In her review of the season finale of Girls, New York Times television critic Alessandra Stanley spends four whole paragraphs talking about Lena Dunham and body image before getting to the actual substance of the episode.
“For once Lena Dunham’s unflinching, even defiant flaunting of physical imperfection was not on full display,” Stanley wrote. “This HBO series, created by Ms. Dunham, became a sensation almost overnight, mostly because it was such a refreshing breath of realism … Unlike her friends Hannah doesn’t even have good looks or a flattering wardrobe; Ms. Dunham kept finding new ways to rub it in and make a virtue of it … Many took it as a cause: A television heroine can be frumpy and overweight and still have love affairs and lots of drama.”
But is it realism to assume that every time a woman takes off her clothes, her primary concern is the aesthetics of her body (even if that’s all Stanley can think of when she sees Dunham nude?) Maybe Hannah feels anxious about her body in relationship to Marnie’s or Jessa’s. But she and her friends eat the same frozen yogurt on park benches, suffer through the same cooking at their dinner parties, and make the same rounds of meals with their parents.
That’s not to say Hannah has no anxieties. (In the first season, for instance, she worried over the state of her stomach, to which Adam responded by demanding that she gather his nonexistent stomach fat.) But she also seems to enjoy her body plenty, and to do lots with it other than stare at it critically in a mirror. She has happy sex with Sandy and with Joshua, she takes a lot of cocaine and dances like a madwoman, and she plays around with goth outfits and ‘50s swing dresses and rompers. While Hannah’s body may cause reactions in viewers, the shape and size of it are far from her only concern as she tries to make a living as a writer, or her only source of trouble in relationships, which are also marked by communications problems and Hannah’s own self-absorption.
What makes Girls entertaining is not that it argues that fat girls can have it all, but that Hannah Horvath—quite rightly—doesn’t see herself as a fat girl. Thinking she should have body image issues says a great deal more about a viewer than it does about Hannah herself, or about any argument Lena Dunham is trying to make.