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Opinion: Lena Dunham’s nudity frazzles some, empowers others

January 12, 2014

seamon.17@osu.edu
Jenni Konner (left), Jemima Kirke, Lena Dunham and Allison Williams attend the premiere of ‘Girls’ Season 3, held at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City Jan. 6.  Credit: Courtesy of MCT

Jenni Konner (left), Jemima Kirke, Lena Dunham and Allison Williams attend the premiere of ‘Girls’ Season 3, held at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City Jan. 6.
Credit: Courtesy of MCT

Perhaps Venus has been rebirthed or Olympia has been recalled from her bed, but the topic of female nudity is making a comeback centuries after Botticelli and Manet trended it.

Sunday marked the beginning of the third season of HBO’s post-recession “Sex and the City”-esque show, “Girls,” and the media has been working endless hours to revisit the question and function of Lena Dunham, the show’s writer, producer and creator, as well as star, exposing her bare body on television more than once and longer than two seconds per take.

One brave reporter dared to ask Dunham why the show’s characters were constantly naked during a panel at the Television Critics Association winter press tour.

“I don’t get the purpose of the nudity on the show, by you (Dunham) particularly and I feel like I’m walking into a trap where you go, ‘Nobody complains about the nudity on “Game of Thrones,” but I get why they are doing it,’” said Tim Molloy, a writer for The Wrap. “They (‘Game of Thrones’) are doing it to be salacious and, you know, titillate people. And your character is often naked just at random times for no reason.”

It’s important to identify a discrepancy in Molloy’s posed question, claiming Dunham’s character is often naked for no reason.

BuzzFeed writer Louis Peitzman took inventory of all the nudity scenes among the last two seasons of “Girls.” His findings reported that among the 3 percent of the time characters of the show were au naturale, 74 percent of the time, the character was female, and 64 percent of the time it was, in fact, Dunham’s character.

However, the cause for the nakedness were reasons in which women in everyday life choose to be naked. Almost 50 percent of the time, “Girls’” nudity was in the context of sexual activity, while another roughly 11 percent was in the context of bathing, peeing or going to bed.

Now that the first part of Molloy’s question is nearly debunked, it’s best to examine the true nature of his inquiry.

Molloy understands the nudity of HBO’s other hit show, “Game of Thrones.” It’s salacious. It’s titillating.

Translation: He does not find Dunham’s body salacious or titillating.

I have been a huge fan of “Girls” from the beginning. While the whininess of the show’s four privileged, 20-something women living in New York City way beyond their means thanks to the generosity of mommy and daddy put off many, I identify with all four characters in many ways. But for my short haircut to a love of writing, Hannah is my girl in “Girls,” and Dunham’s fearlessness in exposing her body on TV has allowed a sort of release in the burden of my own self-image over the last two years.

It’s easy for me to be offended by Molloy’s question, and it’s extremely simple to call his comments “ignorant” or “perverted.” I could even take it upon myself to deem Molloy a word that rhymed with “prick” or “swoosh tag.”

Instead, I believe it is more effective to explain the importance of Dunham’s body to a 20-year-old young woman who witnessed the scale reach 162.2 pounds this morning, can’t always find her bra size at Victoria’s Secret and had to settle for size 14 jeans over winter break.

As females, society often expects us to aspire to marry, to seduce men and compete with our fellow women not by intelligence or ambition, but by the appearance we are granted without request the day we were born. Women’s biggest assets are sometimes considered to be the first syllable of that word, while others lie closer to our chin, and if what lies between the two isn’t smooth and toned yet just curvy enough, it’s a problem.

I lost possession of my own body upon entrance in junior high. It no longer became something I owned proudly, but released into the property of slim celebrities and the eye of man. If every boy in class did not have a crush on me and every girl in the hallway wasn’t jealous, I still had work to do.

Hannah’s figure represents when biology takes repossession of the female form, when the body must prepare for children and the like. Women have two choices at this stage: Either fight Mother Nature and become miserable, or stay healthy and accept the skin you are in.

Of course, Dunham does not write Hannah to be this beacon of self-acceptance, as one of the more famous scenes of the show thus far features Hannah explaining to her boyfriend, Adam, the source for her tattoos.

“Honestly … I felt very out of control of my body. (It was a way of) taking control of my own shape,” Hannah said.

Dunham’s display of her body on “Girls” represents an uninhibited, unapologetic acceptance of her figure, among a time where the media overcompensates to make women of all shapes and sizes feel female.

She does not address it as a point of pride or shame in interviews, nor does she find herself revolutionary for not being superstar hottie Gisele Bündchen and showing skin in a public setting. Her body is a woman’s body, not a “full-figured” woman’s body.

