The second season of Girls premiered Sunday, and—what a surprise!—there’s already a media controversy.
No, it’s not last season’s uproar about the show’s lack of diversity—though Lena Dunham winked to that one by opening the episode with her character, Hannah, mounting her new black boyfriend (played by Donald Glover) and proclaiming, “It’s about f*#king time.” No, that whole there’s-no-people-of-color-on-Girls controversy is so last season. This year, it seems, it’s time to properly freak out about Lena Dunham’s body.
Cue feminist icon Howard Stern. The shock jock raised eyebrows for the umpteenth time last week when he compared Dunham’s sex scenes on the show to…rape. Todd Akin, eat your heart out.
”It’s a little fat girl who looks like Jonah Hill and keeps taking her clothes off and it kind of feels like a rape…it’s like I don’t want to see that,” Stern said, adding he was “brave” for watching her. “Good for her. It’s hard for little fat chicks to get anything going.”
But it’s not just Stern who has weighed in on Dunham’s body. In a mostly positive review of the new season New York Post writer Linda Stasi called Dunham a “pathological exhibitionist” while conceding “it’s not every day in the TV world of anorexic actresses with fake boobs that a woman with giant thighs, a sloppy backside and small breasts is compelled to show it all." Stasi added it's a "boon for the out-of-shape and perhaps a giant economic loss for high-end gyms, particularly in Brooklyn."
Taking a break from her day job freeing women from yoga purgatory, Dunham appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman last week and responded to Stern’s comments: "It put me in the best mood! I just want to be like, my gravestone says, ‘She was a little fat chick and she got it going.'"
Dunham’s public confidence is refreshing, though in-depth interviews with the young writer suggest that like most women, her relationship to her body is complicated.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, the actress admitted that some of her exhibitionism “does not come from a place of confidence and is a compulsion. And I’m sure I will be working that out in therapy for the rest of my life.”
Stern is certainly doing his part to help make sure that’s the case, though the radio host did apologize Monday for his comments. "I felt bad because I really do love the show Girls, and enjoy it, and I admire the girl who writes it," Stern said. "It makes me feel bad, and I think she is getting the impression that I somehow think she's just a talentless little fat chick." Where would she get that idea?
It’s no accident that Season 2’s premiere ends with a lingering shot of Hannah’s tattooed and scandalously average rear-end, before she flops on a bed to have sex with her new boyfriend. Part middle finger to those who called her racist and fat, and part exhibition and admission of her many flaws, Dunham is constantly exploring the line between self-abasement and empowerment.
“I’m really trying to understand...to feel some kind of ownership of [my] own body,” Dunham explained in a profile for New York magazine, last year.
“Another part [of doing nude scenes] feels like, not ‘Fuck you,’ but a way of saying, with these bodies, you know: Don’t silence them. I say I’m not a political person, but it’s a political statement in a way,” Dunham said. “I know it’s going to gross some people out. There’s people who don’t want to see bodies like mine or bodies like their own bodies.”
It’s that last point that might get to the heart of why there will always be a controversy around Dunham’s work. Perhaps it’s not that she had no people of color on the show that so many white critics found offensive; it’s that she admitted on television that many so-called progressive, educated, city-dwelling white people are actually so insulated.
And maybe it’s not the cellulite we find terrifying when we look at Dunham’s ass, but the fact that there she is, in TV world, looking just like us.