Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Dunham Debate

I have just a few more thoughts on this Lena Dunham stuff and then I swear I'll shut up about it. Over the weekend The New York Times published this story: Debate on Photo Retouching Flares Online, With Roles Reversed. It made my blood boil again with regard to Dunham appearing on the cover of Vogue and Jezebel's move to publish unretouched photographs from the Vogue cover shoot.

I think it's crazy that we're at a cultural point, where a mainstream and well respected publication such as The New York Times holds the position that taking in a woman's waist and hips, lengthening her leg, slimming her jaw, elongating her neck and lifting her bustline, is normal or acceptable because a fashion magazine like Vogue is fantasy. Vogue is in the business of selling clothes. Real women wear the clothes, or at least the styles, that Vogue depicts. If the women on the pages of Vogue are digitally altered to look better in these clothes, then what does that mean for women who wear the clothes and do not digitally alter themselves before looking in the mirror? It means they have an unrealistic image of what they might look like in these clothes, and a result, a potentially confused or unhealthy self image.

The fact that The New York Times advocates for Vogue and popular fashion magazines and says in the aforementioned article that Dunham was only barely altered in the Vogue photographs is disturbing and untrue. She's altered enough in the images to make the viewer believe her proportions are something they're not. That, in fact, is a blatant fallacy. And it's destructive to how women are viewed and view themselves in today's world. If a media diet of women's bodies with smaller waists, longer necks and shrunken jawlines is what we see in largely advertised media, in media that's supposed to be inspirational or aspirational to women, and in media that is a large part of what the upper class and/or the taste makers consider to be or successful or influential, then how can we say that it doesn't matter that Dunham's proportions are altered when she's supposed to be some sort of spokesperson for "real" women?

It's a cheap cop out to say that it's okay because Vogue is fantastic and because Dunham appears unaltered on her HBO show Girls. It's a contradiction, too. If she wants to represent real women or be some sort of antidote to stereotypical Hollywood than she should in fact be that and appear unaltered as her real self. And if she'd rather appear in Vogue, then she shouldn't claim to be in favor of the real representation of women. Just because she appears unaltered on her show, does not counteract Vogue's alterations of women's bodies and the effects of that on viewers or readers.

Some www peeps and The New York Times are saying, good for Vogue, for putting Dunham, instead of a perfectly thin model or celebrity, on its cover. It's definitely something different for them in terms of how they identify beauty--and it's progress. But I'm pretty sure this cover is more of a one and only (disclaimer: I could be wrong and I hope that I am.). Lena Dunham might be Vogue's token "real girl." One is not nearly enough and does not mean positive or productive change. It just means token in order to save face. But even if Dunham's Vogue cover is the beginning of significant change, digitally altering women's bodies and faces will never sit well with me.

It's a sick world, friends. If you're not beautiful enough, in terms of mainstream beauty, they will make you beautiful--or else you're not getting in. In my humble and aged opinion, getting in is entirely overrated.

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