And if you don’t find Dunham titillating, “Game of Thrones” premieres April 6 on HBO.


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Comments (4)

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  1. Anony (mini) Mouse says:

    Here’s my issue with this defense. You attack Molloy for asking an offensive question, but if the character is walking around naked without context or an explanation, what is the point? Why does empowerment have to come from the display of a nude body? And why was his question offensive? Is it because you feel that because her display is empowering that anyone questioning her decision is being offensive? I think the issue here is that a man asked a question of something a woman does and the people working on the show decided to become offended by the question (which I think is a bizarre response) because they don’t like anyone questioning their decisions. Firstly, I think it’s a bit inappropriate and unfair to say that he does not find her body salacious or titillating, because he wants to know why she does something. And instead of actually ANSWERING the question, he was told repeatedly that his question was offensive and that he would realize why once he re-read it. I read his response to this whole kerfluffle and he did not, in fact, see anything wrong with the question. I do find it problematic that there is nudity with no context. If you are naked just to be naked, what is the point? Is it to show that people are naked sometimes? Is it because the creator of the show is “brave” enough to take off her clothes? If it is the latter, that’s a little weak. A person can show how liberated they are without disrobing at random.
    I do find this need to see a naked body as liberating a little puzzling, but I think the reaction to Molloy’s question is far more unsettling. Their reactions indicate that it is not okay to question a person’s creative choices. It means that it is not safe anymore to query about something that someone either doesn’t like or is genuinely concerned about because the person to whom the question is targeted is going to take offense to the question at hand. I just want an answer (as did Molloy), and it seems that, yet again, that answer will not be forthcoming. I think this turned into much ado about nothing, and it’s not going to get me to watch the show. Instead, it makes me question the show’s motives and I am less inclined to watch because I think that the reactions from the show’s creators seemed cagey.
    And, by the way, Molloy’s comment about the person often being naked for no reason was not debunked. If roughly 50% of the time was sexually related and 11% was in the process of doing things that people do naked, that leaves approximately 39 to 40% of the nudity without explanation. And I would argue that this can be construed as “often”. Some may argue semantics and say that it is occasionally or sometimes, but it does not answer the question. Maybe people should spend their time answering questions instead of trying to defend their reaction to something that really wasn’t as offensive as people wanted it to be. It would also be a good idea to get Molloy’s side of the story instead of jumping all over his question as being offensive based on the creator’s reaction to it.

  2. Braxton's Towel Boy says:

    This is no surprise. This Dunham girl grew up in NYC with ultra liberal, artsy-fartsy parents – she was brainwashed into this “I am woman, hear me roar” crap from the time she came out of the womb. She never had a chance. This is what a lot of extreme leftists do – they shove things down your throat for no other reason than to say they did/can. Same mentality of the gay pride parades with dudes in leather chaps making out with each other. Gaining “acceptance” is by Chinese water torture.

  3. Alli Cadle says:

    I think Molloy’s question might have been fair if the Game of Thrones comment hadn’t seemed to hint at Dunham/Horvath’s un-“titillating” appearance. Dunham explained Hannah’s nudity as “a realistic expression of what it is like to be alive”. And while not all of the nudity is explained away in percentages, I think the rest is probably founded in the comedic nature of the show, and the nature of Hannah’s character. The nudity is not without context. Another part of the issue,beyond the alleged subtext of Molloy’s question, is that Hannah’s nudity has repeatedly been called into question since the show aired. The pre-occupation with this is more than a little frustrating. Audiences are familiar with nude women seen on screen in a “salacious” manner. Why is that so much easier to accept than Girls, which attempts nudity in a realistic way, with more realistic-looking women? A naked, conventionally attractive television character is rarely put to the question: “What is the point?”. Why is it more difficult to accept a more realistic looking woman, in more realistic, nude situations?
    The fact that viewers see Hannah’s naked body as “brave” shows just how little the average real world woman is seen and especially accepted. Which makes me realize how important it is. When women feel like their bodies are in control of others, seeing Hannah Horvath take control of hers, no matter how she matches up to whatever “expectations”, gives real girls and real WOMEN real ways of being brave, or of being themselves without needing to be brave.
    In some ways, Dunhams’ response: “If you’re not into me, that’s your problem” is a great attitude for generations of women that have grown up thinking that it is their problem.
    So forget the nudity question, the one that hints about the value of a supposedly “less attractive” form, and ask some real questions, and add real criticism, as ‘Girls’ is a show that in many other ways, deserves some.

  4. Ben Engelbrecht says:

    Kee[ it up girls!!!

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