Body image and the naked woman
Nudity and Lena Dunham seem to go hand in hand. The star of HBO’s Girls has a tendency to appear naked on screen at least once an episode, either during sex, while she sits in the bathtub, or in the latest episode that aired Feb. 10, playing ping-pong with a 42-year-old doctor.
The series has sparked many critics of the show and its actor/writer/director to speak out on their issue with Dunham’s persistent nudity playing the character Hannah Horvath.
But, is nudity really the issue, or the image that Dunham’s body evokes?
Obviously society is not repulsed by nudity, or even by sex on television (was there as much of a stir when Kim Cattrall let the clothes drop almost every episode of Sex & the City?), but by the body politics that surround Dunham’s bare image.
“Interestingly, the gorgeous Marnie is the one who is now totally unlucky in love,” wrote Linda Stasi of the New York Post. “Sometimes it just doesn’t pay to be smart, breathtakingly beautiful, nice and kind. Not when there are blobbies who are willing to take their clothes off in public constantly — even when they aren’t in character.”
Blobbies. Yes, you read correctly, blobbies. Stasi claims to have issue with Dunham’s “pathological exhibitionism,” but in reality, the writer, like many other critics, seems less concerned with the 26-year-old actor’s lack of clothed modesty, and more with her “giant thighs, a sloppy backside and small breasts.”
Howard Stern, on the other hand, has a different opinion on Dunham’s nude appearances.
“Good for her. It’s hard for little fat chicks to get anything going,” the radio host said on air Jan. 7. Stern also said Dunham looks like Jonah Hill, but Dunham managed to laugh it all off with David Letterman on the on the Late Show.
Time and time again, we hear shocking stories of how young, healthy, beautiful girls are unhappy with their bodies because of the very particular images of femininity that are presented in the media. We know that most of what we see on magazine covers or in television shows or movies are women who not only are of a particular body type, but who have also been photo-shopped to death, right?
Yet, in Girls we are presented with a female form that is more “real” or “honest,” and critics find it utterly impossible that this girl can be comfortable in her skin as well as have a two-day fling with a hot divorcee.
“Basically, nobody thought that it was remotely plausible that a successful doctor who looked like Patrick Wilson would be into a girl who looked like Lena Dunham,” wrote Jezebel‘s Tracie Egan Morrissey.
Why would Dunham’s appearance make her any less likely to have Wilson “be into” her? Are we so incredibly conditioned to believe that only certain physical measurements such as a 34-24-34 figure or big lips and eyes allow women into the realms of attractiveness, or, more importantly, is there this ingrained sense in our minds that if women are outside of these constructed conventions of beauty, that they also aren’t privy to sex, love, and happiness? With her persistent nudity in the show, Dunham has successfully prompted such necessary questions.
“It’s been interesting seeing the diverse reactions to the show, because it speaks so closely to our country’s relation with the woman’s body,” Dunham told BuzzFeed.
But Dunham obviously wasn’t the first “real” woman to bare all, and do so strategically. People all over are raising awareness of the problematic conceptualizations of beauty and the female form, such as the Body Image Exposé the U of G Wellness Centre held Feb. 5. As well, The Nu Project (link NSFW) is an ongoing and collective art project by the photographer Mark Blum and wife Katy that sets out to display the naked female form, with no frills, prepping, or makeup. The couple goes to the participants’ homes and photograph the “un-models” who come from different backgrounds, and are of all shapes and sizes.
“While I understand there is a lot of pressure on men to look a certain way, I believe that women are judged more harshly by appearance, and that’s why I’ve focused this project on women,” said Blum on the website. To date, over 150 women from North and South America have participated in the Nu Project, which itself is based in Minneapolis. You must be 21 to participate, but even some elderly women have thrown off their garments to support this great cause.
By putting out images of the true, naked female body, artists such as the Blums and Dunham are slowly shifting viewers’ perceptions on what is real and acceptable for a woman to look like.
“The aghast controversy evoked by Dunham’s nudity shows us just how much of this ‘real women’ talk is lip service, and how very far we have to go before we can socially deal with the fact that different bodies exist,” said Lesley on xojane.com. “Truth is, we’d all probably be a lot less neurotic about our own bodies if we could get used to seeing and accepting the natural variety in other people’s – without shame, and giving no fucks.”
The University of Guelph's Independent Student Newspaper
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