“Girls” star and creator Lena Dunham was interviewed by The Awl in 2012 about her nascent new HBO series, including her attitude towards clothing – or the lack thereof. “I feel like now I’m going to have to give up my trick of ‘oh, let’s make this scene funnier by way of pants removal.’ It’s going to wear thin. I’m going to need to start using it more judiciously,” she said at the time.
Five years later, well, she didn’t quite follow through on that. But we wouldn’t have it any other way.
If you binge your way through “Girls” from the beginning, perhaps in preparation for the imminent finale, you might find that Dunham’s body becomes a calming presence. At first, this might be because it was ever-present, a fundamental part of enjoying the HBO comedy about life as a very particular sort of 20-something. But as the show has progressed, it’s something that, on an aesthetic level, is a truly valuable part of “Girls.”
As anyone following television over the last few years knows, the topic of Dunham’s choice to expose herself on screen has long been critical fodder. The most notorious instance of this came in 2014, when reporter Tim Molloy questioned Dunham’s on-screen nudity at the Television Critics Association winter press tour, asking the creator/star, “I don’t get the purpose of all the nudity on the show. By you particularly…your character is often naked at random times for no reason.”
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That led to a confrontation between Molloy and executive producer Judd Apatow over whether Molloy’s approach to the question was inappropriate and/or misogynistic. (Molloy’s piece on the incident ended with him believing that he wasn’t being either of those things, because Molloy’s girlfriend said so.)
Molloy and Molloy’s girlfriend weren’t the only ones frustrated. A year earlier, LA Times critic Mary McNamara also lost patience with Dunham’s nudity on “Girls,” writing that, “Even the insistence that Hannah/Dunham is heroic in her willingness to expose her haphazardly tattooed and non-swimsuit issue-type body and her neuroses has become tiresome.”
What’s notable there is the fact that McNamara doesn’t make a choice as to whether she’s critiquing Dunham as a creator or Hannah as a character — it’s a blanket statement about both entities. That’s an issue underlying most discussion of “Girls,” muddied by the show’s occasional inability to fully communicate how it felt about its characters, whose occasional flat-out awful behavior is at times tempered by a semi-constant implicit sense of affection.
However, perhaps that’s been the point this whole time — with Dunham using her own body as a way of reminding us that everyone is sometimes awful, sometimes messy. Sometimes naked.
Dunham’s blending of these boundaries will be missed, once the series comes to a close next Sunday. After all, one of the most beautiful parts of physical intimacy is when your partner’s body becomes not just a whole bunch of exposed skin, but something familiar and dear. The curves, the angles, the flaws — we might not be just our bodies, but they represent an important part of our identity, and when you get to know someone on that level, when you know everything they might normally hide from the outside world, the relationship becomes deeper.
Getting to know a character on a TV show is a far different thing from forming an actual relationship with an actual fellow consulting adult, of course. But there’s no denying that Dunham offered up a lot more of herself than other creator-performers have ever done in the history of the medium.
Dunham has allowed audiences to get to know her on this level for the entire run of the series, and while she has been justly been evaluated on a critical level for it (like all artists might expect) she has also put up with an incredible amount of bullshit beyond the pale. It wasn’t a heroic act, but with the show’s continual support, it has become an aesthetic choice which will forever be a part of the series. When Hannah got naked on screen, it was Dunham depicting, in the most direct way possible, the show’s awareness of Hannah’s lack of self-awareness.
It was also “Girls” telling the viewer, “we don’t care what you think about it.”
The “Girls” Season 6 finale airs Sunday at 10 p.m. ET on HBO.