I’m glad Lena Dunham gets naked on Girls

Season 3 of HBO’s Girls premiered Sunday night, Lena Dunham is on the cover of next month’s Vogue, and after a reporter from The Wrap asked her why she gets naked so often everyone is talking about how often Lena Dunham gets naked. So I am too! Over at the Guardian, I say that Girls is an imperfect show, but Dunham’s nudity is powerful: Not just because she looks more like the average American woman than most women on television, but because her nakedness isn’t primarily ornamental, purposed for titillation and aspiration.

Yet watching the show, it feels like there’s a lot of nudity, and like it’s aggressive, so I understand where Molloy got the idea that Dunham regularly parades around naked for no reason. But perceptions aren’t reality. Perhaps the reason why we perceive Girls as featuring lots of naked Lena Dunham isn’t that there’s actually so much naked Lena as much as that we’re accustomed to seeing naked female bodies on television as primarily decorative. And naked Lena is not primarily decorative.

Malloy said as much: no one complains about nudity on Game of Thrones, because we all understand it’s supposed to be salacious and titillating. And it’s supposed to be salacious and titillating not because it involves sex, but because the women who are naked have the kind of bodies that we register as stand-ins for sex. Thin, young, conventionally attractive women with rounded breasts and cellulite-free thighs wearing very little clothing are ubiquitous in our advertising and media culture on television and in print. Even dead rape victims on Law & Order tend to fit the bill. We’re conditioned to understand that naked women who look like the models in the Blurred Lines video or the actresses on Game of Thrones are, by their very presence on screen or on the page, not only sexy but representing sex and desire. It’s an easy poke at the lizard brain craving for sex, but it’s also aspirational – I want to have sex with her, I want to look like that, I want to feel as desirable and as sexy as she must feel looking like that.

The full piece is here.


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About Jill

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
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74 Responses to I’m glad Lena Dunham gets naked on Girls

  1. Dominique says:

    The comments made about Lena Dunham and “all that nudity” make me think of the time I went topless in the Beaches neighbourhood in Toronto, about ten years ago now. It was a sweltering 35 C (about 95 F, I think). Like Dunham, I have non-fashion-model proportions. My tits are actually small, which illustrates how ridiculous the reactions were that people of all ages leveled at me. I was shouted at to “cover up” even though it’s clearly established in Ontario law that women are allowed to take off their shirts, and I was on public property (sidewalk, boardwalk). Everyone from elderly women to teenaged boys put in their two cents worth about my horrible topless body. I wonder what reaction I would have gotten had I been a stripper. I am betting it would not have been truly positive or supportive: likely, the comments would have been very sexualized, entitled and demanding, when not offended and slut-shaming.

  2. Jeff says:

    It is nice to see a normal looking girl naked on television for once. What is even nicer, is to see a couple that looks like they belong. Too often you see men with gorgeous women, or vice versa.

    • ldouglas says:

      Yeah, it really freaks me out when people of different attractiveness levels date.

    • TimmyTwinkles says:

      I am now stupider for having read your comment.

    • Fat Steve says:

      It is nice to see a normal looking girl naked on television for once. What is even nicer, is to see a couple that looks like they belong. Too often you see men with gorgeous women, or vice versa.

      I am so embarrassed that my wife is more attractive than I am. Not to mention my girlfriend, my male lover, and my parents, all of whom are way way better looking than I. I’m ashamed to even leave the house.

      (the aforementioned girlfriend and male lover are theoretical, invented to point out the hetero-normativity in the first comment…)

    • ldouglas says:

      Too often you see men with gorgeous women

      I guess the one part of this I don’t think is necessarily asinine is that I do believe in our movie/TV show culture, you see ultra-attractive women and normal looking guys (all by Hollywood standards, of course) end up together a lot more often than the other way around. And while I don’t think that trend plays out in the same way in the real world, it does say something about our culture that on-screen women fall for the not-as-cute but funny/charming/sweet guy constantly, but the other way around basically never happens.

      Obviously any conversation based on the notion of objective attractiveness is going to be pretty shaky, but I do think there’s a trend there.

      Not that I really think that’s where Jeff was going.

  3. Drahill says:

    Isn’t this just another facet of the argument that Hannah the character simply isn’t attractive enough to be realistic? People were incensed that there was an episode in which Hannah spent a weekend with a character played by (the very good-looking) Patrick Wilson. They seemed irate that somebody so good-looking could be attracted to somebody that looks like Hannah. It got to the point where Patrick Wilson’s actual wife talked about it and how she’s had to struggle with the idea that she is not attractive enough to be with him.

    I think the biggest thing Lena Dunham does – not just by being naked (although that’s a big part of it) is to show Hannah as a person who’se worthy of just being around and existing in the same way as any other person. Hannah can be naked because any conventionally attractive character would be allowed to be. Of course I think Dunham is intentionally playing with this idea by being so casual about the nudity. I don’t believe it’s ever been a throwaway choice. Nudity is a part of the human existence. We all have times of day when we’re naked. If the series is suppose to chronicle a lot of Hannah’s life, it seems almost counter-intutitive to not have the nudity there.

