First let me say that I enjoy listening to Howard Stern’s Sirius radio show very much. I don’t have to agree with everything that he says, in fact when his program is offensive to me, I simply turn it off and busy myself with some other interest. I support his right to say whatever he wants, and if he’s willing to risk being taken to task for his controversial opinions, even better.
Enter me. I have a little gripe with Stern over his recent comments about Girls creator Lena Dunham who also acts in, writes and directs the critically acclaimed groundbreaking HBO series. This past weekend I watched each episode of the first season and I was impressed with how talented Dunham is, even envious of her. The show is unlike anything I’ve ever watched in my life, and perfectly describes the post-University experience when a young person finds themselves with a degree but lost and directionless. Dunham also happens to look like a real person, people like you and me who might be carrying a little extra weight, and don’t have Hollywood good looks. You know, people who we are all familiar with.
Of Dunham, Stern said: “[She's] 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…. I don’t want to see that…” He continues, “She’s such a camera hog that the other characters are barely on. My opinion, if I was a producer on that, I’d say, ‘Honey, you’re a little too close to the project. You need to allow the characters to breathe a little and let us get invested in them…’” He then gives Dunham the most back-handed compliment: “Good for her. It’s hard for little fat chicks to get anything going.”
Hmmmm… A little thoughtless of Stern. The reason that “little fat chicks” have difficulty succeeding in show business is because men like Stern, who are in positions of power and who make all the decisions, don’t want to fuck them. Instead of criticizing Dunham on the merits of her ability, he attacks her appearance. In my opinion he is mirroring how our society views overweight women: As ugly, unattractive and unworthy of being taken seriously.
This is a characteristic trait of a lot of straight men that I dislike. If a woman is not tall, thin, big breasted, with a small waist — if they’re not considered “fuckable” — then they should remain invisible, and never leave the house until they look the way they’re supposed to. Doubly important is that under no circumstances should they have their own television show where they will get naked.
Stern believes that he can make these offensive comments because on his radio show he often criticizes his own physical appearance. But that doesn’t make it right. It’s the same tactic that blogger Perez Hilton used when he would defend his bullying, saying it was okay because he was bullied too. I interpret that argument like this: Because I’m buried in self-loathing, everyone else should be too. Because I’m abused, I have licence to abuse others as well? It’s a ridiculous argument.
In fact, resorting to misogynist comments like the ones that Stern made, where he dictates how a woman should look and behave, is wrong for many reasons. For starters, it’s offensive to any regular person, like me for instance. I may not look like a model but I consider myself beautiful and sexy. Because Lena doesn’t look like a model, she isn’t permitted to like herself? She offends her viewers by showing what a NORMAL body looks like? Stern believes that if you’re a woman you can only be sexy if you conform to a limited definition of beauty, and that usually involves looking like a Playboy centrefold.
His hatred towards Lena based on her aesthetics is plainly obvious and he goes as far to attack how often she appears on HER OWN show. For those of you unfamiliar, Girls is a dramedy about Dunham’s real-life experiences as a spoiled woman in her 20s who is eventually cut-off financially by her parents. Like most shows, there is a protagonist and supporting characters. She is the protagonist. Therefore she appears on screen more than the supporting characters.
Obese men have starred in their own shows for decades, and have never faced this kind of criticism. Look at all the prime-time cartoons as an example, like The Family Guy, The Simpsons, etc. The fathers are fat while the mothers are skinny and big breasted. Each season of The Sopranos, the men got fatter and fatter while the women got smaller and smaller. This is the plight of actresses on successful shows: If they want a career after the end of their series they better look like they’re supposed to, or face unemployment. Most actresses resort to plastic surgery to appease their critics and to heal the emotional toil of being criticized for something as shallow as the way that they look and as natural as aging. Then we judge, and ridicule them for doing what we have practically demanded from them. I would also like to point out that Dunham isn’t obese, in fact, I wouldn’t even consider her overweight, she is normal, like many women, and men, that I know.
American television is saturated by beautiful people that we’ve come to believe are the norm. I often think that the rest of us must think that we look that way too. I know it’s cheesy to say that we’re all beautiful in our own way, but it’s better than constantly feeling bad for looking like the MAJORITY of people. Make no mistake, actors on American television and movies are freaks, and make up a very small percentage of the population.
Here is Stern’s thesis: Because Lena Dunham’s body makes him uncomfortable she should NEVER be naked, especially on a television show he has chosen to watch.
God forbid she considers herself sexy, and challenges everything he has ever believed about women and beauty. Unlike him, she doesn’t feel bad about her looks.
I’m not going to end this post by saying something insipid like, “Lena, you’re beautiful gurrrlll….” No, I’m not.
I’m confident that she knows she is.