Now I know we need to take what the media calls “outrage” with a grain of salt, but I had to look into the outrage people are expressing over Lena Dunham’s choice to show her naked body repeatedly in her show Girls. Indeed people are outraged. They are outraged that Lena Dunham is inviting us to see her perfectly normal, not perfect or digitally perfected, woman’s body. They are outraged that she presents her character as someone whom people find beautiful, sexy and desirable seemingly irregardless of her non-Playboy model status. Not only are they not comfortable with this minor depiction of reality in our entertainment, there are some people who are intimating that Ms Dunham doesn’t have a right to show her body in this way. - This makes me outraged.
One of the major voices in this attack on Lena Dunham and her supposed gall in showing her body is the often offensive Howard Stern. OK, he refers to her as “little fat chick” repeatedly, what did we expect from Howard Stern? We have not come a long way, baby, in relation to people feeling like they can critique women’s bodies. But when he links choosing to watch a show that exposes him to Lena Dunham’s body with “rape” because “I don’t want to see that” we all have taken a turn into deeply disturbing and oppressive territory. And sadly, he is not the only voice out there suggesting that Ms Dunham has somehow overstepped her bounds by appearing naked.
Let’s break this down. Assuming a consensual adult setting, are we willing to entertain the idea that only certain people have a right to show their bodies? In what context – in art, entertainment, porn? What about on beaches? Can someone claim to be offended by a fat person in a bathing suit? Do we need to earn the right to show our body by meeting a certain standard? How far do we take this? Does it only apply to celebrities? Are we suggesting that now artists must meet a weight requirement, that directors agree to only use actors who conform to an established standard? Will we institute a new sort of Hayes code that censors body images rather than morally objectionably content? If the majority prefers to see people of a certain body type should we mandate photo-shopping of all public photos? How many people have to decide that Christina Hendricks’ curves are disgusting rather than hot to draw a line? Would Marilyn Monroe’s pregnant body in Some Like It Hot be sell-able nowadays? Do we no longer make any room for diverse representations of the desirable?
Have we really come to place culturally where a normal body is treated as not fit for the public view? Signs point to yes, at least for one vocal group on the internet. And for the many, many women who feel that their own body flaws are cause for shame and exclude them from owning their own version of sexy. This censorship is already happening internally in every inner voice that says, “I can’t be seen in a bathing suit, We need to keep the lights off so my partner doesn’t see my thighs…” In that case, then I guess Lena Dunham is offering us much more than a chance to see her bare her body in the service of story-telling, she is offering us a much needed reality check.