(Photo by my older daughter)
Lena Dunham quite seriously changed my life. The minute I saw her on TV, with her unapologetically imperfect body, and her delightful sometimes unflattering clothes (man, do I love this outfit), I could not take my eyes off her. I had never seen anyone like her onscreen before.
There have been thousands (probably not hyperbole) of articles written about Lena Dunham’s body and her fearlessness to be naked on camera, which I don’t really need to get into here, but what is remarkable to me is how a 20-something woman inspired 40-something me to wear a sleeveless shirt in public. Not only that but I found myself wanting to wear clothes that were deliberately unflattering all the time, just in a kind of solidarity. That is basically what hit me so hard about Lena Dunham: she is unafraid to look exactly the way she looks. As for me, I have spent (wasted, really) years of my life feeling just the opposite.
Like so many people, even myself if I dare to admit it, Lena Dunham can look absolutely striking at times, and at other times just perfectly ordinary. And there are many times on her show that she just doesn’t even look that great at all. The fact that she lets us see this, that she deliberately films herself this way, is why I like her most of all. She is fine with looking ordinary and sloppy sometimes, but she also doesn’t really make a statement about it either. No big deal.
When I was eight years old or so, I would spend time admiring my bare shoulders in the mirror, noting a vivid similarity to Olivia Newton John’s shoulders in that famous black leather jumpsuit she wore at the end of the movie Grease. My shoulders were straight and bony in just that same way, and I couldn’t wait for the black leather jumpsuit that was clearly in my future.
And yet, sadly, I ended up with, at times, a strange detachment from my body or, more commonly, a passionate hatred for it. I have seriously let down that little girl.
And yet, I still have those same straight bony shoulders that I once so admired, but it has been a very long time since I looked at them that way. They have gotten so much stronger since I started doing yoga every day, and yet there is a part of me that worries that they are getting even broader and boxier and I find myself wanting to google “minimize broad shoulders,” which is basically how I was raised.
But then I think about Lena Dunham and I find myself instead wanting to wear tank tops every single second, despite of, or perhaps because of, my broad shoulders and my fat arms, and basically everything else I have been fighting against my entire life. If I can balance myself on these shoulders, there’s no reason not to like them.
When I think of what it was like to be a young woman I think of the words my friend’s mother used to call out to her as she left for school in the morning: “Come back! You look so unattractive!” I imagine Lena Dunham hearing those words, smirking, and happily marching out the door.