Girls' Nudity Isn't Just About Body Image       

What Women Really Think
March 20 2013 3:52 PM

Girls' Nudity Isn't Just About Body Image      

Lena Dunham is not required to have body image issues to satisfy you

Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

In her review of the season finale of Girls, New York Times television critic Alessandra Stanley spends four whole paragraphs talking about Lena Dunham and body image before getting to the actual substance of the episode.

"For once Lena Dunham’s unflinching, even defiant flaunting of physical imperfection was not on full display," Stanley wrote. "This HBO series, created by Ms. Dunham, became a sensation almost overnight, mostly because it was such a refreshing breath of realism ... Unlike her friends Hannah doesn’t even have good looks or a flattering wardrobe; Ms. Dunham kept finding new ways to rub it in and make a virtue of it ... Many took it as a cause: A television heroine can be frumpy and overweight and still have love affairs and lots of drama."


But is it realism to assume that every time a woman takes off her clothes, her primary concern is the aesthetics of her body (even if that's all Stanley can think of when she sees Dunham nude?) Maybe Hannah feels anxious about her body in relationship to Marnie's or Jessa's. But she and her friends eat the same frozen yogurt on park benches, suffer through the same cooking at their dinner parties, and make the same rounds of meals with their parents.

That's not to say Hannah has no anxieties. (In the first season, for instance, she worried over the state of her stomach, to which Adam responded by demanding that she gather his nonexistent stomach fat.) But she also seems to enjoy her body plenty, and to do lots with it other than stare at it critically in a mirror. She has happy sex with Sandy and with Joshua, she takes a lot of cocaine and dances like a madwoman, and she plays around with goth outfits and '50s swing dresses and rompers. While Hannah's body may cause reactions in viewers, the shape and size of it are far from her only concern as she tries to make a living as a writer, or her only source of trouble in relationships, which are also marked by communications problems and Hannah's own self-absorption.

What makes Girls entertaining is not that it argues that fat girls can have it all, but that Hannah Horvath—quite rightly—doesn’t see herself as a fat girl. Thinking she should have body image issues says a great deal more about a viewer than it does about Hannah herself, or about any argument Lena Dunham is trying to make.

Alyssa Rosenberg writes about culture and television for Slate’s “XX Factor” blog. She also contributes to ThinkProgress and


Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.


Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.