    The only thing that has surprised me is the absolute vehemence this seems to inspire. People seem to take personal offense to the idea that there is a woman with a less than “ideal” body out there somewhere, on cable, showing her breasts and butt. It’s like a personal affront. After a long time of thinking, I tend to believe it’s because being unabashedly “ugly” is really asserting the right to exist only for yourself and no one else, and that is still too subversive for too many people to bear.

    • MH says:

      I feel I have to tell you what went on in my own head when I saw that episode.

      My own body (well, except my post-baby-boobs) is very much like Lena Dunham’s – well, except that apparently she’s much, much smaller than I am in real life (I still don’t understand how that works.) I even have the same weird wavy hair that poofs up around the part.

      So, I watched that episode, and my instant thought was “that is TOTALLY unrealistic – there is NO WAY that anyone who looks like ME could get a guy who looks like THAT.”

      Then I rolled over on the couch and took a look at my firefighter husband, who looks just like you might imagine, and we both laughed out loud while I articulated that thought.

      Boy, that is one really, really culturally entrenched crazy idea.

    • Donna L says:

      I’ve never seen “Girls” and have no interest in it (partly given the criticism of it for presenting a remarkably unrealistically non-diverse Brooklyn), but I don’t necessarily buy the concept that Lena Dunham is not “conventionally attractive.” Maybe it’s not as absurd as all those movies where people like Michelle Pfeiffer play so-called “plain Janes” (at least until they take off their eyeglasses and let down their hair!). But I am quite sure that she would not be on the cover of Vogue right now if she weren’t quite attractive, conventionally or otherwise. I should ever look so good, you know?

      • Drahill says:

        Donna, I would argue that she’s on the cover of Vogue largely owing to the virtues of Photoshop. If you take the pictures of her in the magazine and some of the candids of her in actual life, it’s pretty clear that there was some serious digital manipulation going on. I don’t think an appearance in a magazine, when digital manipulation is a given, can be used as conclusive evidence of attractiveness.

      • Donna L says:

        “evidence”? I’ve seen candid photos of Ms. Dunham too, and disagree with you, but I’m simply not willing to get into a debate with you about a woman’s attractiveness as if there were an objective standard that can be proven or disproven depending on whether there’s sufficient evidence.

      • Drahill says:

        Donna, I’d argue the evidence for Dunham’s attractiveness is pretty well-put out there in the public domain. If she were any stretch of “conventionally attractive,” would she ever have been asked this question in the first place?

        We both know that answer, so I’m not sure what your initial post meant in the first place if we accept that. Your argument was that Dunham may, if fact be conventionally attractive. However, this whole post is about the pushback she gets precisely because she is not. So that begs the question what your point was in arguing it at all.

      • EG says:

        I believe the point that Donna is making is that Lena Dunham is very close to being quite conventionally attractive. She hits many, if not most of the necessary buttons, from what I’ve seen:

        – she’s white
        – her skin is clear
        – she’s got small, narrow facial features–features generally associated with people of northern European gentile descent
        – she’s got straight hair of a quite conventional hue
        – she’s got a traditionally feminine shape–i.e. boobs that give her cleavage
        – she has no visible disabilities

        From what I can tell, the only difference between Dunham and any other white woman who would grace the cover of Vogue is that she’s chunkier (and now has very short hair, I guess, but that’s so malleable that I’m not sure it matters much). And that’s certainly a big deal in our culture. But the furor over how “unattractive” she is just reveals how pathetically rigid our culture’s standards are, because it’s not like she’s some revolutionarily different physical type than every other woman on TV or in the movies who is deemed conventionally attractive.

        At this rate, we’ll have a woman with kinky hair, a big nose,
        and very dark skin who uses a wheelchair starring in a TV show that’s supposed to speak for a generation approximately…never, I think.

      • EG says:

        Oh, I forgot to mention lack of body hair. Dunham seems to be very conventionally attractive re: body hair.

        Add “with unshaven legs and pits” to the list of attributes we’ll see never.

      • Donna L says:

        Thank you, EG; you expressed what I meant way better than I did.

      • Drahill says:

        EG, I think you are coming at this the same way Donna is. If you look at the Vogue images, you see a woman who is quite close to conventionally attractive. However, the entire point I think Donna missed was that Vogue heavily manipulated the images to create the hallmarks of conventional attractiveness when they did not exist. If you examine an untouched candid picture of Dunham, many of the things you cite actually go away. Her natural nose isn’t very long or straight; it’s bulbous in places. Her lips aren’t very thick, her teeth are not even. Her hair is frizzy in places and the ends look split. This is an untouched image of her that shows her actual appearance: http://www.jta.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Lena_Dunham1-e1374799651892.jpg

        I also think you’re trying to argue largely on a concept that doesn’t traditionally mean what you and Donna argue it is. Are there people who would be judged worse looking than Lena Dunham? Of course – but whose arguing otherwise? However, that isn’t how “conventional attractiveness” is most often defined. It’s generally not a sliding scale. People are most often grouped into those who are attractive and those who are not. The responses Dunham receives are in and of themselves arguable evidence for how unattractive she is perceived to be. Donna was trying to argue that Dunham could be perceived as conventionally attractive. But my point, besides pointing out that such an argument cannot be made based upon the Vogue images, was to point out that we are not discussing a matter of personal preference, but the larger societal response to Dunham – something that has, almost unanimously, branded her unattractive. So again, I’m not sure what actual argument or point exists here.

