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Lena Dunham, keep your clothes off: Why the nudity on 'Girls' is a revolutionary act

Lena Dunham is promoting an important conversation on feminism and beauty culture

The third season of “Girls” premiered Sunday night on HBO, but true to form, the show was making waves before its newest episode even debuted.

Last week at a Television Critics Assn. panel, Tim Molloy, a reporter from the Wrap, asked creator and star Lena Dunham about the pervasive nudity on the show. “I don’t get the purpose of all the nudity on the show — by [Dunham] in particular,” Molloy said. “I feel like I’m walking into a trap where you say no one complains about the nudity on ‘Game of Thrones,’ but I get why they’re doing it. They’re doing it to be salacious. To titillate people. And your character is often naked at random times for no reason.”

Dunham quickly pounced on the question. “[It’s] a realistic expression of what it’s like to be alive,” she shot back. “But I totally get it. If you’re not into me, that’s your problem and you’re going to have to work that out with professionals.”

However, maybe the reason that Dunham is so often naked on the show is because she continues to get asked questions like these. In a culture where only traditionally beautiful women are asked to disrobe on screen (if, for example, you look like Emilia Clarke on “Game of Thrones”), Dunham is forcing us to reconsider what bodies we value and why. It isn’t just nudity. It’s revolutionary.

In a post for Flavorwire, Michelle Dean argued that Dunham’s body is an inherently political statement, one we should be championing. Dunham is fighting a world in which “women suffer for perfection”:

“She does not look ‘perfect’ in the completely restricted way the culture has defined it. Specifically, and I cringe as I always do here at the necessity of having to point this out, her body doesn’t meet that standard. But the show, by consistently putting that ‘imperfection’ in front of us, is demanding that we interrogate our devotion to our beauty standards. And all the men on the Internet who are so anxious to let you know that they don’t find Dunham attractive? They are, if nothing else, proof positive of the need for this ongoing interrogation.”

However, “Girls” isn’t just about showcasing Dunham’s flaws. As Dunham herself suggests, presenting her character, Hannah Horvath, naked is a naturalistic expression of the way many people live, in various states of undress. As Kelly Faircloth wrote in Jezebel, nudity doesn’t have to be about turning on male audience members. “It’s still worth saying that the whole point of the nudity is to undermine the assumption that women’s bodies exist to be salivated over,” said Faircloth. “Some of us just like to brush our teeth naked, so we don’t get toothpaste on our shirts.”

In embracing Hannah for exactly who she is, even at her most literally and figuratively naked, Dunham is sending female viewers an important message: You have value, no matter your body type.

Kate Spencer, writing for the Daily Beast, showed what a crucial difference that can make for women who aren’t used to seeing girls like themselves onscreen. “Lena Dunham is really the first woman I’ve ever seen on screen who looks like me,” Spencer confessed. “And every time Hannah/Lena takes off her clothes, every time she establishes that she is, for the most part, comfortable in her body, it gives me a little bit of hope for myself.”

As Spencer suggested, the ongoing criticism of Dunham’s body reinforces “the negative criticism and commentary many [women] already put upon ourselves,” which is why Spencer believes that its important that Dunham “stay naked.”

In doing so, Lena Dunham is promoting an important conversation on feminism and beauty culture, even though its clear from her response that she’s tired of having to explain her nudity all the time. Dunham has been answering these sorts of questions about her looks for years. So maybe it’s time we stopped asking about her body and started celebrating it.


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Nico Lang is a contributor at Thought Catalog and co-editor of the “BOYS” anthology series. Follow Nico on Twitter @Nico_Lang.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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