Another day, another ‘victory’ in the name of feminism. Jezebel, the feminist blog aimed at women’s interests, last week offered $10,000 to anyone who could provide them with ‘unaltered’ images of Lena Dunham’s American Vogue cover story. Within two hours, they received six images from the Annie Leibovitz shoot, which they then published, complete with notations about what had been changed. Vogue, it would seem, had done the dirty: not only had they made Dunham’s chin a bit pointier, and her neck a bit thinner, they’d also removed the bags from under her eyes and nipped her waist a little. She looked a little bit better than she normally would.
Jezebel has never before offered $10,000 for ‘unaltered’ images of Vogue cover stars. But they have taken particular umbrage in this case, because Lena Dunham is one of their pinups – in a way that Kate Upton and Gwyneth Paltrow are not. For those not acquainted with Dunham, she’s the 27-year-old who wrote and stars in Girls – the wildly successful HBO series. It’s gritty, funny, and generally pretty great. Dunham has rightly been lauded for it, receiving a $3.5m book deal off the back of it. Part of her appeal is that she comes across as relatively normal. She doesn’t look like your regular Hollywood star, partly due to her figure, which is – how best to put this – a little bit podgy. For a feminist site like Jezebel, she’s the messiah. ‘Her body is real. She is real,’ says Jessica Coen, Jezebel’s Editor-in-Chief.
Dunham chose to be in Vogue (and in all honesty, who – apart from Kate Middleton – would ever turn down the opportunity to be on the cover of American Vogue) and she, like every other Vogue cover star, was slightly retouched. Take a look at the photos, and you’ll notice that it’s hardly that dramatic – it’s not like they’ve sucked out all the fat, or stretched her body. Instead, they’ve given her a little bit of a lift.
Campaigns in the name of feminism can quickly take a nasty turn, and this is one such case. Jezebel have stated on their site that their target is Vogue, not Dunham – but it’s Dunham who is now stuck in the crossfire between these two women’s publications. And really, what good does it do revealing the photos of Dunham before she was touched up? All Jezebel have done is created another ‘before’ and ‘after’ body-ogling article, so beloved of the type of magazines that Jezebel campaigns against. So Jezebel’s crusading rhetoric smells of hypocrisy – and I imagine their traffic has benefited too – as people come to the site either to complain about how awful the fashion industry is, or to examine Dunham’s flaws. And all in the name of feminism.
The problem is that Dunham’s ‘real’ figure has been fetishized. People are obsessed with it. But obsessing over anyone’s figure – fat or thin alike – is unhelpful. There’s no such thing as a normal figure, and to suggest so is counterproductive. And so what if Dunham wanted to look a little bit better in her photos? It would be a mighty odd woman who turned down the opportunity to have their photos enhanced.