      • Donna L says:

        Drahill, I’m not sure if you’re a guy or not, but there’s something I see as fundamentally unkind, and that makes me queasy, about your analysis of Lena Dunham’s facial appearance in that hypercritical, cold-blooded, clinical kind of way, especially on a feminist website. As if you’re measuring her scientifically against some sort of objective standard of “better looking” and “worse looking.” Which is also what I was trying (obviously without success) to convey earlier.

        I think a lot of women are hypersensitive to that sort of approach. Women like me as much as, if not more than, others. Especially when the subject of the “examination” is someone who, even accepting your analysis, is, at least, capable of being photoshopped into Vogue-level attractiveness!

      • Donna L says:

        PS: I think she looks really good in the un-Photoshopped picture to which you linked.

      • ldouglas says:

        Drahill, I’m not sure if you’re a guy or not, but there’s something I see as fundamentally unkind, and that makes me queasy, about your analysis of Lena Dunham’s facial appearance in that hypercritical, cold-blooded, clinical kind of way, especially on a feminist website.

        So as a woman, I guess I feel like we can’t have it both ways; either we enter into a conversation about people’s attractiveness, which requires we be able to say whether we think they are attractive or not and why, or we stay out of the topic entirely. If we’re going to accept EG saying “here the the signifiers of attractiveness Lena has,” I don’t think we can really say someone else doesn’t get to disagree.

        In this case, I agree that Dunham has some of the signifiers of attractiveness, but the fact that she is has clear skin/boobs/etc. doesn’t make her, by any culturally relevant standard, attractive; it just means she isn’t immediately disqualified.

      • ldouglas says:

        To clarify, I’s referring to cultural norms; I personally think the entire concept of attractiveness is suspect, since people are attracted to different things. I can attest to being wildly attracted to people who leave my friends cold, and vice versa.

        Of course there are some morphological features that people tend to find attractive; facial symmetry, clear skin, square jawbones on men and high cheekbones on women (at least for heterosexual people on those last two- I’m not sure exactly what the research says on that point) and correlate with higher stated attraction across all known cultures.

        But talking about ‘attractiveness’ as an attribute any specific person has seems like it misidentifies where the quality lies, i.e. with the person making the judgment.

      • EG says:

        EG, I think you are coming at this the same way Donna is. If you look at the Vogue images, you see a woman who is quite close to conventionally attractive.

        Nonsense. Believe it or not, I’ve seen plenty of pictures of Dunham before. She’s not exactly an unknown quantity. I even did a google image search before compiling that list, just to make sure I wasn’t remembering something wildly inaccurate.

        I left another one out: age. She’s young, with almost no wrinkles to her skin at all.

        Her natural nose isn’t very long or straight; it’s bulbous in places. Her lips aren’t very thick, her teeth are not even. Her hair is frizzy in places and the ends look split.

        You are completely wrong about signifiers of conventional attractiveness: a long nose isn’t one of them. Thin lips, such as those associated with northern white gentile Europeans, are what is considered conventionally attractive. Every so often, a white woman conventionally attractive in every other way is lauded for her full lips (Julia Roberts, Angelina Jolie), but that’s the exception rather than the rule, and is more like Bo Derek having her hair in cornrows and being a sex symbol while black women with cornrows are utterly ignored and dismissed than an actual shift in what’s considered attractive. Dunham’s hair is straight. “Frizzy” straight hair is still straight, and utterly different from curly, kinky, or nappy hair.

        Split ends? Really? How on earth can you tell? And her teeth are utterly straight in that photo.

        The point is that Dunham fits all the conventional beauty standards quite well enough that a minor makeover–add some lipstick, wax her eyebrows, smooth some product on her hair to control the flyaways–and she becomes quite conventionally attractive. There’s nothing radically different about her. Except, as a I said, her weight and body type. And in this culture, that’s a significant “except,” but it’s also being used to obscure the fact that what we essentially have here is yet another young gentile-looking white woman.

        However, that isn’t how “conventional attractiveness” is most often defined. It’s generally not a sliding scale. People are most often grouped into those who are attractive and those who are not.

        Citation, please? Because my experience would lead me to argue quite the opposite. Women who really don’t fit the beauty standard, particularly WoC, particularly disabled women, particularly butch women, don’t star in shows on major networks. And sure, there’s always one exception: Mindy Kaling, Laura Innes (although she herself doesn’t a disability as far as I know, her best-known character used crutches), Ellen Degeneres. But you can’t even begin to name the flood of white, non-disabled, femme actresses on TV and in the movies because that’s the standard of this culture’s attractiveness, and it’s a standard Dunham fits very well.

        the larger societal response to Dunham – something that has, almost unanimously, branded her unattractive. So again, I’m not sure what actual argument or point exists here.

