6 Reasons Why Lena Dunham’s Frequent Nudity On Girls Is A Great Thing

Girls10 6 Reasons Why Lena Dunham’s Frequent Nudity On Girls Is A Great Thing

Another season of Girls has kicked off, and with it comes the inevitable series of debates over Lena Dunham’s tits. It’s a subject that will likely continue to incite fierce arguments between those who feel compelled to defend their immediate visceral reaction to seeing Dunham’s body in full view on screen versus those who not only think the former group is a bunch of dicks but also that the conscious choice Dunham makes every time she takes her clothes off in front of a camera is admirable and possibly really, really important and good.

You can see why this isn’t really a debate but a brief exchange between people who are like “Ew,” and those of us who are like “Ok ur dumb.” This isn’t that different from most shifts in cultural thinking, especially in regards to sexuality, where what was once met with “ew” eventually, through often radical exhibitions of pride and sexual self-assertion, is now met with at the very least a “hmm, ok.”

It’s also a topic I hope and expect will continue for as long as Dunham remains relevant (which I also hope/expect will be a very long time), because to her credit, she shows no signs of restraining herself when it comes to this form of expression. I don’t see that as merely a good thing, but indeed a great thing. Here are 6 reasons why that is.

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1) It’s powerfully unashamed

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You may bitch and moan to anyone who will listen about how you think Lena Dunham has a bad ass, but that only makes her more of a badass, and makes you sound like kind of a jackass.

There’s of course the lack of regard for another human being when you make a derisive comment about their appearance. I still don’t understand how some people think this kind of talk is ok. Besides that, there’s also the hypocrisy because let’s face it: you’re not Tommy Tune yourself.

But neither of those are the main issue here. The underlying issue beneath anyone who feels like it’s totally cool to publically declare someone an uggo is that there’s an implication that said “uggo” ought to be ashamed of how they look. Again, there’s history to certain groups of society imposing shame on other groups. The most powerful way to respond to this imposition is the repeated insistence that you won’t be ashamed. This can be expressed through the refusal to compromise on the display of one’s identity. If it’s a woman’s body being shamed, displaying it without shame is a defiant and powerful action—precisely a refusal to recognize the power of someone’s attempt at shaming you into hiding.

So when Lena Dunham plays ping pong in nothing but her underwear, there’s a certain heroism to it, not only because of the fact that people will try to shame her out of it, but also in opposition to the macro level of societal shame that gets imposed on the majority of the population that doesn’t align with the very narrow definition that is show business attractiveness. It’s more subtle than political civil rights arguments, but it still represents the attitude of “I’m here. Deal with it.” That’s way more badass than sitting at a computer spewing impotent disdain.

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2) It forces you to reconsider what TV nudity is meant for

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You may complain that you don’t like looking at Lena Dunham’s nude body, or even that you think her decision to get naked in her TV show is pointless and random. This, again, gets to a larger issue of the purpose of nudity in any form of visual storytelling and expression, and how its audience is meant to react. The oft-cited example of the tits and ass in Game of Thrones is controversial in some circles, but by and large seems to be accepted for its consistency with nudity, particularly as it’s depicted on HBO. It’s meant to be titillating, as they say. It’s supposed to be shocking, usually somewhat gratuitous, flaunting a certain amount of freedom, possibly expositional, but usually with a not-so-secret motive to give pervs something to latch onto, so to speak.

It would appear that many people are confused by Dunham’s nudity because it doesn’t fit into this norm. The vast majority of the nudity in Girls, in fact, is used for shock value, for comedy (which I’ll touch on next), and for a variety of narrative and expressive reasons. With Dunham’s in particular, it’s meant to a certain extent as a statement, and a welcome one, in my opinion. But the expectation that any nudity should serve to get you off is pathetic, entitled bullshit, especially when it’s the female body being shown. How entitled does a person have to be to get angry with TV nudity that doesn’t get their dick hard? The smart action to take after the immediate response of “oh, that’s a naked body I’m not attracted to” would be to seek out the reasons this body could be on display, many of which I’m trying to highlight presently, but could also be found by the common sense realization of the fact that women are people who are sometimes unflatteringly naked, just like their male counterparts, and don’t exist for the purpose of being ogled.

And because that point doesn’t seem to be hitting home for enough people, Hannah Horvath will continue to remind us all of this because she feels like it.

