Lena Dunham Isn’t The Problem, Our Obsession With Body Image Is

lena
Vogue

Unless you’re under a proverbial Wi-Fi inaccessible rock, you’ve no doubt heard that the talk of the web is Lena Dunham, and her Vogue shoot — specifically, that $10,000 was offered to see the unedited photos. Now, every which way you turn people are trying to identify what the problem is here, universally agreeing that this whole ordeal is out of hand. Is it Lena’s for putting herself out there, making spectacle of her naked body in a real, almost raw way, knowing it will be open to criticism and this is part of that package? Vogue’s for editing photos and making commodity of her in art form? Jezebel’s for initiating the internet-wide bashing session and offering thousands to do so? No, actually. No to all of the above. The problem is that this is what we consume. The problem is that this is what we want to talk about. Because who among us is talking about all the things that were said of her in the interview? Not many. And some striking claims were made — she was called the “hardest working millennial in show business.” In fact, the opening lines read as follows:

Through her hapless alter ego Hannah Horvath, Lena Dunham has brilliantly captured the anxieties and ambitions of a generation. Nathan Heller meets the hardest-working millennial in show business.

That’s why she’s on the cover of Vogue. Not because she’s a supermodel. But because without adhering to social conventions of physical idealism (usually a staple on the small screen), she has created a wildly popular show and has put herself on the line to give us a medium that hasn’t yet been conquered. Call it the new “Sex and the City,” but never once did Carrie & Co. bend over to have sex with a real, natural thigh roll in the shot. Lena, by most measures, is a very successful woman, and not because her show is popular, not because she’s young and reveling in achievement that is elusive to 99% of us, but because she does not present us yet another airbrushed, Photoshopped depiction of 20-something life. Say what you want, at the end of the day, she brings a refreshing honesty to the table, and I think that’s what pisses people off most. We are usually only ever angered by the things we can identify at some level as being true. And we are angered by her unapologetic approach to her body, because at some level, we know it’s valid.

But that’s just the thing: we cannot bear to acknowledge a woman’s success without interlacing it with her appearance. As though the latter somehow affects the former. What is a woman, if not the summation of not what she does, but how she looks doing it?

The drive to be instantly critical but hyper-aware of our appearances is almost innate, just for the fact that it’s the first thing we can see, judge, weigh between each other and ourselves. It’s how we delineate who is worth more than who. It’s how we understand ourselves, unfortunately. We gauge our self-worth by how other people validate us. We do things for how they will sound and appear, for how other people will perceive them and then subsequently give us acknowledgment, praise, feedback. Naturally, we’re going to be hyper-critical of anyone who is higher in the ranking than we are, so to say, because we are so obsessed with an individualistically driven culture that we can be happy for other people, as long as they aren’t superseding us.

And at the end of the day, it’s not because any one person is inherently wrong or bad here. We aren’t against Lena, we’re just for ourselves. And you know what feels really, really good? Watching someone be human. It’s why we eat up celebrity gossip and tragedy and drama. It’s why we’re obsessed with Jennifer Lawrence and every other person who makes us feel as though they aren’t above us, but with us.

So we want to call the whole thing ridiculous, but the $10,000 isn’t the problem, Lena isn’t the problem, Jezebel isn’t the problem, Vogue isn’t the problem. We are the problem. This is what we consume, this is what we respond to. I’m responding to it right now. If we want this to end, we have to stop giving it so much attention. Jezebel got those photos because they knew it would damn near break the internet, and as true as that may be, it’s unfortunate, because it just says so much about who we are as a whole. Somebody out there, one of us, took the bait (and the $10,000) and sacrificed Dunham not to the internet, but to ourselves and our own egos. Ultimately, to put it more eloquently than I can:

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The truth is that you can be struggling and still be loved.

You don’t have to solve your whole life tonight. You just have to show up and try. Focus on the most immediate thing in front of you. You’ll figure out the rest along the way.

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