        The actual argument is that getting excited because Dunham is getting naked on TV is very weak tea indeed, because despite the overblown reaction to her, she looks pretty much like every other actress on TV. Seeing this as some kind of radical step not only reveals how pathetic our culture’s beauty standards are, but also how desperate we have to be in order to find Dunham’s nudity radical.

      • EG says:

        ldouglas, you’re eliding most of what I marked as Dunham’s signifiers of attractiveness, though, which have to do with whiteness, some with age, and some with able-bodied-ness, and those are massively culturally relevant to many of us. The fact that those things disqualify so many women straight out of the gate is precisely the point I’m making–Dunham fits what’s required very, very well. Her nudity is not the radical step that it’s being made out to be, and the furor over it signifies how rigid standards of conventional attractiveness are, because Dunham ticks all the right boxes.

      • ldouglas says:

        The fact that those things disqualify so many women straight out of the gate is precisely the point I’m making–Dunham fits what’s required very, very well. Her nudity is not the radical step that it’s being made out to be, and the furor over it signifies how rigid standards of conventional attractiveness are, because Dunham ticks all the right boxes.

        Right, I agree with this (though I question how culturally-specific the link between able-bodiedness and ‘attractiveness’ is, that’s probably a tangent).

        My point is that I don’t believe it’s off-limits to say that despite meeting the criteria you describe, Dunham is likely not what most people consider conventionally attractive, and that this necessarily informs the politics of her appearing nude on TV. That’s not an endorsement of our cultural regime of attractiveness, but I think it does her a disservice to pretend there’s nothing different/potentially transgressive about what she’s doing.

        I don’t think we’re disagreeing.

      • EG says:

        Yeah, I don’t think we’re really disagreeing either. I agree with your posts here.

        Interesting sidenote on disability–I think about all those representations of delicate upper-class Victorian ladies fainting and having attacks of nerves and having to take to their beds and suchlike, and I do think that disability represented as helplessness does have some history of being found attractive.

      • Drahill says:

        Donna, I’m female. My analysis was not meant to be mean or critical towards Ms. Dunham. I was pointing out that it is just as easy to point out those things where she deviates from the “conventionally attractive” as it is to point out where she complies.

        You say “I think she looks good there.” As do I. However, as I’ve pointed out repeatedly, your personal opinion of her attractiveness has never been germane to the discussion. Almost everybody can find at least one person who believes them to be beautiful – a partner, a parent, somebody else, etc. That is not the point. Conventional beauty is a societal construct – not a argument amongst individuals. Society has a strong set parameter of what it judges to be beautiful and what it holds not to be. You argued that it’s possible that Lena Dunham could be considered conventionally attractive because she was selected to appear in Vogue. I am arguing that is a flawed analysis because, first, above all, Vogue is in the business of taking people who are out of compliance with beauty conventions and digitally manipulating them to make them fit. Thus, Dunham’s attractiveness to start with would be beside the point, given that she was already assured to be manipulated to whatever extent necessary to make her image palaple to the people in charge. Second, I argue that one does not need a great deal more evidence of her being outside the conventional beauty standard than what Jill’s initial piece is about – the media and society’s insistence on harping on Dunham’s body and appearance on the show, despite already knowing the answers. Do you really truly believe that any conventionally attractive actress would field these questions? Really?

      • Becky says:

        Drahill – I think “conventionally attractive” and “tv star attractive” are two different measures – especially for women. If people saw Lena Dunham walking down the street, I don’t think they would consider her unattractive. And I think that’s part of what EG and Donna are getting at – this is a woman who would not be considered unattractive by most of our societal standards. But even she gets all this backlash about being too unattractive to get naked on tv (or even to be on tv) .

      • Drahill says:

        But Becky, who sets the standard of what “conventional beauty” is? Largely, it’s what is sold through the media. You know as well as I that the images we see, and the products we’re sold have been able to greatly shape societial attitudes towards what is attractive and what is not. Again, this is not about any particular person’s view of whether Lena Dunham is attractive or not, or how attractive she is, exactly. This is about the larger culture norm that shapes the idea of “conventional beauty” in the first place. I think it’s tenuous to try to draw a distinction between “movie star” and “everyday.” Because frankly, it’s BS. Movie Star Pretty is what is being packaged and sold to the public, and it’s the standard that drips down to influence and create the standards by which Everyday Pretty is judged.

      • Tony says:

        Do you really truly believe that any conventionally attractive actress would field these questions? Really?

        I also don’t think a woman very far from conventional attractiveness would be given the starring role in a show like Girls to begin with, that is one of the leading shows on TV right now, if not the top show, about single women.

        I sort of agree with EG’s list (at January 16 5:13 pm). One additional thing I didn’t see mentioned is that she’s young– in her 20’s. That’s another important signifier of conventional attractiveness, especially for women. You see more older actors have decades long careers, there actresses who have are rarer.

        Anyway, she’s at least very close. And even as far as weight/body type, she’s not that far off either.

