You may or may not have heard of the LENA DUNHAM VOGUE CONTROVERSY. It has been all over the news for the last few days (we covered it here). It has broken my brain and I need to talk it out with myself.
But first, here’s a brief timeline of what happened:
1. It’s 2012. Lena Dunham, creates a television show called Girls. The show is a massive hit, and Dunham gets lots of attention in particular for her ‘normal’ body – which she refuses to hide on screen. NB: ‘normal’ being not the usual thin standard expected of women on television.
2. Everyone loses their shit with excitement about seeing a woman who isn’t less than 45kg or taller than 5ft10 on screen. Lena Dunham is appointed the unofficial spokesperson for body image and body diversity in the media.
4. It’s 2014: US Vogue asks Lena Dunham to pose on the cover. Vogue releases the cover, and some pictures from Lena’s fashion shoot. In one shot, Lena has a pigeon on her head. Because whimsical. All of the photos are – as per usual for Vogue – airbrushed (albeit somewhat minimally).
6. Jezebel, a popular women’s website, offers a $10,000 bounty for the original, ‘unretouched’ photos of Lena Dunham. Literally, a bounty. The headline was: “We’re offering $10,000 for Unretouched Images of Lena Dunham in Vogue.”
7. It takes less than two hours for Jezebel to get the original photos. They then proceed to publish a detailed ‘before and after’ analysis. The stunt backfires a little, since there is not that much difference between the ‘befores’ and ‘afters’. One of the biggest ‘reveals’ is that the pigeon on Dunham’s head was actually photoshopped in.
8. Everyone argues about who has done the wrong thing here. Lena likes her cover. Vogue likes her cover (especially the pigeon, which they really wanted everyone to know was actually real):
Websites like Jezebel hate the cover. Feminist commentators hate the cover.
9. Me? My brain explodes, because I can’t decide what I think about any of this. I love Lena, and I hate the problems caused by excessive photoshopping, but I think I’m on her side here. Or not. Maybe I’m with the pigeon. I don’t know. I have a very long, detailed argument with my brain, that you can read here:
1. Should Lena have refused to appear in Vogue on the basis that it retouches all its images of women?
Lena has put herself out there as a spokesperson for body diversity in the media. As a result, some people are understandably disappointed in her for not telling Vogue (who worship at the shrine of Photoshop) to get lost in the first place. I mean, this is VOGUE, the magazine that is famous for the blatant exclusivity of one kind of body type in its pages. Because THIN. Because FASHION.
But, photoshop aside, surely just by being on the cover, Lena has broken down some barriers.
She is not a model. She’s not an actress with the body of a model. She’s not a fashion person. She’s what, a size 10-12? That is basically obese when you consider Vogue standards. And the girl is ON THE DAMN COVER! Can we take a minute to celebrate that fact (or at least 30 seconds)?
That Anna Wintour stopped stroking her hairless cat for a second and made this choice is a huge deal. We are constantly harrassing magazines to include more body diversity, and this month, Vogue has done that. Can we at least give them credit for that?
But, they did photoshop Lena. And maybe, given everything she stands for, she should have been bold enough to simply refuse.
But but but…. what would Lena (and any of us) have gained from refusing?
This is how it would have gone: Vogue offers Lena the cover. Lena says sure but no photoshop please. Vogue laughs. Vogue hits the stands with another impossibly thin model on the cover. Nothing changes. The end. So, having an issue with Lena on the cover it IS a step forward.
And a step forward is still a step foward, even if that step is not as big as we would like.
2. Do we get to expect more of Lena because she’s been such an amazing advocate for body positivity already?
But Lena is human. She’s not perfect. It’s easy to talk about her like she’s some kind of demi-god of body image and feminism, but it’s impossible for anyone to live up to those standards all the time. Some may be disappointed in her for agreeing to be in Vogue, but she’s a person. People are filled with contradictions and imperfections. It’s unfair to put the pressure of all body image issues on her shoulders.
There could be any number of reasons Lena chose to be in Vogue – it could be that she was trying to make a feminist statement, or it could just be that she has a bloody show to promote. Or it could just be that she’s 27 years old and she wanted to be on the cover of freaking Vogue. It’s VOGUE.