I love Lena Dunham and I love her show Girls.
No, it isn’t perfect, but it does provide one of the most honest portrayals of young, twenty-something females that I have seen to date. Dunham, the 26-year-old rising star who recently bagged her first two Golden Globes, writes, directs, and stars in the HBO hit that has returned for its second season.
Clearly, girl’s got talent!
The show has received criticism for its lack of diversity, and for catering to a very specific socioeconomic subset of post collegiate young women, but I think the conversation needs to focus on what it’s doing right.
1. Girls Gets Naked. Yes, you read it right. Lena Dunham gets naked a lot and her body is not tiny or taut.
One of my favorite scenes is in the premiere episode where Dunham’s character, Hannah, enjoys a cupcake in the bath while conversing with her best friend, Marnie, in their shared Brooklyn residence.
Not only did I love that this completely upended and reframed a traditional fantasy trope, but the level of emotional and actual physical vulnerability in this scene is unreal and so nontraditional.
Are there weight comments made throughout the season? Yes. Does Hannah convey her own insecurities about her body? Yes. From a young age we are culturally courted to feel ashamed of our bodies. It’s a common female experience.
This subject matter exists without allowing it to ever dominate a plotline or define her character, making a point of saying that she has more important things to do than focus on losing weight. Her exhibitionism challenges the idea that only bodies fitting the thin ideal should be represented on screen. Dunham has personally defended her figure in the media, dresses as she pleases, and owns her body.
2. Girls Gets Real. This is the show so many have been waiting for — the unflinching, relatable depiction of young women facing the discomfort and uncertainty of womanhood. It often dares the viewer to look away. It conveys deep humanism and vulnerability with honesty and emotional intelligence.
In an episode called “Hannah’s Diary,” Hannah confronts her pseudo-boyfriend Adam about the tenuous nature of their relationship, “I just want someone who wants to hang out all the time, thinks I’m the best person in the world, and wants to have sex with only me.”
It delivers the lines we’ve thought, but never had articulated, and it mirrors back and validates the profound self-doubt so many feel as they struggle to define who they are.
3. Girls Gets Sex. Get ready for painfully awkward sex scenes between characters. But while sexually explicit in nature, they deliver an undiluted reality of what it looks like to be clumsy in the bedroom, to finding your voice in physical intimacy, and learning to define desire.
It’s great to see something other than the frustratingly unrealistic, sensually sheathed sexual encounters that abound in mainstream media. These encounters hit closer to home. So many of the mid-day rendezvous between Adam and Hannah give a genuine peek at two partners sexually experimenting to find (or not find) mutual gratification. Real bodies being imperfect in bed on a regular basis feels very revolutionary to me.
4. Girls Gets Girlfriends. The female friendships on Girls are especially groundbreaking. They portray the fiercely loyal, emotionally complex, platonic love between women.
The plot does not assume that female friendships are subordinate to that of a romantic love interest, and the dialogue never shies away from meaningful confrontations that range from tumultuous to tender.
There are no elements of competition. The girls are playing on the same team and there is raw honesty and profundity in their communication, and an alarmingly accurate portrait of what real intimate connections between women look and feel like.
5. Girls is About So Much More Than Just Girls. I know a lot of men who enjoy this show for its authenticity and wit. The show is about so many things beyond the twenty-something female psyche. It’s about the complexity of human relationships and personal desire. It’s about adulthood, identity, and boundaries. It’s a meditation on privilege, entitlement, sexuality, and self-awareness. Oh, and it’s also smart and funny!
Females in our society are so conditioned to attempt to fit a paradigm of perfection and are assaulted by an echo chamber of “not good enough” on a regular basis. To see a series put forth the messy parts of being a young adult, unformed and ambivalent, is pretty revolutionary. To have its lead star publicly and unapologetically defy the Hollywood standard of beauty is radical.
Yes, the show is problematic in that it lacks in overall diversity and does cater to a very specific generation and class of young women. It’s far from perfect, but lessons on imperfection and owning where you are at seems to be what Girls is all about.
Heather spends her days working in the corporate business world, and can be found sharing her own experience, insights, and pop culture commentary at www.msmettle.com.