Emily Nussbaum’s cover story for the current issue of New York magazine, “It’s Different for Girls,” is about how Lena Dunham’s hotly anticipated new HBO series is, well, different. As much as an HBO show about white twentysomethings in New York can be different, anyway. And it’s a great profile piece for anyone interested in the show (which I am), as it gives some insight into how it’s being made and how Dunham is operating as the show’s creator and star. What I don’t understand, though, is how this profile inspired this cover:
If the point of the article is that Girls is a “revolutionary” show with a refreshingly honest and thoughtful young woman at its helm (and by all accounts that description of Dunham is accurate), how did we end up with this cutesy, canting cover juxtaposed with the word BALLSY under it? Another photo of the cast from the shoot, far from seeming “different” or “new” or “honest,” appears to have been ripped from the back of the Virgin Suicides DVD: I’m not saying that Dunham and her costars don’t look nice in these photos (they do), or that these photos are somehow offensive or shocking (they aren’t, at least not really). However, for a cover story about a show that’s said to be groundbreaking precisely because it doesn’t gloss over the less-than-pretty parts of being a young woman, these shots are about as stereotypically pretty as you can get. Says Nussbaum about the depiction of bodies on the show:
Dunham films herself nude, with her skin breaking out, her belly in folds, chin doubled, or flat on her back with her feet in a gynecologist’s stirrups. These scenes shouldn’t shock, but they do, if only because in a culture soaked in Photoshop and Botox, few powerful women open themselves up so aggressively to the judgment of voyeurs.
Not exactly the spirit that comes through in the cover pics, is it? Do we need Dunham in her underwear on the cover of New York magazine in order to stay true to the ethos of Girls? Of course not. But these photos go in the complete opposite direction, placing Dunham and her pale-frocked costars firmly in the male gaze—cemented there by the use of the word ballsiest.” (Remind me why we need to use that term to describe women, again?) Instead of representing a “retort to a culture that pathologizes feminine adventure,” these photos depict it. Is it too much to ask that the media coverage of a show that’s honest about (a certain kind of privileged, educated white) women’s experiences at least reflect that? Ugh, maybe it’s not so different for Girls after all.