade science class, so the teacher pulled me out of the classroom not to ask how she could help me better grasp the material, but to tell me that I was “just like Cher in Clueless” and that I viewed school as “nothing but a fashion show.” Forget the fact that everyone has a different learning style—I liked clothes, so obviously this was the source of my academic difficulty, right? It’s been ten years, and I have more than a few cute outfits to put on my résumé. And yet, there will always be people who dismiss me for loving fashion—for “caring about designer labels.” Designing clothes, constructing garments, and putting outfits together are extremely artistic, labor-intensive processes. For me, getting dressed is a liberating form of self-expression that’s actually devoid of labels—I can be a different version of myself every day. It helps me get out of bed in the morning, and I’m never going to let anyone put me down for taking joy in that.

Yes, fashion has its superficial qualities: money, intimidation, popularity, sex appeal, harsh criticism, and some other deadly sins play major roles in the whole fashion scene (not to mention the issue of manufacturing), and these aspects of the industry have presented some moral conflicts for me at times. People tend to automatically respect artistic media such as writing or what you might find in art exhibits and galleries because they expect that kind of work to represent larger moral concepts, while fashion is vilified because it presumably only represents “what’s hot right now.” However, the fact that society tells us it’s okay to spend thousands of dollars on a painting and shames those who invest in clothing is problematic—because this has caused me to ask myself, Can I be a good person if I pursue a career in fashion?; If I follow that path, am I automatically anti-feminist? I took a women’s studies course in which we read a book called The Cult of Thinness, which compared America’s obsession with weight and appearances to some of the most dangerous religious cults. The cover of the book was a photo of a fashion show finale (—judging by the nude-colored sheaths, I would venture to guess it was a Calvin Klein ’90s catwalk), and I felt a pang of guilt for knowing more than one of the models by name. I had a momentary identity crisis, and then I realized that feminism means exerting my power to pursue whatever career I want, and that I can have a positive impact on this so-called “cult.” I can remind people that fashion is an art, and encourage everyone to embrace their unique beauty and to wear what makes them happy, not what the media claims is cool. Though fashion may seem like the most exclusive club, it’s actually wildly inclusive: it’s all about celebrating the weird (i.e. that high fashion stuff that is often categorically unwearable), drawing inspiration from different cultures, uniting those cultures, and, of course, unconditional acceptance. What would the fashion industry be without the LGBT community?

There are countless movements within the fashion world to right its wrongs—more and more companies/designers are sweatshop free, make stylish plus-sized collections, and collaborate with stores like Target to offer high-end looks at affordable prices. And everyone who actually understands fashion knows that those who do buy and wear designer labels for the sake of status just don’t get it. Plus, if you’re going to attack the fashion industry for being a “cult” that pressures people into an unhealthy obsession with appearances, you might also want to examine the whole “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” thing…and if you think trends don’t play into music, movies, TV shows, and the whole “real” art scene, well, you’re pretty fucking delusional. Fashion might appear to revolve around trends and putting people down, but I’ve witnessed fashion’s power to raise spirits. I spent the last year working in fashion retail, and helping women piece together ensembles that visibly boosted their confidence was so rewarding, and definitely restored my faith in the positive nature of fashion and personal style. Ultimately, fashion is just like anything else: an exciting and contradictory combination of good and evil. Love it or hate it, fashion brings people together and makes the world a little more colorful. With that said, stay saucy my friends (and watch this quintessential scene from The Devil Wears Prada)…

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