What’s missing from Girls?
In a recent episode, Hannah Horvath poses nude, George-Costanza style, in a makeshift photo-studio in the back of a coffee shop. After learning that her boyfriend, Fran, stores naked photos of her on his phone, Hannah feels threatened. She’s angry, she tells her friends, not because she objects to women exposing themselves, but because that’s her thing. “You know I pride myself on my sexual openness,” she says. “I’m not going to get edged out by girls who don’t even have any interesting fat deposits on them.” When it first came out, Lena Dunham’s Girls attracted both praise and criticism for its frank portrayal of young women’s private lives and private parts. At that time, suit-clad Don Draper and Hazmat-suit-clad Walter White ruled the television world. Hannah Horvath sat her naked, female butt right down on their throne. Then, though, Piper Chapman hooked up with her girlfriend in a prison chapel. Amy Schumer called herself “sluttier than the average bear.” Abbi and Ilana Skyped each other during sex. Morton Pfefferman became Maura. Like Hannah’s boyfriend, Dunham’s audience has plenty of naked – daring, subversive — female bodies to scroll through. Dunham has to show us something more than her fat deposits if she wants to make a real statement. The actress, who mooned her way into the spotlight as an Oberlin student by undressing in a public fountain, now makes more news when she dresses up for the Met Gala—yet on TV, she’s still one broke girl. Dunham might turn inward, and examine her ambition: the privileged upbringing that made her fame possible, and the work that made it real. Or, she might turn outward, and discuss sexual politics with real stakes: Girls stays away from assault and ambition, and deals with LGTBTQ identity only through tropes (see Elijah). There’s so much more to examine, beneath those fat deposits: If Girls doesn’t go there, then Dunham’s nudity remains only skin deep.