      • ldouglas says:

        I’m simply not willing to get into a debate with you about a woman’s attractiveness as if there were an objective standard that can be proven or disproven depending on whether there’s sufficient evidence.

        But I am quite sure that she would not be on the cover of Vogue right now if she weren’t quite attractive, conventionally or otherwise.

        Maybe I’m wildly missing your point, but I guess I don’t see how these two are compatible. Either we can talk about whether someone is conventionally attractive, using ‘evidence’ like their being on Vogue, or we can’t, right?

      • trees says:

        …but I don’t necessarily buy the concept that Lena Dunham is not “conventionally attractive.”

        Yes, I agree. Granted, she’s not in full compliance, but she’s not outside the box either.

    • Bloix says:

      “It got to the point where Patrick Wilson’s actual wife talked about it and how she’s had to struggle with the idea that she is not attractive enough to be with him.”

      Puh-lease. Patrick Wilson’s actual wife:
      http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0231436/?ref_=nmmd_ph_nm1

      • Though speaking as someone with only a vague idea how all these people look: I know lots of people who are genuinely, deep-down convinced they are not half as attractive as they are. Why should this woman be any different?

      • Drahill says:

        I believe she was referring to an issue of weight, not facial attractiveness. The more recent pictures of her do seem to indicate that she is slightly larger than she used to be – after having two kids fairly close together. I inferred that was what she was referencing.

      • ldouglas says:

        Also, that’s an ultra-stylized, glamorous photo.

  4. theLaplaceDemon says:

    Great article. While there are many valid criticisms that can be leveled against Girls, that fact that Lena Dunham sometimes gets naked is not one of them.

    On a somewhat related note, one of the things I do really like about the show is how they portray how awkward sex can be – particularly when people *don’t* honestly communicate what they want.

  5. SomeOne says:

    Jill-

    Human beings are born naked. We have sex naked (most of the time, anyway). We bathe naked, check ourselves out in the mirror naked and relish seeing people we’re attracted to get naked. If you work at home like I do, you may not be doing your job naked, but there’s a reasonable probability you aren’t wearing pants.

    exactly. Funny thing that this is apparently the answer he was looking for. Apatov later gave it to him, and he said: yes, that would have been the answer. But when it was asked, apparently all people heard was the insinuation that naked Lena isn’t sexy. But that’s not what he was asking. The Game Of Thrones point serves to illustrate that nudity has *a* reason in the script, and he was wondering about that reason in Girls. She probably was bound to hear that, as her nudity apparently isn’t just a bit of life, or no one would have responded like he or she did. If it *were* just that, she would have said so, like Apatov did when he was asked again later on. But the nudity she present isn’t just the boring nude bits of life – because her body is either applauded or hated for its normality.

    A lot of stuff is odd in girls, and it’s not the nudity as such. To be honest, I think the fact that it seems to speak to so many women eludes me. Everyone’s just weird on that show, and I’m watching it because it’s apparently such a big deal for women that women are now also allowed to be weird on tv. I don’t know anyone in real life who behaves like that, not women, not men. Not even the women I know who say they think they’re like any one of the girls on the show are like that. Not even close, with OCD exceptions. But this isn’t a show about OCD, but insecurity and aspiration, about life. And I just can’t see that in the show.

    I think that most important aspect Girls is teaching is that, given the authentic ability on the part of so many women to identify with the show (if not necessarily any one character), and the inability to see how that could possibly be the case on the part of so many men, there most certainly is a gendered perception gap.

    And that critics question may have been a part of that. Because it certainly isn’t apparent, and it isn’t logical to assume all that if you’re not coming from a specific, implied, potentially feminist, context. And it’s odd to assume that context can be understood by everyone.

    So, to close, I think what’s considered by you, apparently, and many, who are bashing the tv critic for a perfectly reasonable question are probably feeling that he’s trying to impose his esthetics, mansplain and define what’s appropriate and not, while he’s actually just asking what you’re thinking. But you’re apparently too busy interpreting his questions in the default manner.

    So just like oh-so-often when people are asking feminists questions they tell them how they’re too privileged to see the truth and that it’s not their job to educate them (to even see their privilege, the rest apparently follows from there). Which, in a case in which mutual understanding is really what’s being discussed, is not the most helpful reply available. This is a pretty good case in point.

    • Jill says:

      I think it’s hard to read my column and conclude that I was “bashing” a TV critic, but that’s an interesting interpretation.

      And I do actually think his question belied an opinion on Dunham’s attractiveness (again, I say as much in the column). The reason the reporter says Dunham’s nude scenes aren’t titillating is because of Dunham’s body. Think of the bathtub scenes with Dunhman and Allison Williams: Replace Dunham with a Victoria’s Secret model and I think we’d all find them titillating.

      • SomeOne says:

        The reason the reporter says Dunham’s nude scenes aren’t titillating is because of Dunham’s body. Think of the bathtub scenes with Dunhman and Allison Williams: Replace Dunham with a Victoria’s Secret model and I think we’d all find them titillating.

