December 18, 2013 by Julia
I recently obsessively watched Season 2 of HBO’s show Girls, and to quote the name of the most popular song on the Girls soundtrack, by Icona Pop:
I love it.
But although I could dissect all of the reasons I love the show, or defend it against the backlash, what I really want to focus on here is the much ballyhoo-ed fact that Lena Dunham’s character Hannah does not look like your typical TV star.
When I watched the pilot episode of Season 1, the sight of her was no less than revolutionary for me, personally – as I’m sure it was for many, many other women. She has small breasts, wide hips, cellulite, hair that doesn’t always appear professionally styled, a face with character. How did this young woman get her own HBO show? She isn’t a beauty queen, and she isn’t fat, either. She isn’t…extreme. She’s like…real. She has sparkling brown eyes, but also gets greasy hair when she doesn’t shower. She tries out interesting fashion statements, some of which are flattering, some not. She wears old t-shirts to bed, and isn’t in full makeup when she wakes in the morning. I could not take my eyes off of her. Her realness – on TV! – was like oxygen to me.
I don’t know if men fully understand what women deal with when it comes to the societal pressure on us to look perfect. The message we are shown in media from a very young age is this: your value is HIGHLY dependent on your physical beauty. That message might as well be attacking us on a molecular level. We have absorbed it. Some of us aim for thinness over happiness, because it seems impossible to be truly happy if we haven’t reached our goal weight. If we were thin we would have the admiration of our peers. If we were thin we could finally feel good about ourselves. If we were thin we would earn the right to live the dream, basically.
The message is everywhere we look. EVERYWHERE.
And you know what? I’m pissed off about it. It’s caused me a lot of unnecessary heartache, and I know you know what I’m talking about, ladies.
We can’t stop obsessing about our appearance. We cry about it. We hurt, really deeply. Because we are shown, time and again, that we are not loveable if we are not pretty and thin. And it’s our responsibility to reject that message, for the good of ourselves, our daughters and sisters and friends – but it’s freaking hard.
Hannah on Girls is revolutionary because she not thin, but she still gets to be the main character. She is not considered “the goofy fat one” or “the semi-annoying sidekick to the beautiful one.” She gets to have a love life. She gets to focus on more interesting things than how she can lose weight. She writes, and mopes, and goes on adventures, and makes me laugh aloud and wears short shorts and itsy-bitsy dresses shamelessly and I swear her vibrant presence on TV, living and loving and making huge mistakes, all while not being thin does me a world of a good. And it does the world good, too.
There is a scene in season two where Hannah is getting intimate with a very handsome older man whom she barely knows, and he says to her, on the bed, “You’re so beautiful.” She stops for a moment and says, “You think so?” He says, “You don’t think so?” She smiles and says, “No, I do. It’s just that it’s not always the feedback I get.” And then she goes on kissing him.
How refreshing is that?
There is another woman on TV doing the same sort of awesome work: Mindy Kaling, on The Mindy Project. She has her own show on a network (land of the Barbie lookalikes), and she might be a size 10 (in contrast to what I assume most TV women are, which is a size 2…or 4 at the most). She is funny as hell, wears flashy, glitzy clothes that highlight her body, owns up to all the girly interests that are so often disparaged by society, and again – has an actual love life. Men find her attractive. She finds herself attractive. I find her attractive. Her smile is sweet and infectious and her skin is gorgeous.
We’re all so used to seeing things a certain way, especially on TV. Women are often more attractive than their male partners, but hardly ever the other way around. Men care about looks, women care about security. Hence all the wealthy men with trophy wives.
But it’s not like the entire actual world operates in this superficial manner. Women in real life do not have to look like models to attract friends or lovers. Men have been known to fall in love with women less attractive than themselves, maybe because that woman was so confident and charismatic that he couldn’t resist her. Let’s give both men and women a little more credit than most TV shows seem to.
Obviously we say we believe there is more to women than their outer beauty. I mean, duh. But not duh. Because honestly, I struggle with self-acceptance every day, and a lot of it has to do with my physical flaws. I know I am not alone in that struggle. But we have to act on what we believe to be true, until we teach ourselves through experience that it is true.
We have to go out there, into the world, and do our thing that we’re especially good at, and have fun with our appearance, and cast out the shame that has haunted us for years about our flaws. We can wear a bikini even if we have stomach rolls. We can dance our hearts out. Other women will see us doing it, and think maybe they can, too, despite their own stomach rolls. We can focus on doing what makes us happy, and trust that serving our purpose in the world will give us an inner beauty that radiates outward. It will make our eyes shine, our smiles genuine, and our skin glow. Our gratitude for our own bodies will translate as sexiness. Really. Really! I’m not just spouting feel-good bullshit, here!!
After all, Lena and Mindy stand up on TV, with an audience of millions, and say, “Here I am, imperfect and lovely and talented in my own way, inside and out. Take it or leave it, but I am not ashamed. I am beautiful.”
And they are. They SO are.