Much Ado About Girls

Girls! Girls! Girls! It seems like the entire Internet is currently exploding with debates and opinions about Girls, a fictional television drama/comedy about four 20-something ladies in New York City. Seeing as I don’t want to be left out of the Internet zeitgeist, I hunkered down on the sofa over the weekend and watched the episodes from Season 2 of Girls that I hadn’t yet seen.

Hannah and Jessa having a picnic

Girls, Season 2: Hannah and Jessa with Jessa’s soon-to-be-returned dogs

For anyone living under a rock without access to HBO or the World Wide Web, Girls is sort of the Sex and the City for the Millennial Generation. Instead of 35 year-olds with great careers, fantastic shoes, and explosive sex lives, we get broke, directionless 24 year-olds with awkward wardrobes and comical sex lives.

And here’s the big deal with Girls — The main character is not conventionally beautiful… and it doesn’t cripple her in the least! She’s not trying to lose weight. She doesn’t obsess about her clothes or makeup. What she does stress about are moslty her messed up relationships with friends and lovers, as well as her non-career as a writer. In other words, Girls is a painfully realistic portrayal of what it’s like to be a young educated self-involved white woman. However, a lot, and I mean A LOT, of ink has been spilled over her shape.

Girls Season 2: Hannah at a club

Girls, Season 2: Hannah at a club

Quite frankly, I think it’s ridiculous how much attention Lena Dunham’s body is getting. It shouldn’t be that interesting! Hannah, played by the show’s creator, Lena Dunham, frequently appears nude or semi-nude on the show. Some writers have called her fat or chubby, but she doesn’t really seem overweight to me. She just looks regular, like the oddly dressed hipster girl who works in your local coffee shop (crazy, I know, given that that’s who she’s playing). There’s no doubt though that she does look drastically different from what we are used to seeing on TV. And the fact that there’s been such a lot of hoo-ha around her body should serve as a giant red flag to us as a culture because we’re at a point where only so-called perfect bodies are allowed in pop culture representations of women.

I’m interested in the discourse about her body within the show’s fictional world compared to what’s being said in American media. You see, Hannah has many lovers. They aren’t always nice or great, and some are downright creepy; she’s definitely a girl out there looking mainly for experiences rather than pleasure (in my twenties, I called this phenomenon “needing to know what happens next”… as if my life were a movie I was watching). But here’s the thing, her lovers tell her she’s beautiful and they mean it. Her slightly chubby thighs are a non-issue. In reading the commentary about the show in blogs, magazines and newspapers, you would think that Hannah is freakishly unattractive and that no man who is even remotely handsome would ever want to have anything to do with her. We’ve been sold the idea that hot guys are only attracted to skinny blonds with long hair, but that’s not the case in real life and it’s not the case in Girls.

girls hannah adam

Girls, Season 1; Hannah makes bad choices involving Adam

I want to talk about the last episode I watched which was called “Another Man’s Trash”. In this episode, which aired last week, Hannah ends up at the beautiful brownstone apartment of a fit, handsome, newly separated 42 year-old doctor who lives on the same street as the café where she works. They sleep together, he barbecues steak on his back deck, then they call in sick so they can spend another day together. Ultimately, it’s not Hannah’s pouchy belly that turns him off, it’s her 20-something girl angst.

The truth is, when I first watched Girls, I got really annoyed with it really fast. Those girls are self-centered, dismissive of other peoples’ feelings and experiences, and sort of mean to one another a lot of the time. When Hannah is in the home of the attractive older physician, she is so clearly out of her league, not because of how she looks (she looks just fine), but because of how adult and together he is in comparison to her. When she finally has her meltdown, she admits to him that she just wants to be happy but she’d be ashamed to say that to her friends. Evidently, being a contented, well-adjusted human is not an acceptable aspiration in Hannah’s world because gritty, interesting experiences are much more valued than joyful ones. She’s going to need something to write about in her best-selling memoir, after all.

Lena Dunham looks pretty good, it's her character that is so awkward

Lena Dunham looks pretty good, it’s her character that is so awkward

Just for fun, I rewatched a Sex and the City episode I remembered from Season 2 called “Twenty-Something Girls vs. Thirty-Something Women” (clearly, I had an exciting weekend). The 20-somethings in that episode, which aired in 1999, are sort of annoying and a bit pitiful, just like the girls of Girls. But the major difference is that they are ambitious go-getters who seemingly can’t wait to take on adult responsibilities. The Girls of 2013, however, seem jaded and already defeated. Hannah’s sense of entitlement is confusingly mixed in with an attitude of resignation in the face of life’s disappointments. The girls in Sex and the City are starting PR companies and working for Ralph Lauren, the girls of Girls are working low-paying service jobs despite being university educated and asking their parents for rent money.

Despite my initial reaction to Girls, I have to say that I’ve come around. Besides, I’m sure if I watched footage of myself at 24, I wouldn’t be able to stand myself for more than 5 minutes, much less 2 seasons. Lena Dunham has the courage to put her body out there for everyone to comment on and judge, but, more importantly, she’s being quite honest about how ridiculous, painful, and funny life can be when you’re learning how to become who you’re going to be.

Are you a fan of Girls?


  1. Don’t watch it but I have heard about it. Didn’t know that there was such negative comments about the main character’s body, though. How dare they? Shame on them. Then again, am I surprised? Has anything changed regarding women’s bodies in media?

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