A recent episode of Girls helped me to notice something that I feel has been in the back of my mind for years. The lead character, Hannah (played by the ever-inspiring Lena Dunham), who openly mentions her weight struggle, wears a string bikini for the majority of the episode. I was watching with my group of girlfriends – all of whom consider themselves forward-thinking feminists and allies – yet each of us made some sort of remark about the bathing suit. A snorting laugh, a quip about the bathing suit, and my own statement of “Oh, wow. What?!”
To be honest, I want to blame my friends and myself for putting that bikini shame on Lena Dunham. It seems a reasonable conclusion; how can we consider ourselves supportive friends and strong women if we automatically make remarks about another woman’s body when she is brave enough to expose herself on? I mean, I barely wear short sleeves out of fear that someone will notice my flabby arms.
What I am coming to realize, however, is that the reason these reactions come to us so quickly is because we’ve never actually seen a slightly overweight girl – or even a normal sized woman – wearing a bikini on television. Things tend to be shocking when you see them for the first time. We are used to seeing bikinis on skinny blondes in the same way we are used to seeing the sun in the sky. I don’t think that anyone would find it strange if we commented on a photo of the sun underwater or a cat wearing a bikini; it’s surprising to see something so familiar presented in a new way. The problem here isn’t that girls are programmed to tear each other down, its that we’ve been brainwashed into thinking that there is a fundamental difference between fat and skinny girls
As the episode continued, the sight of Lena Dunham in the green bikini became less shocking. We began to notice other things about the character – and even forgot that she was wearing a bathing suit at one point. At the end of the episode, my friend Caroline looked at me and said “Wow, that needs to happen more often”.
Caroline couldn’t be more right. Lena Dunham took a huge step by wearing that bikini. She made a point to her viewers that anyone can wear anything – a statement beautifully reminiscent of Samantha Jones of Sex and the City.
So what does this mean for the future? Well, for starters, I think we need to see women of all types wearing what they want to wear on television. It amazed me how accustomed I became to Dunham in the bikini that after only a 30 minute episode.
Imagine the changes that could be made in the minds of young girls if they saw more realistic women on TV feeling beautiful and comfortable in whatever they chose to wear: An anchorwoman choosing not to cover the stomach with an oversized blazer, an overweight actress choosing to wear shorts. This could truly change the way young girls feel about themselves for the better. As a new generation of women, it is our responsibility to encourage change in the way girls are objectified, degraded, and pressured by others and by themselves. Lena Dunham took a brave and beautiful step – but more of us need to take the same stand for our sisters, daughters, and friends.
As for me, I’m wearing a tank top tonight, and no one is going to stop me.