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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

BODY IMAGE: What I think about Lena Dunham (and myself) naked.

Image courtesy of Shopping With Girls

BODY IMAGE: What I think about Lena Dunham (and myself) naked.

I'M NOT A BIG TV PERSON. In fact, I'm not really a "little" tv person. The truth is, I barely watch television at all. Despite enjoying a WTF Marc Maron podcast from last spring that writer and director Lena Dunham had appeared on, I really hadn't given any amount of time to the HBO series Girls until my fiancé talked me into watching the pilot episode with him a few weeks ago...and I decided to give it a chance. (For the record, I fully recognize how BEHIND the times I am--both in the spectrum of this series and, well, the modern tv watching world). I actually connected quickly with the show--it reminded me of a hipper, more pared down and relatable Sex In the City.  I liked the quirky characters and though I haven't always approved of their development (major "what the hell" moment when Jessa married the weirdo businessman, and irritation at multiple terrible "fake crying" moments from varying cast members), the show makes me think. About myself. And body image. A lot. Particularly because Hannah, the main character who is based primarily on Lena Dunham herself, is clumsy, a little overweight and naked on screen. All the time. (No judgment, just arbitrary fact).

Recently, we made it to the episode where Lena's character Hannah awkwardly seduces an attractive and much older (not to mention RICH) doctor "Joshua" (played by Patrick Wilson) in his home after a random encounter in the coffee shop she works at. It wasn't my favorite episode--it seemed a little contrived and I had a hard time finding it believable. Critics tore it apart on multiple occassions (as I discovered today in my research) and echoed my thoughts about the storyline and mistmatching of Hannah and Joshua's characters... much of that unwillingness to accept the convention was my own unrealistic viewpoint on physical attraction and body image?

When it comes to unlikely pairs, I've seen it all (and I'm sure you have, too!). In this modern world, we're always shockingly impressed when two people are attracted to eachother without an epicenter of physical perfection and ultimate aesthethic beauty between them--right? "How can she even KISS him? He's not in her league!" or "Have you seen his girlfriend? She's FAT!"

I won't tell you that I think that the episode of Girls I'm referring to was the best written, or that it went down the way I would have preferred. I do know one thing, though, and I'm certain of this: watching Lena Dunham bounce around in a short romper as a somewhat plump and less than ostentatious twenty-something (and seeing her stripped to bare flesh on the regular) made me a little uncomfortable, initially, because of one thing and one thing only: expectations, and projection of my own naked insecurities.

At first, in the HBO series, I convinced myself that I was embarrassed for her nudity and seeming naivete because of how awkward she appeared, but I knew that morally and ethically, I should champion both Hannah's character and Lena Dunham personally, because, well, what she was doing took guts. Major guts. And her figure is that of an everage woman--relatable, normal, and flawed! So, why not show it?

Yet, I found myself mortified for her as she rolled around with her lovers, or ripped her shirt clean off mid-program. I remembered Dunham's expression in WTF with Marc Maron of how frequently people questioned why she had to be "naked so much". I wondered if people would file the same complaints to Heidi Klum or Beyoncé. I couldn't help speculating that the answer would be a resounding "NO!". Standards aside, and no matter what you think of Dunham's body, you certainly can't deny how comfortable she looks in it.

That's when I realized that my discomfort was clearly about my own body.

Hannah playing naked ping pong, Hannah sitting on a counter in short shorts, Hannah walking around in comfortable draw string pants without spanx on or bothering to suck in her tummy, Hannah ripping her clothes off in front of her lovers without reaching for the blankets to conceal love handles, dimples, or fat rolls. Hannah, uncut.

My distress in these things wasn't nearly as diplomatic as I initially contemplated: "You know, she's a cute girl, but that outfit is unflattering!" or "Oh-m-gosh that was bold...but I wouldn't want my body to look like that in the broad daylight. I would be careful to {position, conceal, hide}."

What I'm bringing to light here isn't a complete death sentence in terms of positive body image (though my journey has definitely been about the process and not the product, and I'm far from finished). It is, however, a full admission of my innermost thoughts (and not the dialogue I'd normally put OUT there that sounds more like, "It's great that non-traditional women are writing and producing realistic love scenes with average bodies!"). That's right--I'm talking about what my BRAIN is saying to me...that internal dialogue that no one else can hear...the one that says, "Judge her body, and hers, too!"

Trying to quiet this voice and lead her to a place of healing has been a huge part of my journey in accepting my body (and subsequently, others!). Therefore, it is my challenge to you to ask yourself: can you honestly say that your viewpoints of other women (and their bodies) aren't a manifestation of your own insecurities? If the answer is yes (and I'm skeptical that anyone would be able to claim otherwise), what can you do to change that?

How can you use the image of Lena Dunham, comfortably playing ping-pong naked in all of her soft, common glory to become more content with your own, stripped down self? 

I have a mind to believe that exposure therapy is a good place to start, and for that reason (no matter how I feel about the storylines or character development), I'll be glad to embrace Lena's nakedness on screen with an increasingly fresh perspective. Can I find that same peace, in my most vulnerable and pared down moments?

The answer is in the future, so you'll have to tune in. (And you don't even need to turn on the tv.)

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