Why is Lena Dunham Naked on GIRLS?

LenaDunhamGirlsNude-618x400Why is Lena Dunham constantly naked on HBO’s Girls

Well, not constantly. It just seems like it to some folks. A ruckus broke out last week when The Wrap reporter, Tim Molloy, asked Girls creator, Lena Dunham this question:

I don’t get the purpose of all of the nudity on the show, by you particularly, and I feel like I’m walking into a trap where you go, ‘Nobody complains about the nudity on Game of Thrones,’ but I get why they are doing it. They are doing it to be salacious and, you know, titillate people. And your character is often naked just at random times for no reason.

It’s a question that has stuck in my mind.

Artists say they only do nudity for artistic reasons, not prurient purposes. So why is titillation the only legit rationale for Mr. Molloy?

Ms. Dunham says,

It’s because it’s a realistic expression of what it’s like to be alive.

Alive, and not ashamed of your body, it seems to me.

Lena does not have what’s considered the ideal body type. But her obvious comfort has made me aware of my own discomfort. 

I’ve observed my reaction as I’ve watched her on screen – wondering why she doesn’t cover up more or try to put herself in a more “flattering” light. As she uncovers her body she uncovers my own stubbornly unconscious adherence to beauty myths. Myths I had thought I’d bought out of.

But after years of watching Girls I’ve become more comfortable with both her body and my own.

Shame brings judgment, contempt and rejection. When so many girls’ and women’s self-worth is tied up in their bodies, body shame can leave us feeling deeply flawed.

Living outside of shame Ms. Dunham’s character, “Hannah” gets naked when a woman naturally would in her everyday life: in a bathtub, having sex, changing clothes…

Girls-hbo-lena-dunham-007And here’s why Jill Filipovic at The Guadian and Feministe says it’s all so radical:

Because she challenges the notion of the female body as chiefly ornamental, even in – especially in – sex scenes… Her non-sexual nakedness is a statement so absurdly simple it feels silly to write it down, but yet almost never appears on screen: the skin and the form underneath a woman’s clothes are not primarily for the visual consumption and sexual enjoyment of men.

Such a radical thought that Mr. Malloy couldn’t even imagine it.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on January 22, 2014, in body image, feminism, objectification, psychology, sex and sexuality, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 29 Comments.

  1. I have to admit that initially one of the turn offs of the show for me was because Lena Dunham’s nudity. I shared the same perception as Mr. Mallory. I too, like him felt that it was just at random times and often not appreciated. It’s so harmful and telling when society as a whole, both men and women have been condition into defining a female body or beauty worthy of display if it firm, lean and curved in all the right places. Condemning all other women to a shroud of shame and a lifetime of cover-ups and layers.

    You stated in one of your points that Ms. Dunham’s nudity brought about an inward examination of your discomfort with your own body- I’ve felt the same. Lena’s comfort or at least consistency in showing her nude frame has challenged within me a new level of confidence in my own frame.

    On a separate tangent- have you heard her newly released podcast Woman of the Hour or read her blog Lenny Letter? At this point I don’t consider myself a fan of her show, but I have enjoyed some of the conversations she is having outside of her show.

  2. I have very recently started watching Girls, after years of hearing people talk about it. I find Lena Dunham’s nudity refreshing. There has never been a “regular girl” as a central character on television before, albeit the definition of a regular girl fluctuates. I have never been able to closely identify physically with a woman on television, due to the fact that it is flooded by size two, perfected poised superwomen. Hannah Horvath is awkward and unashamed, despite having a plethora of body image issues of her own. One scene that particularly resonated with me was in the season one finale, where Adam tells Hannah that she is pretty, and interesting, and a good friend, despite her not believing it. I think when young women are overweight, there is a general feeling of unworthiness. Hannah is thirteen pounds overweight (a fact she screams in the middle of an alley), and therefore cannot be pretty, or interesting, or a good friend. Hannah is a complex character, rather than the comic relief character most overweight actors play. In reveling in her nudity, Lena Dunham humanizing one of the most shameful aspects of femininity.

