So, I watched a marathon of Girls season three this weekend. Previously I saw a bit of season two, but this was my first real encounter with this much-discussed show. It was also my first encounter with the most talked about topic of the show: Lena Dunham’s liberal exposure of her naked, very normal, “non-Hollywood” physique.
I put the terms Lena Dunham’s nudity in quotation marks on Google and got 76,000 results. And if you take out the quotations, boy are you left with a lot of people jabbering about her naked body. I did find it interesting how she throws her character into toplessness at times when it isn’t needed for the events of the scene. Yet I read somewhere that she does it because in life, people are just naked sometimes and she wants her show to be a slice of life. Ok, I guess I buy that.
This got me thinking. Maybe the general discomfort that many feel towards Lena Dunham’s “normal” body reflects a discomfort that we as a nation have towards our own “real” bodies. I watched the Chilean film Gloria some months ago and it portrayed scenes of an older couple falling in love. Their love story included scenes of them having sex and nudity. I’ll be honest; I was a bit shocked to see a sex scene that included flabby skin and a little extra huffing and puffing. That isn’t anything I’ve ever seen in a Hollywood film. Don’t other countries say that Americans are uptight about nudity?
In the United States a sex scene includes two ripped, glistening bodies contorted as the couple mutually climaxes to a screaming, exemplary orgasm. In this country, when we see a naked body we see it airbrushed, in perfect lighting from the perfect angle and after the actor or actress has paid a personal trainer thousands of dollars to whip them into the shape they need to be in to go naked. No, famous people don’t let the world see them in their “regular shape” (which quite frankly, for most of us would seem pretty awesome). Our celebrities have to get themselves to a place of molded perfection.
The body is supposed to have curves, right? I mean, even if a person is a healthy weight, isn’t there still some curve in the natural body? Lena Dunham’s physique would have been considered ideal some generations ago. Take a trip to your local museum and you are likely to find a painting of a beautiful voluptuous woman. Throughout much of history, people would have judged her curves as a sign of fertility and wealth.
What percentage of us has difficulty looking at ourselves naked in the mirror? Show of hands? Do you see my hand in the air? Because that isn’t my favorite pastime. So maybe Lena Dunham’s body represents something much deeper in the general population. Because, quite frankly, Lena Dunham looks much more like the rest of us than any glistening celebrity body shot from the perfect angle. Maybe people have trouble looking at her, because people feel uncomfortable with themselves.
Lena Dunham’s naked body taught me that, as a country, we need to start to embrace the way we look naked. I mean, the way we really look when we are naked. If we can’t look at a reflection of a real body on television, how will we ever be able to make peace with ourselves? As a food and weight loss coach, I haven’t forgotten the importance of being healthy. And the healthy body for most people includes at least some curve. Yet we can’t be healthy, no matter what size we are, if we can’t make peace with what we are at our core.
So I guess watching a marathon of Girls wasn’t such a mindless experience. And I’m sure as long as there is lots of nudity in the show, people will keep talking. Society’s view of the ideal body changes as generations change. We can blame Hollywood, but at the end of the day, we are the ones buying the tickets. As individuals, we get to decide for ourselves what is normal and what is beautiful.
So what do you choose as your model of beauty?
I think your assessment is probably spot on Erica. But as we are the ones buying the tickets then maybe we need to be better at separating reality and make believe. Sure, I would rather see a couple of sculpted bodies contorting on the screen than Ma and Pa Kettle and I can do that because I am paying for my ticket. Nudity and beauty are two different things. One is something we can all do while the other…it’s the opinion of who’s looking. Hollywood is fully aware of what the majority are comfortable with.
Hi Tim. Yes, very good point! I do wonder what it is about certain countries that makes them more open to nudity from normal looking people than other countries. Needless to say, the audience always dictates the direction that Hollywood goes.
Paul Graham says
Hi Erica, I suppose its entirely a matter of what the producers see a market for and what the public wants to see. The very fact its being discussed suggests that film generally leans in the other direction. Personally if its important to developing the plot or our perception of the character it makes no difference to me and I watch enough European film that I probably wouldn’t have remarked on the difference until you raised it. Model of beauty … it evolves through time, always has, always will .
Hi Paul. I agree! The thing that interests me about this actress and this show is that it is such a big hit, so obviously, on some level, this is something that the audience wants to see, or at the very least is willing to accept. I am interested to see how the model of beauty will change over my lifetime.
maxwell ivey says
hi erica; i’v never heard of the show or the actress. as a blind person nudity on tv doesn’t do a lot for me. 🙂 this might b why my idea of a beautiful woman is more in the line with words like voluptuous, rubenesque, or a great yittish word zobtic. 😉 Louise Hey, a leader in the field of personal development, uses several mirror exercises to help build self astiem. I look forward to more thought provoking posts from you. thanks, max
Hi Max. Yes, I imagine that you have a very different standard of beauty. I imagine a unique opportunity that you get is that you get to judge things based on your own standards and not somebody else’s.
