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Can We Stop Obsessing Over Lena's Body Now?

20/01/2014 13:10 GMT | Updated 20/03/2014 09:59 GMT

The third season of Lena Dunham's hit show Girls premiered this week. The self-appointed voice of a generation was the subject of endless interviews, tweets, and excitable BuzzFeed lists. Full disclosure: I love Lena, and I love her show. When the first season burst onto our screens in all its moody hipster glory, I eagerly told anyone who would listen why the show is so good, and why it's important. It really is a brilliant piece of writing: Girls is funny and clever and sad and a bit weird. We all see a little of ourselves in Hannah, whether we want to or not.

And yes, Hannah's naked a fair bit of the time. But it's necessary - for the artistic point of the show in reflecting what we're actually like as everyday 20-somethings who happen to be naked a fair bit of the time. And it's necessary socially and culturally: it's high time we see a body on our mainstream screens that isn't preened and plucked and botoxed to within an inch of its life. As a woman - as a person - with a body, it's important my overly indoctrinated mind sees something different, something other. That can only be a good thing for our collective psyche.

But why does every conversation about Lena or her work have to be derailed by gleeful squabbling about her nakedness, even now, three seasons later? Can't we just talk about the show without this intense, exhausting scrutiny of Lena's body?

It began with a critic asking Lena about the nudity in the show, claiming he didn't "get the purpose of it". I actually think this is a fair enough question if it was a serious and honest curiosity about the artistic and contextual importance of nudity in the show - which it wasn't. It was posed badly and with a totally pointless comparison to Game of Thrones.

And Lena tried to explain, saying it's a realistic expression of what it's like to be alive. But by then Judd Apatow had flown off the handle, and attacked the critic personally, who then responded with a defensive click-bait article about why he'd posed the misguided question in the first place.

It's such a shame they (and we, the clicking readers) couldn't have just gotten over the whole thing and moved on to other things - like, oh I don't know, character development, or dialogue, or any of the countless things other writers and directors are asked about without having to constantly justify the existence of their own body.

Even with the large number of times Lena's character is naked in the show, no other creator would have to explain that kind of artistic decision so persistently. Californication is a good comparison here: the male characters are in the buff all the time, and you don't hear anyone complaining / interrogating / defending that decision. No man would have to endure this level of scrutiny, that's really what it comes down to.

But Lena's week of having her body paraded in front of the blogosphere didn't end with the critic. Along came Jezebel and its $10,000 reward for the un-retouched shots of Lena that ran in Vogue magazine. The blog put a bounty on Lena's body - hear how that sounds?

I see the point, of course. Jezebel wants to expose fashion magazines and their dogged determination to make everyone and everything look like a shimmery shiny sex robot. And airbrushing someone who is so obviously and admirably comfortable with her own body - that's a particularly heinous offence, even for Vogue. So it's good to expose that... right?

Well no, not really. Despite Jezebel's good intentions, it just further serves to put Lena's body under a microscope, a bit of meat for us to prod and inspect and examine. Look, she's had that bit pulled, and that bit brushed, and this lifted and smoothed and folded and snipped and tucked, we all collectively sneer.

(And while it might be useful for a generation of women to know exactly what fashion magazines do to their subjects to get them cover-ready, it's not a Jezebel readership that needs to know. They're preaching to the choir. Try running the spread in Cosmo or something, then it might do some good.)

So it seems Lena's brave, beautiful and very necessary approach to exposing herself so completely on our screens has proved a double edged sword. What I hope is that this will be something of a cerebral revolution, however small. Ok, we've seen a "normal" body on TV now, we've dissected it, scrutinised it. Now maybe we can move on, discuss Lena's work, her acting, her writing, directing. And maybe now we live in a world where it's just that little bit more normal to see different kinds of bodies. I hope Lena has changed the perception of women's bodies and our perception of ourselves - even a fraction.