Earlier this week, CNN published a story about Lena Dunham’s body. The narrative the news agency followed was about how the actress, director and producer was debuting a new “svelte look”. Britain’s Daily Mail rag followed CNN’s lead with their own story about how Dunham was “showing off her slimmed-down physique”.
Lena Dunham has said for years that she doesn’t care what anybody thinks about her body. She always backs up her claim with action, wearing whatever clothes she wants regardless of the rules society castes upon them. She’ll wear crop tops that reveal her stomach that moves when she walks, and rolls when she sits down, and shorts that show her legs that walk with muscle and fat, and skin and cellulite — you know, like mostly everyone’s legs.
So why would CNN and Daily Mail write about Lena Dunham’s body?
The bit about Lena Dunham’s body that these two huge media organizations believed was newsworthy was about how Dunham has lost weight, and the media organizations thought it was something to celebrate. Even more, that a story about Dunham’s smaller body was one that thousands of people would click on and therefore help achieve higher engagement rates for attracting advertisers.
Publishers and advertisers have used human bodies to drive their businesses forever. Playboy is most overt about it, but every single magazine and lifestyle publication has made heavy and slim, muscular and weak, and pregnant and dying bodies news. Why? Because every human has a body and the type of body we’re born with has consequences.
The consequences of women’s bodies are much different than men. Psychology Today writes about how women are generally more concerned about their bodies than men because a woman’s appearance is central to how she is evaluated by others.
“The evolutionary process of sexual selection changes us so as to attract mates. Men’s facial hair makes them more sexually attractive to women, for instance. This is a sexual signal analogous to the brightly colored feathers of peacocks and other male birds. This phenomenon was revealed in experiments but most women seem unaware of it (3).
Humans are rather unusual in the sense that sexual selection affected both sexes but apparently did more work on females than on males. This is consistent with a variety of evidence that women’s physical appearance is more important for their dating success than is true of men (2).
Sexual selection altered female facial proportions making them more stereotypically youthful. For that reason, highly attractive women such as movie stars seem much younger than their actual age.”
The reason why CNN and Daily Mail are writing about Lena Dunham’s body is because they are celebrating her becoming more sexually attractive, as if that were her highest power. As expected, Lena Dunham had something to say about that:
Thank you for this @Refinery29. I feel I’ve made it pretty clear over the years that I don’t give even the tiniest of shits what anyone else feels about my body. I’ve gone on red carpets in couture as a size 14. I’ve done sex scenes days after surgery, mottled with scars. I’ve accepted that my body is an ever changing organism, not a fixed entity- what goes up must come down and vice versa. I smile just as wide no matter my current size because I’m proud of what this body has seen and done and represented. Chronic illness sufferer. Body-shaming vigilante. Sexual assault survivor. Raging hottie. Just like all of YOU. Right now I’m struggling to control my endometriosis through a healthy diet and exercise. So my weight loss isn’t a triumph and it also isn’t some sign I’ve finally given in to the voices of trolls. Because my body belongs to ME–at every phase, in every iteration, and whatever I’m doing with it, I’m not handing in my feminist card to anyone. So thank you to my girl @ashleygraham for writing so gorgeously about this on @lennyletter (link in bio). Thank you to @tracyandersonmethod for teaching me that exercise has the power to counteract my pain and anxiety, and to @jennikonner for being my partner in FUCK IT. I refuse to celebrate these bullshit before-and-after pictures. Don’t we have infinitely more pressing news to attend to? So much love to all my web friends who demand that life be more than a daily weigh in, who know their merit has nothing to do with their size, who fight to be seen and heard and accepted. I love you- Lena
Women, know this: the shame is on the businesses that want you to feel insecure about your bodies, not on your bodies.
CNN made the choice to write their headline to focus on Lena Dunham’s smaller body as something to celebrate, rather than on the fact that she has changed her diet to battle the pain of endometriosis through food instead of medication — a much more interesting story, to be honest.
Feminism is all about choices and action to counteract social constructs designed to make women feel small and insecure.
Notable Life is covering the body positivity movement regularly, with stories that call out organizations with business interests in keeping women insecure about their bodies. This story, which calls out Zara for it’s “Love Your Curves” campaign for denim with visual representation of very slim women, with absolutely no curves, was so popular with our community that we know women are tired of being shamed for the bodies they were born with.
Lena Dunham is tired of being shamed for her body, and held to unrealistic standards just so she can be ultimately sexually attractive, and we love her for calling CNN out on its bullshit.