Last week, while I was working on Aunty M’s “Girls sucks” post, I did some creative Googling and found an interview with Girls showrunner Lena Dunham in which she takes a swap at popular feminism blog Jezebel for making a “monumental error in their approach to feminism.”
What happened, you may ask, for the recipient of much Jezebel love (a not-insignificant thing, I might add) to turn her back on a publication that has adored her, her work, and her body? Jezebel completely and utterly objectified Lena Dunham, at best to further its cause and, at worst, to make a quick buck.
Here’s the story. The cover of February’s Vogue features a photo of Girls creator Lena Dunham, and selects from the full shoot are located in the magazine. Cool, right? Well, popular feminist blog Jezebel took issue with the spread, claiming that Dunham had been seriously retouched. For those of you not familiar, Photoshopping women to make them look impossibly perfect is something that feminists have been upset about for some time. I’m neutral on the issue, but I can see the problem centered therein: saturating women and girls with a beauty standard that is not only difficult but impossible to achieve can create some serious self-esteem issues. To create a population filled with empowered women, I can see why many feminists want to support natural ideals of beauty. Jezebel, among other publications, has been at the forefront of this charge.
But then they took it a little too far.
On January 16, Jezebel put up a $10,000 bounty to receive the un-photoshopped photos of Dunham. This is where the publication hits their first level of dickishness. Dunham is not a model or an actress (I know she plays herself in Girls). She’s a writer. She is also a public advocate for body acceptance and pluralizing what it means to be beautiful.
For Jezebel to offer to pay such a grand sum of money for photos of Dunham is tantamount to saying, “Sorry, we don’t think you’re as pretty as these photos say.” To someone who isn’t marketing or selling her body or beauty, I can imagine being evaluated or “called out” like that must sting. Imagine if someone took your Facebook profile photo and said to you, “I call bullshit. Let me see the one before you Photoshopped it?” I hope you’d immediately unfriend them, because that person is terrible.
But Jez wasn’t done there. With such a high price up for grabs, it was just a matter of time before someone came forward with the undoctored photos. The next day on January 17, they published the undoctored photos and made gifs of them overlaid with the ones that appeared in Vogue.
All of this, might I add, was without Dunham’s permission or blessing.
And you know what? They really weren’t that bad. They smoothed some skin, brought up a neckline on one of her dresses. Very, very standard post-shoot fixes. Most of them are intended to fix the way lighting might have fallen poorly on the subject, over- or under-exposing certain parts of her body; they might have made her makeup a bit more dramatic in some cases. The only body doctoring they did was to bring down a shoulder in one photo. There are some truly awful, dehumanizing, extreme examples of photo modification out there, but the “scandal” that Jezebel “uncovered” is anything but. As Dunham herself put it, “[Jezebel was] like, ‘She’s not retouched, but she could’ve been.'”
Consider what Jezebel has done here. The best case scenario is that, in an attempt to bring light to an impossible beauty standard in the fashion and modelling industries, which puts women up as objects to be viewed instead of people to be respected, Jezebel took photos of a woman, without her permission, who doesn’t even work in the industry, and used her body and her photos to make a political point. A point, might I add, without a whole lot of meat to it, since the photos weren’t that doctored.
But the fact that the photos weren’t modified extensively suggests to me an even more hypocritical, sinister agenda. Jezebel is a website with a particular bent, and a particular readership that wants to read and responds to certain things. Namely, they want to make money. And there isn’t anything wrong with that. But to, under the guise of feminism, use a woman’s body as an object to make a quick buck is a hypocrisy so fundamental that it should bring into stark reality any feminist who frequents Jezebel and thinks they are reading something worthwhile.