Ever since Lena Dunham’s hit HBO show Girls aired in 2012, the creator and star has been praised (and criticized) for candidly showing her naked body on the show. Whether you love or hate Dunham, you can’t deny how groundbreaking it is to see the normal body of the 27-year-old unabashedly displayed on television.
When Vogue announced that she would be the star of their February cover, fans rejoiced that the fashion magazine was featuring someone who isn’t a size two. Famed photographer Annie Leibovitz shot the spread, with Girls costar Adam Driver in some of the photos. Dunham was styled in a way that felt true to her personality — her clothes were both playful and slightly eccentric, including one outfit accessorized with a pigeon on her head. However, not everyone was happy with her photos.
After Vogue released the entirety of the spread, feminist website Jezebel voiced its disapproval of the photoshopped images by offering $10K for the unretouched images of Dunham. Naturally, the bounty added to the controversy, sparking debate in the comment section of the Jezebel post and on Twitter.
Eventually, Jezebel did get their hands on the un-retouched photos, and promptly posted them in contrast to the published images. Changes to the photos are slight, but noticeable. Dunham’s under-eye bags and smile lines are removed, her neck is thinned and brought in, and her hips are slightly pulled in. The changes are by no means drastic, but in the original photos Lena still looks stunning — extra neck skin and all.
Initially, Lena responded vaguely to Jezebel on Twitter:
I don’t think it’s wrong of Jezebel to find the Vogue images of Dunham to be hypocritical. However, I think we need to look at the issue of photoshop in a larger context. It’s important that we remain critical and aware of the prevalence of photoshop in the media, but offering $10K just to prove a point? A little immature, and definitely snarky. Frankly, I expected more from Jezebel.
Especially when you consider all the altruistic ways that Jezebel could have spent the money. As writer Nicolette Mason of xojane.com says, “$10,000 is a lot of money, so why not try to match that amount to do something that's actually good, and positive, and leads to real female empowerment?”
In response to Jezebel’s offer, Mason started an IndieGogo page that aims to raise $10K that would be donated to Step Up Women's Network. The nonprofit organization strives to “empower teen girls from under-resourced communities to be confident, college-bound, and career-ready, and propel professional women through connections, collaborations, and continuous development.” Members of SUWN use their own professional and social skills through programs that inspire involvement in leadership, as well as offering mentorship and financial support for young women with limited resources.
When it comes to women’s rights issues, we need to pick our battles wisely. Why not use our time (and money) to directly help women, instead of sensationalizing their appearances in a magazine? Mason’s campaign is a productive way to empower women. Take note, Jezebel.
Image sources: vogue.com, twitter.com/lenadunham