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For the love of Girls

Date: January 17, 2013 | Posted By: Heather

I love Lena Dunham and I love her show Girls.

Photo of Lena Dunham in short dress, with legs exposed.

Dunham at a New Yorker festival in early October challenged criticism: “I don’t think a girl with tiny thighs would have received such no-pants attention. Get used to it because I am going to live to be 100, and I am going to show my thighs every day ’til I die.”

No, it isn’t perfect, but it does provide one of the most honest portrayals of young, twenty-something females that I have seen to date. Dunham, the 26-year-old rising star who recently bagged her first two Golden Globes, writes, directs, and stars in the HBO hit that has returned for its second season.

Clearly, girl’s got talent!

The show has received criticism for its lack of diversity, and for catering to a very specific socioeconomic subset of post collegiate young women, but I think the conversation needs to focus on what it’s doing right.

Here’s why:

1. Girls Gets Naked. Yes, you read it right. Lena Dunham gets naked a lot and her body is not tiny or taut.

One of my favorite scenes is in the premiere episode where Dunham’s character, Hannah, enjoys a cupcake in the bath while conversing with her best friend, Marnie, in their shared Brooklyn residence.

Not only did I love that this completely upended and reframed a traditional fantasy trope, but the level of emotional and actual physical vulnerability in this scene is unreal and so nontraditional.

Are there weight comments made throughout the season? Yes. Does Hannah convey her own insecurities about her body? Yes. From a young age we are culturally courted to feel ashamed of our bodies. It’s a common female experience.

This subject matter exists without allowing it to ever dominate a plotline or define her character, making a point of saying that she has more important things to do than focus on losing weight. Her exhibitionism challenges the idea that only bodies fitting the thin ideal should be represented on screen. Dunham has personally defended her figure in the media, dresses as she pleases, and owns her body.

2. Girls Gets Real. This is the show so many have been waiting for — the unflinching, relatable depiction of young women facing the discomfort and uncertainty of womanhood. It often dares the viewer to look away. It conveys deep humanism and vulnerability with honesty and emotional intelligence.

In an episode called “Hannah’s Diary,” Hannah confronts her pseudo-boyfriend Adam about the tenuous nature of their relationship, “I just want someone who wants to hang out all the time, thinks I’m the best person in the world, and wants to have sex with only me.”

It delivers the lines we’ve thought, but never had articulated, and it mirrors back and validates the profound self-doubt so many feel as they struggle to define who they are.

3. Girls Gets Sex. Get ready for painfully awkward sex scenes between characters. But while sexually explicit in nature, they deliver an undiluted reality of what it looks like to be clumsy in the bedroom, to finding your voice in physical intimacy, and learning to define desire.

It’s great to see something other than the frustratingly unrealistic, sensually sheathed sexual encounters that abound in mainstream media. These encounters hit closer to home. So many of the mid-day rendezvous between Adam and Hannah give a genuine peek at two partners sexually experimenting to find (or not find) mutual gratification. Real bodies being imperfect in bed on a regular basis feels very revolutionary to me.

Photo of Lena Dunham nude, on toilet in restroom stall, eating cake.

In the infamous seemingly irreverent 2012 Emmy’s Sketch, Dunham is found in a bathroom stall unfazed, enjoying cake on the toilet.

4. Girls Gets Girlfriends. The female friendships on Girls are especially groundbreaking. They portray the fiercely loyal, emotionally complex, platonic love between women.

The plot does not assume that female friendships are subordinate to that of a romantic love interest, and the dialogue never shies away from meaningful confrontations that range from tumultuous to tender.

There are no elements of competition. The girls are playing on the same team and there is raw honesty and profundity in their communication, and an alarmingly accurate portrait of what real intimate connections between women look and feel like.

5. Girls is About So Much More Than Just Girls. I know a lot of men who enjoy this show for its authenticity and wit. The show is about so many things beyond the twenty-something female psyche. It’s about the complexity of human relationships and personal desire. It’s about adulthood, identity, and boundaries. It’s a meditation on privilege, entitlement, sexuality, and self-awareness. Oh, and it’s also smart and funny!

Females in our society are so conditioned to attempt to fit a paradigm of perfection and are assaulted by an echo chamber of “not good enough” on a regular basis. To see a series put forth the messy parts of being a young adult, unformed and ambivalent, is pretty revolutionary. To have its lead star publicly and unapologetically defy the Hollywood standard of beauty is radical.

Yes, the show is problematic in that it lacks in overall diversity and does cater to a very specific generation and class of young women. It’s far from perfect, but lessons on imperfection and owning where you are at seems to be what Girls is all about.

