Back in October 2013 Hollywood Life reported that Vogue editor-in-chief wanted to “violate a lot of Vogue traditions” by featuring Lena Dunham “even though she doesn’t really conform to the [magazine’s] body type” to appeal to their “next-generation audience.” Then, for the February 2014, Wintour did as she promised…and more. She put Dunham on Vogue’s cover:
Grab the attention of the next generation? Vogue did: S**t hit the fan.
Jezebel — assuming the dolled-up images of a usually clean-faced Dunham had been seriously retouched — paid $10,000 to get the (supposedly) original versions. In their article they showed the before and after side-by-side, claiming that that “while Dunham’s images were not drastically altered, it’s important to remember how unforgiving the media is when it comes to images of women.” OK, I’m totally with you. But I think there’s more to this retouched image than first meets the eye.
While it’s easy and even justified to be a little miffed at the choice to retouch Dunham’s photos, it’s a bit par for the course. According to the Wall Street Journal, every magazine does it. And a little bit of fixing some images doesn’t change their content but just makes them more aesthetically professional. Even in photojournalism contests, slight retouching occurs, former director of photography for Men’s Journal Rob Haggart told the WSJ. “This level of photographer and publication, it’s really about adjusting every little thing.”
What’s more, Vogue isn’t even the first magazine to feature Dunham in sexed-up makeup and clothes (and, judging by the below, in retouched images). Marie Claire did a spread that no one was talking about back in April 2013, with a photo that looks — shocker — pretty similar to the images in Vogue:
Credit: Marie Claire
The bashing continued. Slate editor Katy Waldman wrote that “while Vogue’s modifications were admittedly light, understanding Dunham’s ‘persona,’ her ‘creativity,’ and who she is (among other things, a spokeswoman for more realistic forms of loveliness) would seem to preclude altering her body at all.”
OK Waldman, I’m with you. Dunham’s show Girls is all about being proud of all bodies, imperfections and all, and that’s why so many people love it. But I think the “shame Vogue retouched Dunham!” and “she’s a hypocrite for showing her face in a fashion magazine” critics are obscuring a more important point. And that is just being featured in Vogue is doing exactly what Dunham set out to do all along…and it’s right on point.
A friend of mine who works in fashion (who shall remain nameless) said she tried watching Girls but couldn’t because, in short, Dunham is ugly and gauche and she didn’t like seeing her fat body naked. But that awkwardness is exactly what Dunham is trying to capture and normalize with her show, applying a contrast to the perfectly made-up women with tight bodies and gorgeous (if unaffordable on their salary) apartments and, if not a perfect husband, lots of attention from men (think: Sex & the City, Friends, Gossip Girl, Modern Family…I love most of these but they serve a different purpose). And my friend isn’t the only one who feels that way, judging by the comments on the Vogue article. Like this gem (of verbal vomit):
“She is an ugly, fat dolt that finds humor in her own existence. I tried watching Girls and quit half-way through the first season. As a successful 30-year old who dwells in NYC…my friends and I are smart and successful…Lena Dunham makes a mockery of all the pretty New Yorkers that pride themselves in being healthy and fit, not to mention mentally stable.”
“Anna Wintour must be in the beginning stages of fashion dementia…I realize not everyone has been blessed with great genes..but it is just her whiney, indulgent, condescending personality.”
“I also realise that the age of the Supermodel is over, but surely there are a few models out there that would still sell your magazine?”
Indeed, lots of people love to criticize Dunham for being just an average girl on screen. Like Tim Molloy of The Wrap, who asked Dunham at a press conference earlier this week:
“I don’t get the purpose of all the nudity on the show. By you particularly. I feel like I’m walking into a trap where you say no one complains about the nudity on ‘Game of Thrones,’ but I get why they’re doing it. They’re doing it to be salacious. To titillate people. And your character is often naked at random times for no reason.”
To which Dunham responded, “if you are not into me, that’s your problem,” (as director Judd Apatow called Molloy’s question sexist and misogynistic).
Aha. Seems like it’s all adding up. (Besides just a really good PR ploy) maybe Dunham’s intention was not to bow to the stereotypes she’s fighting against but rather to broadcast her point of view in a place where people who otherwise trivialize her for being a “fat doll” couldn’t avoid her. As Dunham told Slate France:
“I don’t understand why, photoshop or no, having a woman who is different than the typical Vogue cover girl, could be a bad thing…If they want to see what I really look like go watch the show that I make every single week.”
Amen, sister. Keep doing your thing.