I reached my peak of discomfort over Lena Dunham’s naked body in a recent episode of Girls. Dunham’s frequent showcasing of her nude figure along with campaigns like the Barney’s transgender persons spread and the Diesel ads featuring a wheelchair-bound editor force consumers to think about different populations of people and social issues.
On the getaway Marnie plans for the foursome of friends, Dunham’s character Hannah flaunts her form in a skimpy green bikini. After a group mocks her body in the swimsuit, she dances with abandon to a ratchet rap song later that day.
Whenever I see Dove Real Beauty campaign ads featuring women of all shapes and sizes, I feel the same lack of ease. But why don’t I become shaken over ads featuring unrealistically airbrushed models for high-end designers?
When the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition landed on my doorstep, I glanced at a few pages. While the women featured there are lauded for being curvier than your average model, their shapely brand of slim is just as unrelatable for many as the models stalking couture runways. I appreciate all bodies as art including those in the swimsuit edition, but sometimes consumers need to be exposed to other human forms.
Because I am so accustomed to seeing people who are manipulated to appear flawless, these displays make me pause and review not only the art – the plot, with Dunham, or the clothes, with Barney’s – but also the person behind the feature.
Diesel’s ad featuring a model with spastic muscular dystrophy brings awareness to an illness and shows how a range of people can wear their brand of clothes to express themselves. Barney’s spread of trans people, some of color, makes me think about the emerging voice of an oppressed community and see high-end fashion as valuable for a wider range of individuals. We become more thoughtful consumers every time we’re exposed to ads like these.
Our collective discomfort each time Dunham sheds a layer is a sign of progress, that one day a body like hers will be a regularity and not an anomaly in mainstream features. There is no singular, ideal way to physically represent our best selves, no need to aspire to an unachievable form to be considered worth being displayed on television or in fashion spreads.
There will always be a place for beautiful, thin people on our screens and pages. Sometimes we just want to be entertained and look at pretty people. But there’s plenty of space for the average and underrepresented in the products we consume and art that we view, to make us think further about the human condition and critical issues that affect all of us.