Lena Getting Naked: What Lena Dunham’s use of nudity means for the feminist movement
By: Caitlyn Beatty
“Girls —it just gets really real.”
That’s what my friend said to me when I first sat down to watch Lena Dunham’s popular HBO series Girls. She was right. The show portrays the very unglamorous world of being out of college, but not quite having reached adulthood. It tackles a host of issues from the economic recession, to self esteem, mental illness and relationship boundaries. The show is part of a growing theme in pop culture that embraces the feminist movement’s ideal that women should accept their bodies no matter what they look like. Lena Dunham, the show’s producer, writer and lead actress (as the character Hannah) does this by getting naked.
Dunham has received quite a bit of attention for the amount of nudity in Girls. In an interview from The New Yorker Festival, the interviewer took to Twitter and asked her followers what to ask Dunham. The number one response: Lena, why so naked? Dunham responded by saying that she noticed what was missing from television were bodies that she understood. Dunham also said that being naked in front of an audience is a major source of fear for so many people but it is not a source of fear for her (unlike driving, which she refuses to do). For the feminist movement though, Lena Dunham’s nudity goes far beyond her tongue-in-cheek humor or her lack of fear; it’s a big thing for the audience and impacts the mainstream view of women.
Dunham’s nudity (and the show in general) give two important gifts to women and the feminist movement. First, the show depicts women of all shapes and sizes and offers multiple sources of beauty. Second, the show tears down stereotypes about women’s bodies as mystical or in need of being controlled, protected and covered. That being said, Dunham has written a show that is very monolithic. Many people have said that Girls does not match the diverse NYC that they live in.
- All types of women, not models.
The entertainment industry is dominated by one type of woman; a curvy but slender woman with just the right size breasts who appears to have no flaws. But that woman does not exist. Even the actresses “portraying” that woman don’t look like that; they have been transformed through the editing process to look like flawless human beings.
The women of Girls are beautiful, but they do not meet the idealized perfected view of women that permeates mainstream cultures and advertising. Some of the women are skinny, some of them are not. Some have big breasts, some have small breasts. They represent real women.
UGA Student, Emily Brennan (’15; Public Relations and Spanish) said Lena “does not fit the conventional standard of beauty for Hollywood actresses by any means, yet plays ping pong naked on screen, has passionate sex with her boyfriend (and others), and relaxes at home with friends or by herself in the nude. These are all things that women do in real life, in their real houses, with their real flaws. It’s inspiring and beautiful, and the heinous things that people say about Dunham’s body just reveal how far we as a society have to go in terms of how we value women.” That is the magic of Girls; it does not claim one body type is beautiful and does not hide the “flaws” of women who do not fit the normal standard of beauty. There is something very empowering about seeing a woman who looks like you proudly showing off her body. There is something amazing for woman of all body types when Dunham is proud to show every part of her body and rebukes a system that says she should be ashamed of the way she looks.
- A woman’s body is not mysterious and does not need to be shamed.
As a society we ask women to cover themselves in a way that we do not demand of men. This exposes unspoken ideas that women’s bodies are (a) inherently different from men and (b) that women’s bodies are more mysterious or sacred and therefore need to be controlled and hidden. If Brad Pitt stars in a movie in which he walks from one room to another without a shirt, his nudity is not questioned by every talk show host or interviewer at every film festival.
But this is the kind of question that Dunham gets in every interview. In her SNL monologue it was the first thing she brought up. So many people have asked Lena Dunham why she chooses to show so much of herself in her show. But the real question should be: “why do we ask that question to Dunham and not to men who do the same thing?” When men walk around shirtless,society is perfectly accepting, if not proud of them, for doing so.
Dunham, however, takes her shirt off (like many women do in their own apartment) and we find it out-of-the-ordinary and even weird. Some are embarrassed by Dunham’s nudity and believe she should be ashamed. But Dunham’s use of nudity is providing a service to the feminist movement. She is showing that women’s bodies are not separate or mysterious objects that should be concealed and hidden. She shows nudity in a way in which most women identify.
There are no steamy scenes of Dunham seductively stepping out of the shower, looking beautiful and unrealistically well put together for someone who was just drenched in water. She writes scenes where her nudity is realistic: walking into her roommate’s room, or eating a cupcake in the bath.
“Nudity in the modern entertainment industry is so often used to sell copies, make money, or make a statement. However, in Girls, Lena Dunham uses nudity as a simple depiction of the female reality.” says Mallory Lawrence (UGA ’18; International Affairs).
Her scenes do not give us unrealistic expectations about women’s bodies and, more importantly, they show that a woman’s body is just that… a body, no different or inherently in need of being more covered than a man’s body. Ultimately Dunham’s nudity adds to the shows ability to show the real lives of women not the unrealistic ideals that we place upon women’s bodies as sacred, mysterious or something that must be hidden.
Dunham said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that “Sex and the City depicted women who had mastered their careers and were now being driven crazy by the tick of their biological clocks. ‘Gossip Girl’ is about losing your virginity and gaining popularity in a world where no one is old enough to vote or has to worry about making a living. But between adolescence and adulthood is the uncomfortable middle ground where women are ejected from college into a world with neither glamour nor structure.” I believe that Girls does exactly that. In an age where the entertainment industry has so much to say about how your body should look and what you should do with that body, “Girls” gives women the freedom to experience their bodies in a nonjudgmental way, and that is everything that feminism seeks to do.
“I get all these props for being brave and I think ‘I didn’t do anything brave. I feel totally cool about being naked.”- Lena on Ellen