Why Lena Dunham's Body Matters (And Why It's Ridiculous That It Does)

Thanks to the social-life-suck known as grad school, I’m a bit behind on all relevant cultural phenomena. I have yet to watch an entire episode of The Pauly D Project, for instance, and for that I am ashamed.

But because the end of the semester looms near and my motivation has officially plummeted off a cliff, I’ve given myself permission to catch up on the good things in life, i.e. TV shows and movies. And my first stop on the Anti-Education-Pop-Culture-Catch-Up-Express was Lena Dunham-ville.

Despite holing up in a scholastic cave for the last few months, I’ve managed to keep up with the always informative social networking worlds, and all signs in the Twitter universe and my friends‘ Facebook feeds pointed to Dunham. Plenty has already been written about her 2010 award-winning film, Tiny Furniture, and her new HBO show Girls has garnered so much press, sparked enough debate, and stirred up such controversy, it has launched itself and its creator/writer/director/star into the Angelina’s Leg-level stratosphere of media insanity.

And a good amount of that hype has surrounded Ms. Dunham’s body.

New York Magazine‘s resident television sage, Emily Nussbaum, describes Dunham as “short and pear-shaped.” Maya Dusenberry at Mother Jones calls her “average-weight.” And The Frisky‘s Julie Gerstein notes her body is “less than model-ish.” And many critics are quick to point out how little it matters that Dunham isn’t the typical Hollywood waif, because neither are the rest of us, and that’s what makes her so relatable.

Well I’m definitely not a qualified critic, but I am a twenty-something-year-old woman, and I can say with certainty that as much as it pains me to admit the seemingly superficial truth, it does matter.

This isn’t to say Dunham’s “average” body overshadows her talent, wit, or endlessly impressive ballsiness. She may not be the voice of her generation, but she’s undoubtedly contributing an astonishing amount to the conversation. She’s hilarious, hard-working, and alarmingly shrewd for someone just barely breaking into her mid-20s.

Clearly, Dunham has more to offer than an onscreen representation of the “average” female physique. But while I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it, there is something jarring about seeing her frequently uncovered flesh onscreen. Dunham’s body is what women see in dressing rooms, in locker rooms, and in the mirror. But seeing it in a space typically reserved for stick-thin starlets seems somehow avant-garde. And that’s just silly, isn’t it?

Not really. Sad as it is, we’ve been socialized to expect our lead actresses, our cover models, our skincare spokeswomen, to fit a certain cookie-cutter mold. We may not approve of it or even like it, but there is an undeniable body-type norm that exists in Hollywood. Seeing someone unapologetically step outside of it, and more importantly, refrain from making it the center of every interview or storyline, is refreshing, but sort of heartbreaking. Why in the world should it be so strange to see real life reflected in entertainment?

Dunham’s certainly not the first woman outside the size-0 box to shed her clothes onscreen. But while cellulite and belly rolls are often relegated to indie films, Dunham’s work and her body have garnered mainstream media attention. And while it’s unfortunate and rather telling of our societal preoccupation with weight and body image that her physical appearance has stolen some spotlight from her rather impressive brain, it’s also great. Because really, isn’t it about damn time girls, women, men, and boys bore witness to the existence of blemishes, imperfect breasts, and yes, even thighs that touch?

1 2Continue reading
  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=641156586 Robyn Green

    I think Lena Dunham is inspirational and fearless. Most actresses no matter how thin don’t expose as much as Lena does in Tiny Furniture and in Girls. It is nice to see her stand proud and “be average”, because most of are. I also feel that a lot of actresses would not a standard size 2 if they had a say(I am sure they would love to eat more and exercise less), but managers, reps, media, and the public have them under a microscope and criticize far too often. Good for Lena!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=509757677 Bambi Troxell

    preach it, sister!

  • http://www.facebook.com/bgmac17270 Michael Mack

    I love Lena Dunham and think she’s quite sexy to boot.

  • http://www.facebook.com/emilie.bouchard Emilie Bouchard

    Well said!

  • http://www.facebook.com/the.dustin.peterson Dustin Peterson

    The perception that women have to look like they could be a professional runway model is something that’s totally perpetuated by the media. Most men that I know (myself included) actually prefer that a woman look more like Lena – you know have real curves and not be a bony stick figure caricature? Look at girls like Christina Hendricks of Mad Men or Rosario Dawson – as examples. Both are jaw droppingly beautiful women who don’t look like they’ve been on hunger strike with Gandhi for the past decade.

    • http://www.facebook.com/kellie.pittman Kellie Pittman

      I appreciate the sentiment behind your post, but I wish we could celebrate one body type without degrading another. I would love to have the curves of Christina Hendricks or Rosario Dawson, but I don’t. Claiming that most men don’t prefer my body type (which is not runway model-esque, but more “bony stick figure”) affects my self-esteem, too.

    • http://www.facebook.com/leandra.lea Leandra Medina

      Totally agree with kellie, to degrade one body type in favor of another is just as bad as what Hollywood is doing. A persons body type should only matter in the context of Hollywood, if at all. Sort of how professional athletes are paid to be fit. There’s always someone for everyone. Something I’m just now learning.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=8607319 Hilary Burkhardt

    Seeing Lena’s NORMAL body, tummy rolls and imperfect breasts included, is refreshing and comforting. Finally someone my age has allowed the world to see what REGULAR women look like. I admire Lena for being so brave and not feeling like she has to fit the Hollywood standard of being a size 2 through 6. Seeing women like Jennifer Hudson go from curvy to boring Hollywood skinny is disheartening. It makes regular women feel like they, too, should lose the weight because their average bodies are not beautiful enough anymore. THANK YOU Lena for being real and not being afraid to show your body!

  • http://www.facebook.com/emilyaingram Emily Ingram

    You’re so right! Imagine Christina Hendricks’ body on a sitcom like New Girl or Modern Family- people would instantly identify her as the “fat” girl, maybe curvy, but definitely not the classically pretty one. Even if she was the funny-character placeholder, she would still be the funny fat one. So disheartening and sad.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1812630715 Giavonna Hillman

    I had no idea who she was until this article.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ashleyjanekonrad Ashley Jane Konrad

    Excellent points, Michelle! I’m sharing this article with everyone I know,

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=504345479 Christen Parker

    This makes a very excellent point and I have to agree that as another person of the “average” body-type, I do find that to be one of the many reasons I identify so well with Lena Dunham. However, I find it more important that I identify with her characters. As a twenty-something on the verge of graduating with my bachelors and trying to figure out what to do with my life, her character in Tiny Furniture spoke so much to the things I was/am going through. She tells it so honestly. She’s the full package….smart, funny, and gorgeous.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mmuehl Megan Muehl

    it’s refreshing as a of late to find so many “normal” talented women onscreen and it’s apparently a huge controversy because they can’t fit into a size two and we can’t see their ribs this stupid controversy overshadows their crazy amazing talent. I hope it’s a new step in the right direction to put woman onscreen that we can all identify with and hopefully down the line it won’t be such a huge deal.

Need more Giggles?
Like us on Facebook!

Want more Giggles?
Sign up for our newsletter!