February 22, 2013
Attention people in your twenties: I strongly urge you to elect Lena Dunham as the voice of your generation. She knows what she’s talking about. Trust me. Get out your journals and start taking notes. Let go of everything your mothers and your grandmothers taught you about physical beauty. Silence the self-critical voice that you so carefully nurtured, the one that still dominates the conversation late at night when you’re trying to fall asleep. Reject all that brainwashing media nonsense you were bombarded with during your formative years. Stop those stupid diets. Do not buy a juicer. Gluten is not your enemy; it’s time to wise up. Just hit the reset button, ladies and gentlemen, sit back and watch the TV show Girls. Lena Dunham is talking to you. She doesn’t have all the answers but I think she does have the solution to one of your biggest problems if you will just listen to her.
I’ve watched Girls right from the start and have been constantly impressed by the honesty, the character choices, the awkward intelligence and authenticity of the writing. The first time Hannah took off her clothes I was a little shocked that a girl with that kind of body would be “so brave” as to show herself. She seemed so comfortable in her skin. I was startled. My respect for Lena grew as she continued to disrobe. “Look at that,” I kept saying. “She’s not embarrassed at all.” It seemed so exotic, so other century. I kept watching; she kept taking off her clothes. No soft lights, no flattering camera angles. She’d sit on the edge of a bed and let her stomach hang out in rolls, she’d wear clothing that accentuated her flaws—or what I perceived as flaws—without the least bit of self-consciousness. Each week her adorable, self-involved, deeply flawed but completely loveable character continued to mesmerize me.
The second season started and there she was again, naked. But after a couple episodes I realized that I’m seeing her differently now. The shock is gone, I know Hannah too well to be surprised by her taking off her clothes. I’m watching her more closely, caring about her more deeply. I wasn’t surprised when she played ping-pong in just a pair of unsexy panties and later walked down a hallway completely nude. What surprised me was that the little pudgy girl suddenly morphed into a gorgeous woman right before my eyes. She has hips and a belly and soft arms and legs. Haunches. She is big, fertile, absolutely feminine and unexpectedly I am seeing that as a beautiful thing for the first time in my life. Lena Dunham is changing the way I see the female form.
So we starved ourselves through the seventies, living off TAB and celery sticks. I went to an all girls’ high school and everyday after lunch my classmates would rush to the bathroom and throw up before the bell rang. Hipbones and clavicles; you just couldn’t be too skinny. And then in the early ‘80s Jane Fonda came along and slapped on another layer, another challenge onto our already complicated self-image with the Jane Fonda Workout. Now it wasn’t enough to be bone thin; you had to have muscles, you had to be firm, you had to be strong. Skinny and sculpted was the next order of business.
I kept up the intense training and went on to compete in bodybuilding contests, eventually winning the 1992 Southern California Championship. My first novel Chemical Pink explored the dark side of bodybuilding, self-obsession, self-hatred and the general intolerance of fat in any shape or form. During those years I imposed upon myself a zero-tolerance policy towards shake and jiggle. I was no fun, at all. If you weren’t a bodybuilder, you did not want to hang out with me. It was all about grilled chicken and steamed vegetables. No sauce, ever. I look back at that young woman and you know what I’d like to say to her? Lighten up, honey. RELAX. It doesn’t matter. Give yourself a fricking break. You are beautiful and loveable and there is no such thing as perfect. You are focusing in the wrong fucking direction.