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Friday October 25, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Friday October 25, 2013 MYT 8:42:53 AM
by anand giridharadas
Standing out: Lena Dunham in Girls is leading the revolution of the un-pretty on television.
New images of female authenticity are challenging old stereotypes.
WHEN Kate Middleton was married but as yet unproductively un-pregnant, all they wanted was for her to inflate with child. When she obliged with an heir, all they wanted was for her inconvenient “mummy body” to scram. Tabloids gushed when seemingly it did.
The elusive standards of female perfection never drew closer. It’s not just the cult of “mummy makeovers” or the relentless Photoshopping. To the old problem of image ideals is now the additional problem of a world that expects more of women than beauty – but expects it with a degree of perfection that mimics the older standards for surface achievements. Women are allowed to do big things, but must do them fully leaned-in, hands raised, having it all.
What remains impregnable to them are those refuges that shelter so many men: ordinariness and muddling through.
It’s worth noting, then, when a war of resistance breaks out and even gains ground. In certain corners of the American cultural ferment today, one detects a new iconography of female realness, grossness, flawedness - of copious thighs and unsexy sexuality. In a hundred ways, women are clamouring for a freedom long cherished by men: the right to be ugly, too.
As Tracy Moore wrote last week on Jezebel, “Lost in the debate about having it all, wanting it real bad, reaching for the brass ring and living a life mired in the anxiety of striver-driven perfection that comes with it are all the women who just don’t give a – let’s just say, aren’t fussed.
“Sure, we care about stuff,” Moore added, “but only up to a point one might describe as a low simmer of concern that never quite bubbles over.”
That attitude perfectly describes Lena Dunham, the writer-director-star of the HBO comedy Girls. Her character subverts our ideas of young womanhood because she doesn’t care: about her weight, her sartorial standards, her cooking. When she neglects to wear underwear, it’s not presented as sexy, as we’re used to on television; it’s gross and neglectful. When she plays table tennis topless, it’s clearly not because of targeting male viewership but in spite of it.
Many people can’t bear it. The critics can’t believe that anyone would let a woman like that on television. A New York Post columnist called the show “Sex and the City – for ugly people.” The radio host Howard Stern labeled Dunham “a little fat girl who kind of looks like Jonah Hill, and she keeps taking her clothes off, and it kind of feels like a rape.”
These critics should avoid the Netflix show Orange Is the New Black as well. Set in a women’s prison, it depicts that rarity, a nearly all-female world, mostly free of the male gaze. The opening sequence shows some of the hardest-bitten women you’ll see on television – with actual pores! When the prisoners dance, it’s seldom meant to allure. The characters who are put in sexual situations are often the ones a focus group might have voted not to see.
Even Miley Cyrus’s infamous “twerking” was interesting for its almost ugly sexuality. It angered and impressed many, but it didn’t appear to turn on a lot of people. With her tongue hanging out golden retriever-like, Cyrus was performing an un-pretty sexuality that was from herself more than for someone else.
Few have played with un-pretty more than Tina Fey, who often contorts herself to be less attractive than she is. The cover of her memoir, Bossypants, shows her own hands replaced with those of a fat, hairy man. Her character on 30 Rock finds liberation in grossness and frat-boy self-negligence. “Always remember the most important rule of beauty, which is: who cares?” she wrote in her book.
Will the insurgency of imperfection spread or fade away? The comedian Mindy Kaling isn’t taking any chances. She was asked recently about her relentless busyness. “I’m a minority, chubby woman who has my own television show on a network,” she said. “I don’t know how long this is going to last.” – IHT
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Lifestyle, Women, women, ugly, ugliness, real women, beauty
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