  3. Why is Lena Dunham naked on Girls?

    While I have never seen the show, I have heard the tales of how much nudity is on there, especially from Lena’s character. The article referenced Game of Thrones and all the sexuality/nudity on there as well. It said that most people see that as ok but not for the Girls show. I don’t know if I would necessarily agree with that statement. The nudity on Game of Thrones is in your face and very nasty at times. I guess Lena Dunham is trying to show that she is comfortable in her own body and that she cares but doesn’t in a sense about being naked all the time. “Shame brings judgment, contempt and rejection. When so many girls’ and women’s self-worth is tied up in their bodies, body shame can leave us feeling deeply flawed.” This statement I guess is summing it up about being naked and comfortable with one’s own body.

  4. Natalie Benedict

    I have come across this topic before, mainly on Tumblr (the breeding ground for over-analytical anger), and the thing about Lena Dunham that I find most interesting is that she stirs something in everyone who consumes her art. Obviously there is the hate that comes from putting anything out into the world, but I think some people are also experiencing the same thing I am. Her blatant refusal to be put in societal constraints and her ability to comment on women’s experiences (although through the lens of upper-middle class white women) in such an intelligent and entertaining way gives me a vicarious confidence. Seeing Dunham show her naked body on screen with no shame, no coyness, and no self self-deprecating comment or even posture is so powerful. It is shocking because once you see the show and become a fan, it becomes less and less off-putting. Dunham is brave, but not for showing a less-than-perfect body (according to society, that is) on television. She is brave because she is willing to write something true. She is proud of what she is doing and I believe she is doing what the world needs – which is breaking the sexist tradition of fetishizing the female body and showing a woman as a real person in all she is.

  5. This is the result of how society views the image of a perfect woman. It is very media influenced and it drives the role of women into unreachable standards. If it’s a thing for women to get naked, then why is it that there is only slim and petite women doing all the nudity. It’s because of how society sees sex appeal, that’s what keeps the money going for shows like these. The more demand for women like Lena Dunham to be naked then the more the money. It’s not so much an artistic view of it, but in reality what it pays. The end result is a whole bunch of women feeling insecure about themselves because of their weight and size based on what the media will deem acceptable for a woman…

  6. While girls isn’t always perfect, Lena Dunham has done an amazing job of expressing the realistic emotions of Millennial females. The depictions are raw and reflective. This show has been criticized for lack of ethnic diversity, a white privilege view, and the semi infamous “rape” scene. But here’s the thing about the characters, they are multidimensional, deeply flawed, and exploring their youth in a relatable way. Dunham’s choice to use nudity as part of her character makes Hannah human. Women get naked, it’s a thing, it happens. Women are not all one shape and size, again, it’s a thing, it happens.

  7. I remember the first time I watched Girls, I thought about how courageous Lena Dunham was for her nude scenes. This shows my own biases of women’s bodies and beauty. I haven’t been watching the last few seasons, but I love this analysis of how Dunham deconstructs the male gaze with her nudity. In actuality, Dunham “acts” like a real woman, but we are so unused to seeing a real woman portrayed on the media that men like Malloy are shocked. Great article, Georgia.

  8. I have never watched Girls. But its very sad nowadays in our society, especially, the American society, that showing nudity in public is a bad thing. Especially, when you don’t have the perfect body figure that is ideally in the society of what the media is saying we, as females, should have. And yet, when looking into Europeans, they welcome nudity with open arms. Why can’t we? And i agree with Diana. I walk about half naked at home because I am comfortable within my own skin at times too. I may not have an ideal skinny body like models have but I am who I am.