        I’m not so convinced. Look at some of the Vogue pictures, some other nice shots of her. It’s not her body preventing her from being sexy, and I don’t even think it’s viewing habits or social expectations: it’s not even Lena D. It’s Hannah. Lena Dunham makes Hannah unsexy, both in writing and in acting, and she does it intentionally, on pretty much all levels of sexyness, physically, psychologically, emotionally. She certainly has her creative reasons for that, and some have been discussed at length, but it’s still a fair question to ask what the creative impulse behind the way the show’s main character is portrayed.

    • Esti says:

      Except that Lena Dunham has been asked approximately 10 million times in the past two years why she’s naked so much on Girls. Even if the reporter genuinely didn’t understand why nakedness might be included in that show, reading almost any previous interview with Dunham or review of the show would have provided the answer. I have a hard time believing that someone paid to discuss television shows–and specifically Girls–for a living somehow is so unaware of the enormous amount of conversation about Dunham’s nakedness since the show premiered that he really asked that question out of a genuine befuddlement.

      But even if you choose to believe it was an innocent question, the absolute most generous interpretation of this critic’s actions is that he showed up in a professional setting to publicly ask the show’s creators to explain something without doing even the most cursory search for whether the information he wanted had already been provided. That, to me, demonstrates total disrespect for the show he’s reviewing–he didn’t even bother to read ANYTHING that had been written about it (almost all of which makes a point of discussing Dunham’s stated reasons for getting naked so often)? It’s like showing up to a Mad Men press conference to ask Matthew Weiner why Don Draper has mommy issues. Except that he would never have done that, because he would have bothered to pay attention to what’s been previously said about the show and to spend some time thinking about the reasons for what he sees onscreen.

      • theLaplaceDemon says:

        . I have a hard time believing that someone paid to discuss television shows–and specifically Girls–for a living somehow is so unaware of the enormous amount of conversation about Dunham’s nakedness since the show premiered that he really asked that question out of a genuine befuddlement.

        This, so much.

      • SomeOne says:

        That is a fair point. But lack of preparation doesn’t equal bad faith.

      • EG says:

        So what you’re saying is, the reporter isn’t an asshole, he’s just stupid and incompetent, and that make him come off like an asshole?

        Why should Lena Dunham give two shits about that distinction?

      • Esti says:

        EG, you’ll notice that I prefaced that part of my comment with “But even if you choose to believe it was an innocent question, the absolute most generous interpretation of this critic’s actions is…”

        I wasn’t saying it to defend him (as I made clear in the first paragraph, I think it’s pretty well impossible he doesn’t already know why Dunham says she gets naked), I was saying that *even if* this other commenter defending the critic wanted to believe it was an honest question, that wouldn’t make the critic any less of an asshole.

      • EG says:

        Esti, my reply was not directed at your comment, which I agree with, but at the one directly above mine by SomeOne and zir invocation of “bad faith.”

      • Esti says:

        Apologies — I forgot that the nesting stops at that level, and it looked like you were replying to the quote of my post.

      • EG says:

        No worries; I’m sorry for not being clearer.

    • The Game Of Thrones point serves to illustrate that nudity has *a* reason in the script, and he was wondering about that reason in Girls.

      Translation:

      Everyone knows “why” there’s nudity in GoT, because it’s conventionally attractive skinny chicks. But if there’s a nude woman who *gasp* isn’t absolutely airbrushedly perfect on TV, WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY OMG DOGS AND CATS LIVING TOGETHER I DO NOT UNDERSTAND WHY NON-MODELS ARE EVER NUDE DON’T UGLY PEOPLE SHOWER FULLY CLOTHED THE WORLD MAKES NO SENSE ANYMORE.

      Did I get it all?

      (Directed at the people earnestly pondering this question.)

      • I mean, fuck, if you don’t know why people would be naked on TV I think you’ve just lost any right to publish anything in a newspaper on the subject of TV. It’s about as fucking ridiculous as wondering why people show arguments on TV when everything – literally everything on literally every channel – could be repeated shots of everyone holding hands and singing Kumbaya. WHAT DO PEOPLE WHO SHOW ARGUMENTS ON TV HAVE AGAINST WORLD PEACE, HUH?

        Disingenuous weaselballs.

      • SomeOne says:

        I don’t know, I think it’s a question pretty typical of a puritanical culture. I mean, basically, for a lot of people *nudity* amounts to *pornography* in the US, and that occasionally includes pictures of breastfeeding moms on facebook. So, basically, if nudity is *assumed* to be titillating in itself, and her nudity apparently doesn’t attempt to do that on Girls – as Vogue shows it’s not her body that’s preventing her from being sexy, it’s intentional, it’s a creative decision – then I think it’s a fair question what the creative impulse behind it is. I do agree with the argument that it’s an odd question three years into the show, but that said, I don’t think it’s a question asked in bad faith. I suppose the misunderstanding was unavoidable, but it’s important to understand that different contexts are important in the way these cultural artefacts are interpreted (cf. Jezebel’s offer of “unretouched” pictures of Dunham).

