Generally speaking, when America spends an inordinate amount of time pondering a celebrity body, that body is drum tight and hasn’t been within 10 feet of a carb in months. In the ogle algorithm of our culture, the likes of Hugh Jackman’s pecs, Scarlett Johansson’s hips, and Nicki Minaj’s butt are most apt to emerge at the top of the lists.
But many, many people have paid a whole lot of attention to Lena Dunham’s body. With its baggy curves and asymmetrical proportions, Dunham’s physique has been the subject of endless media analysis — cue phrases such as “pseudo-post-feminism” — and Twitter noise. Conversations about her HBO series, “Girls,” which wraps up its third season on Sunday night, inevitably come down to how readily she removes her clothes and how casually she ignores popular standards of beauty for women.
Rather quickly, the 27-year-old actress and writer has become a provocative figure, and a relatively complex one at that. The questions she inspires aren’t at the level of “Is she on drugs?” — as they are with the likes of Miley Cyrus or Justin Bieber — but rather, “What is hypocritical about our culture?” Dunham has hit us in a tender spot, where we simultaneously celebrate glossy-magazine imagery but grieve the body-shaming of women, where we simultaneously expect women on TV to be likable but dismiss them for being shallow and not as compelling as our male antiheroes.
It’s a potent kind of fame, the way just the idea of Dunham polarizes audiences, many of whom don’t even watch the modestly rated “Girls.” She has reached a level of American love-hate that triggers strong feeling and debate, so that people who don’t like her don’t just ignore her. The frequent — and often funny — Gawker takedowns of her ultimately only affirm her position as a star who resonates with audiences.
Many of the Dunham haters reject her because they find her body offensive. Howard Stern — another polarizing figure — gave voice to some of them, saying, “She keeps taking her clothes off and it kind of feels like rape.” (Dunham called his show and tangled winningly with him. “You’re not obese or anything,” he said by way of apology, to which she responded, “Thank you – another thing for my gravestone.”)
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