  9. When I watched this show the first time, I felt weird after I saw that Lena Dunham was naked. I thought, why does she need to be naked on TV? That was maybe because her figure was not the typical girl figure which I usually see on TV. It was uncomfortable for me, because she showed something I am usually trying to hide. Then, after I read this article, I got confused. I did not think about why Mr. Molloy’s question to her was a problem. Then, after I read Lena’s answer, I realized that I’ve been at the mercy of the media that always says the girl should be tall and skinny. I thought I must try to be fit at any time. I thought I must hide if I gain some weight. Now I think I was just trying to follow the media ideals. Maybe many men said what they like, and, I believed that how I should be. I learned that I can be who I am. I should be who I am and I should not be ashamed who I am.

  10. When I first started watching girls. I too was a little uneasy about how much Dunham is naked. It really just felt like she was just being naked to be naked. However, that is how I am around my own home. I like to be naked. Not in a sexual way, just because I’m in my home and comfortable that way. It’s good to see a show that will show women in the same context. As crazy as that show can be, it does make me feel normal about my own life in ways.

  11. I haven’t seen Girls so I can’t really weigh in all that much but I do see the “why is she always naked” comments and it really does kind of baffle me. I spend a LOT of time being naked (while at home) and it is not in some sort of guy fantasy where I’m bending over to pick up a lacy bra it’s just more comfortable to go about without clothes on sometimes and not be holding things in or only standing at flattering angles.

  12. I think Lena does a great job of showing her body without the taint of objectification- and it really is profound to me how minus the latter it can feel jarring to the eyes and really shows how much we’ve been conditioned. I remember once seeing an older woman on TV whose forehead moved up and down the way foreheads in real life do and I remember how my reaction made me realize how unused I am to seeing that.

  13. Hi G 😀
    I can get British SKY satellite TV here in southern Spain and only this week Girls has been advertised as showing soon. I have never seen the series before. I’ll just have to see what mood I’m in 😉 Ralph xox 😀

  14. So, according to Mr. Molly, unless women’s bodies, or men and women’s bodies, are being used for titilation they should be hidden away? I think Lena Dunham is fantastic, maybe if we saw more of a variety of body shapes in the media there wouldn’t be this epidemic body hatred problem with people spending vast amounts of time worrying about achieving a thigh gap. She’s great.

  15. I’ve never watched this show, as I don’t have television in my home. But now I’m tempted to go find some episodes online…

    If what you say is true, that these characters are naked during times when people would normally be, I see no problem with it. Especially if they do so for women AND men on the show. It’s life, we aren’t born with clothes! I personally sleep in the nude, because it truly let’s me leave behind the day…the stress, the clothing, the responsibilities. And while I generally like my body for what it is, it is also not perfect (heck, it’s not even the sex I want!) I suppose that this guy would be upset that I’m willing to accept my body in non-sexual situations.

    Oh well. Too bad for him. 😉

  16. Well she could support that point of view if that show portrayed male nudity for the same exact reason as well.

    Why don’t they also show male nudity “because it’s a realistic expression of what it’s like to be alive.” ?

    • I’m trying to think how often the guys are shown nude. Seems I’ve seen Adam nude a bit. The main characters are girls so for that reason you may see them nude more often. But you may have a point.

      As I think about it, I’ve seen full frontal with Hannah’s dad and an artist Marnie has sex with, as I recall. I’ve also seen a lot of skin (bare butts) with Hannah’s boyfriend and Marty’s ex-boyfriend. But because the main characters are “girls” they and their nudity do get more screen time. Plus, men’s chests don’t count in the same way that women’s do, so there is less to show on guys.

  17. In earlier interviews, Lena Dunham has addressed the fact that she acknowledges that she doesn’t have the “perfect body,” i.e., that idiotic ideal that gets rammed down our throats by impossible societal and media propaganda and destroys the self confidence of young woman everywhere.

    And its obvious she doesn’t give a FUCK.

    She loves her body; its a gorgeous, sexy body, and if a scene warrants nudity, she goes for it. Without all the hazy lighting to make it Playboy-ready. She’s fierce, that one.

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