  6. tastefulresponse says:

    I thought it was kind of tacky how the Girls team became outraged at the question. When you’re answering questions about something you’ve created, questions about creative choices you deliberately make should be fair game. And valid or not, Girls has very self-consciously included a lot of nudity. Whether it’s the same level or the same purpose at GOT is beyond the point — this wasn’t an event about GOT. And there isn’t this much nudity in, say, Curb your Enthusiasm. There’s clearly been an artistic decision to show Lena Dunham naked a lot.

    With that said, the explanations are sound. Some of them we heard at the press event, but it would have been nice if they’d just explained their creative choice rather than getting super defensive about it.

    • ldouglas says:

      When you’re answering questions about something you’ve created, questions about creative choices you deliberately make should be fair game. And valid or not, Girls has very self-consciously included a lot of nudity.

      I keep bouncing back between Jill’s point and this one. I can’t really find anything to disagree with in either place, despite the fact they’re obviously in opposition.

    • Miriam says:

      The question was phrased in a way that insulted Lena Dunham and implied the only comprehensible purpose for nudity is to titillate a male viewer. It was an offensively worded question, and it amazes me that Molloy still doesn’t understand why what he said was offensive (which he doesn’t based on his column about the Q&A session). He should have been capable of wording his question more respectfully if he was sincere.

      He also should have been capable of reading what Dunham has already said about her use of nudity if he really wanted an answer.

      • ldouglas says:

        He also should have been capable of reading what Dunham has already said about her use of nudity if he really wanted an answer.

        …but, while I agree with most of what you/people on your ‘side’ are saying, journalists don’t ask questions )primarily) for their own personal elucidation. They ask questions which they then publish for other people to read. So I generally think you’re right, but the above argument doesn’t really apply at all.

  7. Dominique says:

    Here is the question Molloy asked, verbatim: “I don’t get the purpose of all the nudity on the show — by [Dunham] in particularly. I feel like I’m walking into a trap where you go, ‘Nobody complains about all the nudity on Game of Thrones,’ but I get why they do it. They do it to be salacious and titillate people. And your character is often nude at random times for no reason.”

  8. Lolagirl says:

    Well, not to derail necessarily, but the complaint I have about Game of Thrones’ use of nudity (and criticism I’ve seen expressed by others as well) is that it’s confined strictly to the women characters. It’s stupid, and does appear gratuitous, precisely because such exquisite care is undertaken to NOT in turn show any male nudity.

    I’m not that big of a fan of Girls anyway, so I only watch it sporadically. But I’ve noticed that while we have gotten a few quick glimpses of Adam’s ass, the male nudity there is kept pretty minimal. I say there should be equal opportunity nudity, not just of the women, otherwise I’m going to wonder why exactly a double standard is being held to there.

    • DannyChameleon says:

      Well…
      No one (that society considers) important wants to see a male character nude. Actually desiring to see male nudity is, in fact, grounds for worthlessness.

      That doesn’t sound new or original. It sounds like business-as-usual.

      • Lolagirl says:

        ??????

        Please tell me you’re being sarcastic/facetious with the above there, Danny. Otherwise, try again.

      • Lolagirl says:

        Also, is you’re point that my opinions as expressed in my comment aren’t original? Because you can blow that bullshit right out your ear if that’s why your on about.

      • DannyChameleon says:

        WHOA!

        I certainly meant no offense. To answer…

        That (nudity as presented in this show) doesn’t sound new or original. It sounds like business-as-usual.

        And yes, I believe that Society does, for the most part, consider anyone who wants to see men naked to be inferior. I don’t believe that, otherwise I wouldn’t be trying to change society. Please read again with new information.

      • DannyChameleon says:

        Lolagirl,

        I seriously, in no way, thought that my comment would be interpreted as attacking you or trolling.

      • Lolagirl says:

        Danny, thanks for clarifying. It wasn’t initially clear to me where you were coming from.

        Although even with your clarification, I think the answer is still a lot more complicated. IMHO, good old fashioned American prudery also plays a role in why we don’t see equal opportunity nudity. Add in the expectation that women’s bodies are specifically for displaying in a way that titillates and appeals to the male, hetero gaze in a way that men’s bodies are not. And, yeah, male nudity ends up being a big no no.

        And none of that excuses it. It’s still stupid, and sexist, and small minded.

  9. BroadBlogs says:

    Ms. Dunham’s nudity has had a big affect on me. It helped me uncover some of my unconscious adherence to beauty myths. I noticed (I’m embarrassed to say) that I was uncomfortable with her body and wondered why she was so “out there” with it instead of trying to cover it up more. So that was me totally buying into the culture I had thought I had bought out of. Yes, her nudity is very powerful.

  10. Fat Steve says:

    I think this followup comment by Jill and the closely nested comment by macavitykitsune emphasizes a point I think is getting overlooked here.

    And I do actually think his question belied an opinion on Dunham’s attractiveness (again, I say as much in the column). The reason the reporter says Dunham’s nude scenes aren’t titillating is because of Dunham’s body. Think of the bathtub scenes with Dunhman and Allison Williams: Replace Dunham with a Victoria’s Secret model and I think we’d all find them titillating.

