On Seeing Lena Dunham Naked
When I was 10 years old, some moms in my fifth grade class organized an end of the year pool party for our entire grade. It was one of the first times I can recall being sent into a tailspin of anxiety for weeks, because it meant I had to wear a bathing suit in front of my classmates. After many sleepless nights agonizing and envisioning endless mocking and scrutiny, I opted for a giant t-shirt and jumped in the pool fully clothed. Looking at photos of myself at that age now, I can’t imagine what I was thinking. I was completely average sized (though tall and developing). And yet I was putting myself through an incredible amount of body shame, while only a child.
I thought about this pool party this week when discussing Sunday night’s episode of Girls with various women on Twitter and during the daily web chat I host for VH1. Something very obvious hit me, and I haven’t been able to shake it: Lena Dunham is really the first woman I’ve ever seen on-screen who looks like me. But not only that – she’s comfortable in her skin, in her nakedness, in her sexuality, and as herself.
Of course she doesn’t exactly look like me. I am tall, she seems short. She has smaller breasts, I’ve had the same saggy size-C mom boobs since I was 14. But her thighs touch together when she stands, her shape moves, her arms aren’t skeletal, and sometimes her clothes don’t fit “right.” (See: the endless comments about the jumper she wore in ‘One Man’s Trash.’) But even in her own form, I still see myself. I see my thighs that touch when I stand, I see the round yet flat shape of my ass that moves when I do, I see my own non-skeletal arms. And every time Hannah/Lena takes off her clothes, every time she establishes that she is, for the most part, comfortable in her body, it gives me a little bit of hope for myself.
Because I am thirty-three years old, and I am still not comfortable in my own body. I haven’t been since I was eight and I sprouted breasts before everybody else, and would change into my bathing suit in the bathroom stalls at camp, certain that everyone would be horrified by what they saw. I wasn’t when I was twelve and towered over boys, slouching to bring myself down in inches. Nor was I at nineteen, skinny-dipping in the waters off of Long Island with my closest college friends. Even though I was drunk and stoned the shame was still able to find a way in, and I hid my body with my hands as everyone ran laughing into the ocean in the middle of the night.
I was not comfortable in my body in my twenties, when a male improv student of mine came to see me perform at the UCB Theatre and then said I slouched too much and needed to work on my stage presence because I was setting a bad example for my students. I wasn’t when I would start dating people and upon waking up next to them in the morning, would scurry off to the bathroom with my breasts in my hands because I was embarrassed about their size. I wasn’t when I dealt with the death of my mother by compulsively dieting and exercising, because it was the only way I could have control over my emotionally rudderless mess of a life. And I wasn’t after I gave birth to my daughter at thirty-one, and would drag my exhausted body to the basement of a temple to weigh in at Weight Watchers, desperate to return to someone I no longer would ever be.
The thing about self-inflicted body shame and self-loathing is that it seeps into other aspects of your life. It makes you feel unworthy in other situations; you give yourself less and less agency because really – why should you have any? It’s a cycle of worthlessness that weaves its way into social interactions, sexual relationships, and random moments of your life. It’s vicious and is something I am constantly aware of, something I constantly trying to improve upon and change in myself. And I’m confident from the many conversations I’ve had with other women that my experiences are hardly unusual.
So please, Lena Dunham, don’t listen to commentary on your shape and don’t stop being naked constantly on-screen. Don’t stop having lots of sex in Girls and please do ask another lover on the show to make you come first. That’s not being “ungenerous” (ugh Slate, your review in particular really sucked) it’s being an empowered and confident sexual being.
When people come down on Lena Dunham for these things, they’re coming down on all women. They’re reinforcing the negative criticism and commentary many of us already put upon ourselves.
And that…that is the real shame.
- Police Body Cameras Can’t Replace Camera Phones | Boston Review
- ‘The Game Done Changed’: Reconsidering ‘The Wire’ Amidst the Baltimore Upris ing | The Nation
- Chicago Is About to Offer the Nation’s First Reparations Program for Victims of Police Violence | Th e Nation
- What Racism Has Done to Baltimore – The New Yorker
- How to Stop Mass Incarceration – The New Yorker
- The Untapped Potential of Wasted Food – The New Yorker
- Charted: How history’s most creative people organized their days – The Washington Post
- American Slaughterhouse, Carson Vaughan interviews Ted Genoways – Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics
- Dino-bat: a new flying dinosaur with membranous wings | Why Evolution Is True
- One Disease Hits Mostly People of Color. One Mostly Whites. Which One Gets Billions In Funding? | Mother Jones
- The Biggest Misconceptions About Evolution, And What We Can Do About Them (Part 1) – Engaging Science — Engaging Science | PBS
- Ben Carson’s patients claim malpractice in star doctor’s path to politics | US news | The Guardian
- Grateful Dead Reunion: Will John Mayer Be Playing With the Band? | Billboard
- 8 Obama Jokes That Stood Out From The White House Correspondents Dinner : It’s All Politics : NPR
- Living With Being Dead — Matter — Medium
- Amusing Planet: The Mud Brick Villages of Wadi Hadramaut and Wadi Dawan
- New Vietnam Spy Tale Sheds Light on How the U.S. Lost the War
- The rise and fall of the Bombshell Bandit – BBC News
- The Boxer and the Batterer «
- The Untold Story of Silk Road | WIRED
- The American City Where Sex Offenders Live
- Raped 10-Year-Old Denied Abortion – The Daily Beast
- Doctors Disagree With The Baltimore Police About Freddie Gray’s Spinal Injuries | ThinkProgress
- Satanists Seize On Hobby Lobby To Test The Limit Of Religious Freedom | ThinkProgress
- Black Culture Is Not the Problem – NYTimes.com
- This Is My Vision Of “Life” | Edge.org
- From Ferguson to Baltimore: The Fruits of Government-Sponsored Segregation | Economic Policy Institute
- David Brooks’ Baltimore column might be his dumbest of the year (We didn’t think it was poss ible, either) – Salon.com
- Psychologists and Torture
- American Psychological Association Bolstered C.I.A. Torture Program, Report Says – NYTimes.com
- Lead paint is poisoning poor Chicago kids as city cuts millions for cleanup – Chicago Tribune
- Cruz tries to blame Obama for 2008 crash
- A Brief Guide to Gender in India – GRANTA
- 6 Shocking Facts About Poverty in Baltimore – attn:
- Are You Against Gay Marriage Because: The Bible? — The Nib — Medium
- Electronic Bidet Toilet Seat Is the Luxury You Won’t Want to Live Without – NYTimes.com
- House Republicans Go After Birthright Citizenship
- Kitten Kondos
- Goodbye to Freddie Gray and Goodbye to Quietly Accepting Injustice – NYTimes.com
- Love, Marriage and Music – NYTimes.com
- Justice Scalia’s Shameful Joke – The New Yorker
- Crazy Tentacled Caterpillar in Tambopata, Peru
- From 1350s India to 2015 Baltimore, the Evolution of the Word ‘Thug’ – The Atlantic
- The austerity delusion | Paul Krugman | Business | The Guardian
- Oliver Sacks, Before the Neurologist’s Cancer and New York Times Op-Ed | Vanity Fair
- David Simon on Baltimore’s Anguish | The Marshall Project
- Amusing Planet: The Stone Walls of Ireland
- Ted Cruz accuses Obama, first black president, of inflaming racial tensions
- Gay Marriage: Unthinkable or Inevitable? by David Cole | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books
- Traditional marriage gets a SCOTUS smackdown: The incomprehensible right-wing logic that’s poised to go down in flames – Salon.com