I’ve always been fat. My weight has fluctuated over the years, depending on my lifestyle at the time, but I have never been thin. It also never bothered me. It’s how my body has always been, and I’ve always had my fair share of suitors, so I never thought there was anything wrong with me, despite our culture’s best efforts to convince me otherwise.
I thank my mom for that: for always focusing on my abilities, talents, and personality; for never criticizing my looks or suggesting I go on a diet; and for never shaming her own body in my presence.
Despite my mother’s remarkable parenting, a few years ago, after my husband and I split up, I became obsessed with being thin. What started out as healthy changes ended up turning into disordered eating, self-loathing, and a string of bad and harmful choices.
Over the last year, I have worked very hard at loving myself, rebuilding my self-confidence, and being at peace with my body. Every bit of work people are doing in the name of body-acceptance has been a blessing to me, and I love all the people who are out there challenging the media, calling out fat shaming, and building a culture of love and acceptance.
So, when I saw the Vogue photo shoot of Lena Dunham – who is known for embracing her less-than-conventionally-perfect figure, often appearing nude in her HBO series “Girls” – I was livid. Why, why, why would they do that to her face? Her beautiful face does not need to have a sculpted jaw line and pointed chin.
And this reaction was before the website Jezebel obtained and published the unretouched photos, showing that Dunham’s face had indeed had a little digital work done.
And for publishing these photos, the Internet had a collective freak out. Jezebel was “shaming” Dunham. Jezebel was “anti-feminist.” And worse, the touch-ups were “no big deal” or even “needed.”
Lena Dunham herself responded to the controversy by saying that Vogue is a “beautiful fantasy” and not “the place that we go to look at realistic women.” She also said, “I don’t understand why, photoshop or no, having a woman who is different than the typical Vogue cover girl, could be a bad thing.”
It’s a bad thing because the photos are still telling women that in order to be beautiful, they need to have their faces digitally altered because they can never be beautiful enough the way they are.
When I was at my lowest weight, an ex of mine saw a picture of me with my new body. His response was: You still have those chubby cheeks.
It was like a dagger to my heart. I was as thin as I could get. I was starving myself to the point where I could barely choke down food if I tried, and yet I still had those chubby cheeks. And chubby cheeks are not what beautiful women have.
As far as Vogue being a fantasy, well yeah, that’s easy for a woman on the front lines of the war against the media’s unrealistic portrayal of women’s bodies to understand. And Dunham is surely doing her part by showing her so-called flawed body for all to see in the show “Girls.”
But not everyone is watching “Girls.” Perhaps most importantly, girls are not watching “Girls.” And they’re the ones who are not aware that those fashion mags are a fantasy. They are the ones who are looking at those pictures as the ideal of what they need to look like to be beautiful.
There’s an episode in season 4 of the 80s/90s TV show “Full House” where the oldest daughter, DJ Tanner, played by Candace Cameron, wants to lose weight for her friend’s pool party. She ends up going on a starvation diet and over-exercising, which causes her to pass out at the gym. During the touching parent-child talk portion of the episode, DJ says that when she looks at the fashion magazines she never sees round faces like hers.
More than 23 years later that hasn’t really changed.
So, yeah, it’s great that Vogue had a woman on the cover who is different than the typical cover girl. And I’m glad that Dunham got that opportunity because she’s amazing, and I am obsessed with the show “Girls.”
But if they need to photoshop that different-than-typical woman’s face into something that is more typical of a cover girl, than does it really make a difference who’s on the cover?