    Everyone knows “why” there’s nudity in GoT, because it’s conventionally attractive skinny chicks. But if there’s a nude woman who *gasp* isn’t absolutely airbrushedly perfect on TV, WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY OMG DOGS AND CATS LIVING TOGETHER I DO NOT UNDERSTAND WHY NON-MODELS ARE EVER NUDE DON’T UGLY PEOPLE SHOWER FULLY CLOTHED THE WORLD MAKES NO SENSE ANYMORE.

    I understand that then nudity in bothe Game of Thrrones and Girlsmay be justified-by-the-plot/tasteful/bold and not solely inserted for the purposes of men (for the sake of the feminist argument I’ll stick to the subject of men viewing women as sex objects, though obviously women can do that too,) to masturbate to (or just be titillated.)

    The question Jill and mac seem to be asking, and the really valid one in my opinion is: why do we (critics/general public) assume that Lena Dunham is not putting these nude scenes in it purely for the pleasure of men who find her attractive as a sex object, when we don’t assume that about Game of Thrones? Why do we pore over the scripts and ask ‘is the nudity justifiable?’ when the actresses are ‘conventionally attractive,’ and automatically assume that the sex scenes of Lena Dunham are not there to treat her as a sex object because she doesn’t meet some Hellenic ideal?

    N.B. I get that the nude scenes in Girls are justified by the plot, I just don’t hear anyone asking that question in this conversation. The people asking ‘why do we need the nudity?’ are the ones who appear to find her unattractive.

    • Lolagirl says:

      I agree that a lot of the criticism of the nudity on this show have to do with the perceived physical attractiveness of Ms. Dunham. But that whole pov just continues to center men’s opinions of conventional, hetero attractiveness.

      And I do think a lot of the nudity on GOT is gratuitous. The show is all about ott drama and violence and sex. But I go back to my criticism up thread that I might takeaway different view if the show’s producers didn’t go to such great and extensive pains to never, evar! display male nudity. It’s silly, really, how they have such explicit sex scenes, yet that they are undertaken so as to shield viewers (and possibly the male actors as well?) from getting a peek at any male bits.

      And lest anyone wander in here and accuse me of being a perv, I don’t really care to see tv depictions of nudity that much. This whole debate just underscores how extensively prudery and sexism is so ingrained in our society and how we view women’s bodies versus men’s.

      • Stephanie says:

        (minor GoT spoilers below)

        Lolagirl,

        You’re absolutely right about the male-female discrepancy, and that’s always bothered me about GoT. One small point which I think adds to your argument is that male nudity does occur infrequently in GoT, but it rarely seems intended to titillate. Think of the scene with the wine seller that tried to poison Daenerys, chained and walking naked to his death. We saw full-frontal male nudity there, but in a violent and non-sexual context. The other example that comes to mind is Theon’s sex scene with Ros (more full-frontal male nudity), but I found that harder to parse: It’s obviously sexual, but I don’t think Theon himself is understood to be a sex object the way some of the other male cast members are, and his earlier sex scenes were (I believe) intended to highlight his weakness of character in order to elicit disgust from the viewer. (I say this is difficult to parse because Alfie Allen is not unattractive, and I won’t rule out that that scene was titillating to some female viewers, but I don’t think that was the intention.) If the GoT writers were interested in using male nudity to titillate, they have no shortage of options– how many female viewers would have loved to see full-frontal nudity from Kit Harington, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, or Richard Madden?– but they rarely actually exercise those options. At most we’ll get a butt shot. I was actually kind of shocked to see Richard Madden’s ass in Robb’s bedroom scene with Talisa, and I felt like that was the closest thing we’ve seen to parity in the show thus far. But I think even that was purposeful, because it conveyed Robb’s vulnerability in his relationship with Talisa, which is important later.

        What’s sort of interesting to me is that Lena Dunham’s nudity is getting the same sort of reaction that gratuitous male nudity might: Lots of “HDU,” “What is the POINT of this,” etc., because Lena isn’t understood to be arousing to the average male viewer (though personally I think she’s perfectly attractive, but it’s not really what I personally think that’s at issue here). In other words, from the audience’s perspective, she might as well be male, in that her nudity should serve some kind of storytelling purpose– and if it doesn’t, it makes everyone uncomfortable.

      • Stephanie says:

        Apologies for the way that my comment above erased queer folks– I just noticed on re-reading it. Where I mentioned female viewers, I should have referred instead to people who are attracted to men.

  11. glutenfreepvssy says:

    or, put another way: I am supposed to see Ms. Dunham and her nudity as a triumph for women because, unlike Carrie Bradshaw, Judy Jetson, Ally McBeal, etc she is not conventionally attractive and/or doesn’t have a career? Am I supposed to identify and bond with her on just that basis even though she has the same vile, stereotypical ideals about men and life that those women have?

    Someone please explain to me how this show is NOT a “cathy” cartoon and how it is not a smart, self-deprecating satire, but rather a hateful depiction of the modern woman-as-infant?

    Just try to imagine how you might view this show if it was written by a man. . .

  12. Pingback: Why is Lena Dunham Naked on GIRLS? | BroadBlogs

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