Heather spends her days working in the corporate business world, and can be found sharing her own experience, insights, and pop culture commentary at www.msmettle.com.




What Do You Think?

5 Responses to For the love of Girls

  1. ChironsGate on 01-18-2013

    I am a twenty-something woman myself and I have a vastly different opinion of Girls.

    The amount of white washing that the show has is beyond problematic. And every time I see Girls I want to scream at the TV "This is not me! We are better than this!"

    And we can be.

    But the part that turns me off the most is Lena Dunham's dismissal of other people's lives and narratives. In an interview with Time Magazine, I really with I could go look up the article right now, Lena Dunham did claim to be speaking for the women of her generation. Specifically through the show Girls.

    Well, it does not speak to me and it will never speak for me.
    • Stacey on 01-18-2013

      I haven't seen the show at all, but before reading this blog, I had literally ONLY heard bad things about how white-washed the show is.

      While I definitely appreciate all of the things this piece points out (body image stuff, awkward—realistic—sex scenes, etc.), it's BEYOND time for shows like this to be showing greater diversity.

      There is a lot of talk about race and class representations in the show. I'm curious—has Dunham herself commented on these critiques? What does she have to say?

      As I said before, I haven't seen the show at all, but considering how progressive it seems in these other realms, regarding sex and nudity and body positivity, and relationships, I'm surprised that it is lacking so much in race and class diversity.
      • Heather on 01-19-2013

        The show is indisputably about white, straight privileged twenty-somethings and it does a horrible job of portraying any sort of diversity. The only people of color we see (save for extras, or for domestic worker portrayals in the scene where one of the characters is working as a nanny) is nearly nil. It is very clear that the show exists and thrives because it appeals to a very specific sliver of the population – few of who are marginalized and most of which continue to show the class and power discrepancy still evident in our social, cultural and political structures – so that is the narrative that gets represented. The show itself is on HBO, and censorship aside, it’s a premium television network that one must pay to receive. The show was also tremendously hyped prior to its premiere. I was mostly insulated from that and am more of a nonconformist, having a tendency to eschew anything zeitgeisty or mainstream. I did not expect to like the show – I thought it would be narcissistic and too hipster for me (and sometimes it is!) But the tenderness and vulnerability of some of the characters won me over. That being said, while I like it and sincerely believe it gives us a lot of positive, I also agree that it exposes some of the most problematic elements of the limited scope of stories we are given on screen.

        Dunham has responded to her critics by basically saying that she wrote what she knows and that she believes her experience to be representative of her. In an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, you can actually hear her tiptoeing around the question when she is asked about the lack of diversity shown on screen. She says she never meant to alienate anyone and thinks it is important to acknowledge and respond to this criticism. She previously said she was going to be addressing the whitewashing (not specifically stated, but implied) which has since amounted to one, African America role introduced by Donald Glover as a guy Hannah is seeing/not seeing in the 2nd season premiere. One character of color does not a balanced cast make.

        I was disheartened by this non-response. I wish that she would have acknowledged the whitewashing in a less roundabout way that brought something new to the conversation, possibly addressing that a disproportionate number of stories generated mostly by those in power are what gets pushed through and reflected in our culture. I think the first step to challenging power structures is to acknowledge it. So many of us unwittingly benefit from the system of privilege in this country that puts white, middle to upper class males (and by extension, to a degree, females) in advantageous positions simply because of our biology or the sociocultural and economic demographic we were born into. I firmly believe that recognizing privilege and social injustice, especially those who benefit from it – is a huge step in changing the dynamic. People who do fall into positions of power should be using the opportunity to change the conversation and question mainstream narratives. I wish that Dunham could use her voice to talk about why we’re still egregiously lacking in diversity and why our pop culture is still unrepresentative of the masses.
  2. Heather on 01-24-2013

    Great piece on Feministing that speaks further to my commentary - http://feministing.com/2013/01/23/why-im-not-looking-for-the-missing-black-folks-on-hbos-girls/
  3. Beth on 01-24-2013

    I wholeheartedly agree with this statement , " Females in our society are so conditioned to attempt to fit a paradigm of perfection and are assaulted by an echo chamber of “not good enough” on a regular basis. To see a series put forth the messy parts of being a young adult, unformed and ambivalent, is pretty revolutionary."

    I do admit this is NOT a show for everyone. My husband, for example, finds it uncomfortable to watch and overly dramatic. I have a few girlfriends who think it's a bit too "raunchy."
    However, what it does provide is a FRESH perspective. I was a huge fan of Sex and the City for it's fun, glamour and focus on both romantic and female friendship. But as a 30 year-old woman who has lived and worked in NY I think Girls is tapping into realism regarding the common female plight few if any other shows have.