Lena Dunham’s hit show Girls has been the topic of much discussion throughout its first three seasons. Most reviews seem to be either extremely in favor of, or extremely against the show, but in spite of mixed reactions, Girls has been maintaining a strong following. To many, Dunham’s “Hannah” is more than just a fictional character, she is representative of an archetype left out of most mainstream shows. Hannah Horvath does not have the perfect body, or say the right things; she is not the prettiest girl in the room. Because she does not meet the conventional standard of beauty, Dunham’s recent nude appearance on SNL has made her one of the pioneers in the fight to broaden the definition of beauty.
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The nudity on Girls has been attacked by several sources, not because critics have an issue with nudity, but because they have an issue with unconventional nudity. Most nudity on television showcases svelte bodies only. On Girls, Dunham’s character, Hannah is shown naked often. She is shown in the bathtub, changing clothes, standing around in various states of undress, and of course, she is shown in sexual situations. After all, Girls is an HBO show. To be clear, Dunham’s character is never shown nude in any situation where a person should not be nude. Hannah Horvath does not run around public locations trying to get attention, but unlike other shows featuring main characters who are not a size zero, Dunham’s character does not cease to exist when she walks into the bedroom. Rather, cameras stay on Dunham and follow her character through many mundane nude and semi-nude events.
Many have criticized Girls for this choice. How dare a plus-sized woman walk around without being properly covered, news sources and bloggers have griped. For those who do not watch Girls, it should be clarified at this point that Dunham is not a plus-sized woman, but a mere size 8. And while she may have a little bit of a tummy, she is certainly not a large person by any means. Imagine what bloggers and viewers would say about an actual “average” sized woman: in America the average woman wears a size 14. Still, the amount of average-looking women featured on TV and in the movies remains very low, and when they are featured, it is often with ridicule.
Australian actress, Rebel Wilson, has captured the hearts of many after appearances in several films, including a capella hit, Pitch Perfect. While the emergence of a non-typical leading lady (i.e. a woman who wears a size 8 or higher) broadens the spectrum a bit, Wilson’s characters have all been slathered in story-lines that focus on her body. In Pitch Perfect, Wilson plays “Fat Amy”, and her new show Super Fun Night is full of fat jokes. While it can be effective to call out the elephant in the room, no pun intended, it is harmful for shows with an overweight leading character to choose fat jokes as their main focus. The viewers get it, Rebel is not a thin girl. Great, now give her a storyline that shows the world that fat people are more than just overeating and compensating for their bodies by having an interesting personality.
Girls, on the other hand, has shown some lasting ability to provide a wider view of life as an “average” woman. While the plot-lines show an exaggerated view, and a lifestyle that not all girls choose, Girls caters to the idea that not everyone needs to look like a supermodel to be desirable, that sometimes real people take off their clothes and that is okay, and that beauty is not a prepackaged idea. Dunham has worked diligently to broaden the public’s definition of beauty and her nude appearance on SNL is just the latest in a long line of bold choices.
In a world where stars often look like Zooey Deschanel (of New Girl) or Kaley Cuoco (of Big Bang Theory), Dunham has proven that a non-typical leading lady can lead a show into success. This week, Lena Dunham has pushed the world further in accepting all kinds of bodies as beautiful. Dunham may not be loved by all, but it is hard to deny her contribution toward broadening the definition of beauty, particularly after her latest performance as a nude Eve in the Garden of Eden.
Opinion by Bonnie Sludikoff