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3) It heightens the show’s realism and its comedy

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Girls and Louie share a lot of commonalities. Both are subtly cutting edge shows that have become critically acclaimed rather quickly, and both rely heavily on the creative control of a singular visionary (with Louis being even more auteurish than Lena). What is perhaps most striking about their similar styles though is their propensity, through comedic sensibility no doubt, to oscillate between realism and expressionism, weaving through moments of pure fantasy and more abstract impression as well as moments that feel like direct, real experiences from our own lives.

Sometimes the nudity in Girls captures intimate moments that happen when we’re not wearing clothes. Other times, it embellishes embarrassing moments that could occur when we’re particularly exposed, capturing the feeling of the moment if not the realistic details.

It’s also meant to be comedically unflattering. Louis is a sad sack who gets trampled on routinely, sometimes berated for his less than ideal physical attributes. Similarly, Lena routinely films herself from angles that pay no compliments to her appearance, even though if you see her outside of the show she’s a perfectly good looking person. But the contempt for her persists. It’d be like if Ricky Gervais’ bathtub photos were met with reactions of “ew, I would never sleep with that guy! Ever!”

Add to that the recent example of Jason Segel (a fellow Judd Apatow collaborator) doing full frontal nudity in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, for comedic effect. I don’t recall hearing this level of outrage and scoffing over that scene, which seems to indicate a pretty strong disparity.

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4) It challenges conceptions of beauty

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There’s the argument that unattractive people ought not to force us to look at their unattractiveness by appearing in their birthday suit in front of our eyes. This is ridiculous for aforementioned reasons, but also because the very notion of what’s “attractive” is so historically and personally subjective that advocating such a restriction is preposterous at best, and nefarious at worst. Images of attractiveness change with just about every generation, are different in just about every culture, and vary from person to person. Ridiculing a TV character’s appearance is not only small-minded and unnecessarily cruel to the subject, but also ignorant and unkind toward anyone who happens to appreciate how the person may look.

It really comes down to taste, and how strongly people want to impose their own taste on others. Having one unattainable look be universally regarded as desirable is good for selling products, but not really how people live their lives, and so someone’s stated taste may not even align with their taste in practice.

There’s also the implicit insistence that a woman’s beauty can only be found in her physical qualities, or that the physical is somehow a manifestation of the internal, in a way that is completely dissonant in relation to assessments of men’s attractiveness. Broadening the definition of what’s beautiful or attractive or doable is as good as any other impulse toward inclusion and open-mindedness.

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5) It speaks to people

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So Lena Dunham’s body may not do anything for you. Different strokes, etc. You may even choose not to be a complete asshole about it, and that’s commendable if we were to truly maintain a low bar on how to be a decent person—you’re not saying douchey things about someone’s appearance, bravo! None of this changes the fact that for a lot of people, her defiant display of comfort in her own body is inspiring, even moving.

I can’t speak specifically to the experience of being a woman, given my male identity, but what I can do and try to do is defer to what seem to be persuasive accounts of the effect Dunham’s sensibilities have had on the state of female depiction in contemporary TV and movies. That means that when there are numerous articles written by women describing the sense of hope, freedom and newfound self-comfort in their physical appearance in the midst of a culture that disproportionately targets and preys upon female looks, I’ll take them at their word, and appreciate the effect Girls has had on countless viewers by proxy, if not completely personally.

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6) It continues to raise stupid but also important questions

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The vast majority of people who express objection to Dunham’s nude scenes seem to realize that they are being ridiculous, and this is good and important to point out, I think. The more they try to rationalize their adverse reaction to seeing her skin, the more they start to trail off, as if they’re aware that there’s no rationality to it, that there’s hardly a defense to be made for their shallow assessment of the show and its depiction of Hannah’s body.

That’s really only one step away from starting to ask poorly phrased and somewhat ignorant yet still curious and earnest questions like the dude from The Wrap asked, which got this topic trending all over again. The progress should be commended, and I’m a little bummed that the guy got reamed out the way he did, even if he acted like an insensitive twat. It should be an indictment of the low bar we have to set for us men to understand women, but he ought to be awarded some points for trying.

The stupid questions need to be asked, and more importantly, the answers need to be closely listened to and carefully considered. I doubt Lena Dunham knows entirely why she feels so compelled to give all of herself to her projects—she has her interview answers and those are illuminating certainly, but there seems to be more to this impulse that she follows, as all talented artists do. And the discussion around that impulse is useful. Like the show itself, the conversation around Girls and Dunham’s nudity may be awkward and uncomfortable, but overall, it is a great thing.

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  • kermitt

    Impressive how sexy and beautiful she is without being hollywood pretty