Heidi Lane says
I recently read an article about how men in Hollywood are having just as hard of a time with their body image as women because they are expected to be in superhero shape. Some have reported resorting to steroids in order to get the physique that’s required of them. I think the fact that we are so used to seeing perfect bodies on TV and movies makes it hard for us to accept it when someone with a less than perfect body sheds some skin. This doesn’t bode well for us “normal” people and being able to accept our own bodies.
I think you are right Heidi. As women, it is easy to overlook the pressure that men are under. Most men don’t have hours to spend in the gym everyday to look like Hollywood stars. The other factor is stars are under tremendous pressure. I totally love that a few stars have come forward with their airbrushed pictures to show that we we are seeing is often not reality.
JACQUELINE GUM says
I’ve been watching “Girls” since it first aired. It’s not that I love it, but I’m fascinated at the depth of the self-absorption by all the characters! Sort of like watching a train wreck:) Lena’s nakedness is but one symptom of that. Regardless of anyone’s perceived ‘beauty’ of any naked body, I think Lena over does a little just to make her point about the normal body, when her bare breasts have nothing to do with the plot or dialogue at the moment. I’m not offended in the least…again, I think it highlights the self-absorption of the character.
Yes Jacqueline, those girl are impressively self-absorbed. At first I hated the show. Then I heard Lena Dunham talk about the characters and somehow her talking about her characters’ flaws made me accept the characters more. Somehow knowing the characters were meant to be “shallow” or “annoying” made me like them more. I never thought of her nudity as being a symptom of her character’s self-absorption but that is a good, valid point.
Hi Erica – I am a baby boomer and most of us tend to shy away from nude scenes in movies and on TV. I know for myself I’m just not comfortable with it which probably makes me a prude but so be it. I know that in the last number of years things have opened up a lot in this regard – whether that’s good or bad still remains to be seen.
Hi Lenie. Well, we all know our own comfort zone and it is never wrong to respect that. I would imagine that our view of nudity will change in time just as it has changed in the last number of years. I do look forward to the day when emaciated is not the standard for beauty. I feel we are getting closer to that, but still have a ways to go.
Christine @thetraveloguer says
I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on this Erica. I am a fan of Girls and I think that what Lena is doing is very important. So many people find her nudity offensive because it challenges their perceptions of what nudity should be.
The first time I saw her naked I was fascinated and also in awe. It was so abnormal to see a body that wasn’t perfect, and I think that makes a lot of people really uncomfortable, and even cruel. You can see that there are so many people out there who actually hate her and say she is disgusting etc. , but I think it is because she makes them uncomfortable by challenging the Hollywood norm.
It is true that she is naked a lot, but it is also true that we as humans are often naked, and television and films only tend to show nudity when it is in a sexual scene. So for her to be naked on screen so often is actually a realistic portrayal of being normal, and in doing so she highlights how ridiculous the television and movie industry is, and how we are so used to it that when we see someone who isn’t perfect and who isn’t paired with an equally perfect male in a ridiculous sex scene, it makes us uncomfortable, and makes the internet blow up.
I think what she is doing is invaluable to young girls too. All girls feel self-conscious and compare themselves to celebrities, so to have such a normal woman on television is a positive thing for body image of vulnerable teenage girls.
I think you are right Christine. I am sure it is really helpful for young girls to see a role model who is confident enough to show her body with curves. I remember when I was heavier as a kid that it was really difficult to compare myself to these skinny bodies I saw on television and in magazines. She is definitely a strong role model for young girls. I volunteered recently at a girl empowerment day for teenage girls and was amazed at what a big percentage of them had eating disorders. Anything that sends a positive body message to this vulnerable segment of the population is much needed.
Mina Joshi says
I haven’t watched the Girls. Not sure if it’s shown in UK. Plus having a Sports mad son probably stops me from flicking the television channels.
Pat Amsden says
I don’t watch Girls bur I think you’re right. Are standards of how human bodies should look onscreen is drastically different from the average body, male or female. As a writer, particularly when it’s romance I see writers posting numerous male body pics that would put the Roman gods of old to shame. It’s eye candy and I haven’t met a romance writer yet who really expects most men, or woman, to have cover girl looks. Dove does a wonderful campaign on real beauty but I think when most people pick up a novel with a hero and heroine on the front they know they’re buying fantasy. I also think they’re much less likely to buy a book with a middle aged plumber .on the front, but crack exposed.
RoseMary Griffith says
How did I miss this incredible post, Erica? “Lena Dunham’s naked body taught me that, as a country, we need to start to embrace the way we look naked.”
I love that and you are spot on. This distortion of reality regularly portrayed by Hollywood is why I watch so much British, Australian, and NZ Television. Their actors are much more human in their lovely flaws than anything we see here.
Never heard of Girls, but love what you got from it!