Naked Ambition: Does Lena Dunham's Nudity Liberate or Distract?

HBO Girls NudityI’ve been on board throughout Lena Dunham really sticking it to the man on her HBO show Girls this season; intentionally instigating the naysayers by flaunting her “famous” family, disregarding racial quotas, and bearing her breasts and belly shamelessly. [Season two spoiler alert, don’t read on if you’re not caught up to episode five of season two.]

In episode five, “I Want All The Things” though, I’ve started to take a bit of an issue. It isn’t that she’s nude. Again. It’s the naked ping pong game, the gratuitous sex, the shower.

Dunham’s voracious and incredibly vocal critics panned the episode for its over-the-top fantasy of the awkward chubby girl who stumbles into a two-day tryst with a hot doctor. That’s not inconceivable nor problematic for me. To act as if good looking and successful people only pair up with people who mirror their beauty and status is a very narrow– and incorrect– world view. It also requires us to ignore the pain and loneliness a nearly divorced man could have been suffering when suddenly, an adorably vulnerable young woman appeared on his doorstep and charmed him. In short, catty criticism like that can only have been made by the kind of people who merely watch television rather than indulge in it.

I’m sure Dunham gets sick of the adjective “unconventionally” appearing before “beautiful” in her case, but she is quite lovely, albeit, unconventionally beautiful. She also thoroughly acknowledges and accepts her only slightly above average weight. It’s truly a boon for the portrayal of woman that she embraces her look on and off the screen by showing off her shape. It really says something that people can stomach an odd-looking old bird like Steve Buscemi in his birthday suit (on HBO’s drama Boardwalk Empire), but Dunham is getting put through the ringer for her brazenness. I don’t think she’s stepped over some imaginary boundary, and I’m glad it’s making folks squirm.

That being said, I applauded her not wanting to squeeze in an African American character only to have a “black character” as some placeholder, rather than have a great plot that doesn’t feel contrived only for the sake of it.  But she’s not applying the same integrity to her nudity. It doesn’t feel like it has a point, a message, anymore. More than just flaunting her imperfect features and standing in solidarity with other soft-bodied ladies, it feels like she’s crafting, and now corrupting, story lines to accommodate her nakedness. It doesn’t feel like she’s sticking it to the man anymore– now she’s stuck. Weigh in on the Lena Dunham debate, below. –Casandra Armour

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