On seeing ‘On Seeing Lena Dunham Naked’
The article was listed on the bottom of a blog I read about athletic uniform design. It was in the Daily Beast and it was called Stay Naked Lena Dunham. Considering the recent protests of certain aspects of Islamic law by topless protestors, I thought it might be related to that. And, to be honest, the title intrigued me.
If you don’t know–and I didn’t–Lena Dunham is an actress who works on an HBO series called Girls. I’ve never seen the series, though I’ve heard it’s supposed to be good. The author of the piece, self-described comedian, author, performer, and on-hiatus yoga instructor Kate Spencer, published it on her own blog under the title On seeing Lena Dunham naked.
Apparently, Lena Dunham’s character is naked often and has lots of sex. That’s not what struck me about the blog post. Instead, it was Spencer’s tale of her own view of her body–how she was horrified that she would wear a swim suit in front of her classmates in fifth grade, and how she would scurry into the bathroom in the morning covering her breasts because she was embarrassed by their size. How she would skinny dip with college friends, drunk and stoned, and pull back while everyone else had fun–or seemed to.
I’ve read about what Spencer calls “body shame,” and about the Dove Real Beauty ad campaign. And I’ve had concerns about how my daughter might or might not be horrified at her own body. (She’s not, at least as far as I can tell.)
But I’ve never thought about it in terms of my female characters. One of the characters in my current work-in-progress is a knock out and a health fiend, mostly because she feels she has to be as she tries to stay viable in radio into her forties. There is a scene in which she is naked in my work and she doesn’t seem self-conscious about it. I mean, how could she? She’s in her mid-forties and still looks like an athlete, right?
Maybe, but maybe not. As a guy, I never considered writing that kind of self-consciousness into my female characters. I don’t get it, at least not without having someone point it out to me and make me consider it.
It’s not that my body is perfect–if you own stock in Dunkin Donuts, you should thank me for part of your material well-being. It’s not that I don’t look at various parts of my body in the mirror and feel disappointment. (The FAA requires me to wear a hat on sunny days so I don’t blind pilots with the glare off my skull.)
It’s just that it doesn’t affect me that way–not to the point where I would obsess over a party for weeks ahead of time, or wake in the morning and slink off to the bathroom embarrassed, even though my partner was half of the selection process and picked me.
But my character might do those things, and it would affect her in profound ways.