The face of young feminism, Lena Dunham, took a break from campaigning to #FreeKesha this week to focus on the issue of Photoshopping instead. On Instagram, the social media forum for all serious politic debate, Dunham posted a message to Spanish newspaper El Pais. In it she told her 2.4 million followers the paper had Photoshopped her image for the cover of its magazine Tentaciones.
Dunham did not approve of how she had been depicted. Not because the photograph showed Dunham wearing virginal white and thick eyeliner, staring into the camera like a vacuous anime doll – rather than the articulate media power player she is – but rather, Dunham complained, she looked too thin: ‘This is NOT what my body has ever looked like or will ever look like – the magazine has done more than the average Photoshop,’ she said.
Oh hello El Pais! I am genuinely honored to be on your cover and so happy you licensed a pic by @ruvenafanador, who always makes me feel gorgeous. BUT this is NOT what my body has ever looked like or will ever look like- the magazine has done more than the average photoshop. So if you’re into what I do, why not be honest with your readers? Much love, Lena. credit to @peguerillo_ for this 📸 of a 📸
In fact, Dunham was wrong. In an open letter, El Pais stated that they had not retouched the image, which had been approved by Lena’s own publicist. The magazine never digitally alters images, they said. There is irony in Dunham, a fiction writer, lecturing a respected broadsheet that they should ‘be honest with your readers’. Some would say she has a point (the media is always the bad guy these days); others might wonder if Dunham has a different idea of what honesty is. What amused me most initially about this current kerfuffle is that Dunham felt no need to issue the same lecture to Vogue when they Photoshopped her for their pages. But then, she ‘felt completely respected by Vogue,’ she said. That is telling. For Dunham has criticised El Pais not because of something that actually happened, but because of something she felt. I suspect Dunham feels a few things. I suspect she feels pressure to look bad in photos. Because having a raw, un-retouched image is part of her brand. Although it’s a shame – and feels very Seventies feminist – if she thinks you can’t fight for gender equality and look hot. Dunham also seems to feel like a victim – at least that seems to be the mentality she has come into this interaction with. She joins the modern cult of victimhood, in which the overly sensitive are able to find grievances anywhere, in any micro-aggression, handclap or un-safe space. It is part of the same victim paranoia sweeping campuses. Key to this victimhood culture is how subjective it is. Someone can nominate themselves an aggrieved party regardless of fact. That is what Dunham has done in this case. It is interesting that in Dunham’s ‘apology’ to El Pais she does not actually apologise. Instead she reiterates how the photograph makes her feel. ‘That will never be my thigh gap,’ she says – although then admits ‘I honestly can’t tell what’s been slimmed and what hasn’t.’ Yet, if the picture hasn’t been altered by El Pais, we must assume that this is how Dunham looks. If she cannot see this it is not the image at fault. Perhaps Dunham has body dysmorphia.
Hey Tentaciones- thank you for sending the uncropped image (note to the confused: not unretouched, uncropped!) and for being so good natured about my request for accuracy. I understand that a whole bunch of people approved this photo before it got to you- and why wouldn’t they? I look great. But it’s a weird feeling to see a photo and not know if it’s your own body anymore (and I’m pretty sure that will never be my thigh width but I honestly can’t tell what’s been slimmed and what hasn’t.) I’m not blaming anyone (y’know, except society at large.) I have a long and complicated history with retouching. I wanna live in this wild world and play the game and get my work seen, and I also want to be honest about who I am and what I stand for. Maybe it’s turning 30. Maybe it’s seeing my candidate of choice get bashed as much for having a normal woman’s body as she is for her policies. Maybe it’s getting sick and realizing ALL that matters is that this body work, not that it be milky white and slim. But I want something different now. Thanks for helping me figure that out and sorry to make you the problem, you cool Spanish magazine you. Time to get to the bottom of this in a bigger way. Time to walk the talk. With endless love, Lena PS I’d love the Tentaciones subscription I was offered! A photo posted by Lena Dunham (@lenadunham) on
There are echoes of Dunham’s response in other aspects of modern feminism: the belief that perceiving something to be the case means it is, even if the burden of proof has not been met.
Just last week Dunham wrote an impassioned essay in support of the singer Kesha. Kesha (the American pop star – keep up!) claims to have been sexually and emotionally abused by a Sony producer, Dr Luke. As a result Kesha took Sony to court to try and terminate her contract with them: Kesha lost. Many female figures, including Dunham, have come out in support of Kesha despite Dr Luke’s insistence the claims are false.
Dr Luke, real name Luke Gottwald, maintains not only did he not rape Kesha, but the two never had sex. Yet, in the trial of Dr Luke currently being conducted online the facts are irrelevant. Dunham wrote: ‘While the allegations of sexual assault and emotional abuse cannot be proven definitively, I think Kesha’s words speak for themselves.’ It is worrying if she really believes this to be the case.
In this current Photoshop spat Dunham may feel she is a victim but she is not. In fact, she is so celebrated that El Pais have put her on their cover under a headline boasting: ‘She is on fire: She changed the face of feminism with her series Girls. Now she wants to change her life.’
I just wish the face of young feminism didn’t automatically assume everyone was out to get them. I wish their take on reality was more objective.