There's no question that Lena Dunham is successful. At 26, she's already accomplished what many in their 40s dream of: Her own series, Girls, on HBO; multiple Emmy nominations; a Golden Globe win; a Directors Guild of America Award; and collaborations with some of Hollywood's most well known directors and producers.
So why is it that the majority of articles written about Dunham center around whether or not she's "sexy"?
Dunham is a successful woman, but it seems that the fact she's a female—and whether or not she's an attractive female—is always coming before talk of her success. In fact, the most recent episode of Girls—a bottle episode in its own right that centered around Dunham's character Hannah and her two-day affair with guest star Patrick Wilson—garnered ample attention, but not for its creativity or writing or cinematography.
Does anyone bat an eye when, on television, a man who isn't traditionally attractive pursues a beautiful woman? No. We're conditioned to root for him. If he succeeds, dude-bro viewers feel vindicated. If he fails, well, it's because the hottie is actually a shallow bitch who doesn't appreciate his personality. When the tables are turned, however, it's still the woman who's made to be wrong—only this time, it's because she must be stupid to even dare go after a man so clearly out of her league.
This is what we're up against with Dunham's character on Girls. Hannah is by no means perfect: She's neurotic, she's unorganized, she doesn't know what she wants, she wants to feel everything, but she wants stability. She's still figuring things out. Physically, she's not the type who'd walk the runways during fashion week or be seen on the pages of Vogue, but this doesn't and shouldn't devalue her. Beauty is socially constructed, people, evolutionary biology be damned. So, hey: Internet, stop worrying about if Hannah could sleep with an attractive guy and go fuck yourself instead.
An article from John DeVore on The Frisky brings up a good point on the subject: To judge Hannah, and by extension Dunham, on her looks is a crime, because the girl is sexy.
The controversy is simple, as are all things in our culture of “like” — could Hannah actually attract a hot older man like [Patrick Wilson]? The conversation (which is me being generous) divides itself the way a simple one cell organism divides itself, into two blobby camps. The first camp is the bros who confuse sexy with the commoditized lady body gruel they’ve been served for years. I was a flesh merchant at men’s magazines for years and I will tell you that we were always obsessed with the boners of our readers. Sexy is dancing naked in moonlight and giggling until you can’t breathe. Sexy is locking eyes and dirty telepathy. Anything else is an imagination failing and bored sexual scenarios dreamed up by hacks filling in the vacuum.
DeVore adds that, though the Internet loves "definitive" answers to questions, rating Dunham's physical appearance doesn't contribute to either her sexiness or self-worth. "A “hot” guy, or any guy, would probably find Hannah sexually attractive—if not, also, eventually, maddeningly immature and self-absorbed," he writes, "but that just makes her more of a messy human, and less a catalyst for binary discussions about gender roles."
Furthermore, as Jezebel points out in a very well-written article about the flack that the most recent episode received, this shouldn't even be a subject that's discussed at all. In fact, the entire episode was almost Dunham daring everyone to say that she didn't deserve a man like Wilson because of her appearance—and they did, because the world is shit.
"It's not enough to simply acknowledge that, like the Slate guys, you're prejudiced against the idea of a physically imperfect woman being able to enchant a hunk like Joshua," Jezebel writes. "You should be asking yourself why that is. Because if we're going to talk about privilege when we talk about this show, then we should talk about privilege in all respects: like how value is assigned to a woman by how she looks. And how that valuation determines the level of bullshit that people will tolerate from her."
It's a good point to think over, considering that the unattractive dude/hot chick trope has been a fixture on television, especially sitcoms for years. King of Queens? Everybody Loves Raymond? These shows don't promote conversation because they play into the patriarchy and all that bullshit. We're conditioned to receive this sort of thing with big, shit-eating grins.
Let's all just stop gauging the worth of a human by how they fit into a classical definition of beauty and have an intelligent conversation about Girls.
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