Body politics

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We expect popular media to be aspirational, but when it mirrors our own lives, we get judgmental.

That’s been the reaction to the latest episode of popular HBO show Girls. In it, Lena Dunham, the show’s creator and star, spends two days sleeping with an older, and much more attractive man in his Greenpoint Brownstone.

Critics of the episode, including high profile writers from Entertainment Weekly and Slate Magazine have asked how someone who looks like Dunham could ever end up with a guy who looks like that. Posts on Facebook have decried the episode as a “chubby girl’s fantasy.” Rather than being shocked about the storyline — a 24 year-old barista lands a doctor — some seem to be fuming over the fact they find Dunham ugly.

The reaction is sad, but unsurprising given our society’s typical standards of beauty.

It’s clear that the episode was meant to be partially provocative and Dunham has been successful in initiating discussion about standards of beauty.

Clearly, society’s still not ready to push the envelope too much. Although the latest trend is a push for ‘real bodies’ to be depicted in the media, when push comes to shove, we’re unfortunately still aspiring to narrow forms of beauty.

Dunham’s body type is by no means abnormal. Many viewers likely look like her, but because of highly-held standards of beauty, they don’t aspire to be her.

These standards are often one-sided and specifically gendered. How many movies have a plot based on ‘hot chick’ falls for ‘ugly guy’? Far more than the archetype Dunham is exhibiting, in which her unconventional looks appear alongside her sexual urges.

The criticism that has ensued can’t be blamed on just the media anymore. With critiques centered on how ‘unrealistic’ this latest storyline is, we have to look to ourselves and ask why we can’t imagine someone average-looking, like Dunham, finding happiness with someone more conventionally attractive.

Rather than lambasting Dunham’s character for having the confidence to sleep with someone seemingly out of her league, viewers must question why this storyline is so unbelievable for them at all.

— Journal Editorial Board

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