Lena Dunham's body-image problem

On the one hand, as she states, Dunham wants it to be okay for her to be naked regardless of any sex appeal — in effect, she wants it to be socially acceptable for non-conventionally-attractive people to show their butts on TV. On the other hand, though, Dunham shot back at the questioner for suggesting she wasn’t attractive, even (we must assume sarcastically) suggesting he should get professional help for not being into her. The underlying, unarticulated assumption seems to undercut the overt aim I just laid out. And that assumption is that if women are getting naked on TV, it’s probably for straight dudes, so they damn well better like it.

We all know TV shows normalize things (Will and Grace, Sex and the City, etc., etc., etc.). Girls pretty overtly seeks to normalize bodies like Dunham’s. That’s a perfectly admirable goal. But it kind of has a tree-falling-in-the-forest problem; a TV show can’t normalize anything if no one watches it. Its third season premiered to a series high of 1.1 million viewers — not bad, and much better than last season’s finale, which drew only 632,000 — but not awesome. It’s plausible that every single person who has watched Girls has written a thinkpiece on it for Salon (or, fine, National Review Online).

And that’s why the now-fabled question touched such a nerve: It got at the fact that the show’s success as a force for cultural change is predicated on the exact people watching it who, well, might not really want to.