Girl vs. City
Lena Dunham’s ‘Thin for Detroit’ Howard Stern Comment Gets City Fired Up
From rapper Bizarre to DJ Fantasy Blue, Detroit’s mixed response to the queen of comedy. By Abby Haglage.
The Lena Dunham weight saga is getting heavy—and a little too comfortable.
It all began with shock-jock extraordinaire Howard Stern’s incendiary description of the bona fide writer, producer, and actress Lena Dunham as a “little fat girl.” Unfortunately for Stern, the “little fat girl” had things to say. In a perfectly harmless apology session that went terribly wrong, Dunham’s clever quip brought a city to the brink: “I’m not super thin, but I’m thin for, like, Detroit!”
Admit it, the brazen line was genius. Giggle into your iPhone funny. Hilarious to everyone, all of us. But not Detroit. When the news of Dunham’s remark broke, Detroit Twitter went up in flames—some pro-Dunham, so vehemently anti. A few hashtag battles later (#detroitlove #notoffended) and the verdict was clear: Detroit (or at least most it) is pissed off.
The underdog of America, the city we love to “shit on,” has had enough. Lena Dunham told a joke, and it stung. From a famed DJ to a respected mom blogger, here’s a snapshot of Detroit’s reaction to the joke.
Fantasy Blue, radio DJ: “America loves to hate on [Detroit].” A radio DJ at 1059 KissFM in Detroit, Fantasy Blue, as she’s known to her listeners, didn’t laugh when she heard Dunham’s joke. “You know, I’m not surprised,” she says wearily. “People are always making jabs about Detroit. America loves to hate on it.” Blue has a point. “I’ve heard so many times that the ‘girls are thick in Detroit.’ It’s unfortunate because the city has so much more to offer than is portrayed.” When asked whether Dunham’s comment will have an effect on the morale of the city, Blue seems confident Detroit will persevere. “We’ll roll with it, keep our heads up. We always do.”
Yesha Callahan, 36, writer at BET: “Her comments were borderline racist.” An East Coast-native with close ties to Michigan, Callahan was shocked to hear Dunham’s remark, calling it not only offensive but racist. “Detroit isn’t known for its population of white people,” Callahan says. The BET writer says Dunham’s comment rings of racism in the way it insinuates Detroit—an urban area with a high population of African-Americans—is a “fat city.” “She doesn’t want to be judged for her size, so she shouldn’t judge an entire city on theirs.” Whether Dunham meant it that way doesn’t matter, says Callahan, if for no other reason than the fact that “most people in the city of Detroit don’t know who she is.”
Cocofro, 27, call center: “Salt in the wound” Born and raised in Detroit, ‘Cocofro,’ as her Twitter followers know her, said Dunham’s comment was “salt in the wound” for her already down Detroit. “From my understanding her show is supposed to be from a women’s perspective—showing girls that are comfortable in their own skin,” she says. “Why couldn’t she have just told Howard Stern, ‘I’m curvy and I’m proud of it’?” Why did she have to pick on our city?” Although a fan of Dunham’s in general, Cocofro had yet to try out her HBO show Girls. Now, she says, she won’t need to. “You’ve got to be comfortable in your own skin. A negative comment about women’s size in an area you haven’t been? That’s just plain rude.”
Bree Glenn, blogger: “Her comments represent the ‘shit on Detroit’ mentality.” Glenn, a local celebrity in Detroit for her blog The Mom With Moxie, says for many, Dunham isn’t well known enough to get a rise. Still, she says, the joke hurt in more ways than one. When asked if Detroit is mad at Dunham, Glenn’s conflicted. “Maybe. Probably. But, I think we’re madder at the prevailing stereotypes of Detroit her offensive comment represents, and the “shit on Detroit” mentality the rest of the country seems to have.” Detroit bashing aside, the mom and self-declared “PR chick” admits her city has its weight problems. “Now, I’m not saying that Detroit doesn’t have its problems with obesity—just like a lot of other cities, but the last time I checked, the state of Michigan’s obesity rate is the fifth highest. Not first, not second, not even third. So, what prompted her to dis Detroit?”
Jeremy Deputat, 35, photographer and creative director: “It’s … funny” A gruff-sounding Detroit native—“born and raised,” he proudly announces—Jeremy Deputat is among the minority: he’s not mad. “When I first heard it I thought it was funny,” he says, “mostly because I think it’s true.” Unfortunately, he’s right. Just last year, Detroit ranked number 12 on our list of fattest cities with a whopping 27 percent of the population being classified as obese. Deputat, who travels a lot for work, says cities like New York and Los Angeles seem noticeably thinner.
Jessica Colaluca, creator and creative of Design Seeds: “It boggled my mind.” Well known in the city of Detroit for her creative prowess, Colaluca says the comment “boggled her mind” because it was “wrong on so many levels.” “It surprised me that a woman who could be a role model to many [her show boasts the assorted humiliations and rare triumphs’ of 20-something women] would say that. The comment had a ‘mean girls’ edge that raised my hackles. There are beautiful, healthy, and confident women in both NYC and Detroit. There are also anorexic and obese women in both cities. She is the size she is no matter who she compares herself to. She could have randomly chosen any city in the U.S. and it would be an inappropriate comment.” On top of the disappointment Colaluca felt in Dunham’s role as a leader for young women, she too felt the pain of yet another Detroit dig. “I personally didn’t like seeing Detroit included in yet another dig on a national level. I was born and raised in Metro Detroit, and graduated from CCS. The city has struggled for decades, but there is a vibrant creative community despite the adversity.”
Christa Sarafa, 40, sales director: “It’s preposterous!” Christa Sarafa doesn’t just think Dunham’s line was wrong—she thinks it’s ridiculous. “It’s preposterous! She’s in the middle of trying to get someone else to apologize to her and then she completely bad-mouths an entire city?!” Sarafa, who says she’s petite, says Detroit is as skinny as any other city in the U.S, pointing out that Hannah, Lena’s character on Girls, is fictitious, and therefore she’s likely never even been there. “I’d like her to spend one day in Detroit with me,” Sarafa seers. “Just one day. Then let’s see if she can find one obese person.” Sarafa admits that she’s a big fan of Dunham’s show. Does she expect an apology from Dunham? “Hell yes, I do.”
Kayla Ruble, 24, a documentaryfilm producer: “I found it amusing.” Ruble, a Michigan native who now resides in New York is the girls’ age in Girls, which gives her somewhat of a different view. “My first reaction when I read it? I thought it was incredibly amusing,” she says. Nearly the same age as Dunham, Ruble says she doubts the star meant it maliciously—but admits that her own liking of ‘politically incorrect humor’ may have swayed her opinion. Comedic preference aside, she thinks Dunham has a point. “My first reaction when I go back to Michigan from New York is that, wow, everyone is so big.” After four years of college in another Midwestern state (Ohio) ruble says obesity is not a debate but a fact. “The Midwest as a whole has a weight problem; it’s undeniable. It’s not as if Megan Fox was talking about how Detroit people are fat.”
Bizarre, 36, former member of hip-hop group D12: “[I] think she’s a rock star.”Dunham’s brazen joke wasn’t lost on all of Detroit. Well-known rapper and former member of the hip-hop group D12, Bizarre was less than perturbed by the quip in a conversation via text. “I think she’s a rock star,” he said, “very edgy.” A self-proclaimed “outspoken rapper,” Bizarre loves things that break the mold. He’s not alone. To some people—even in Detroit—jokes are just jokes, and Dunham’s was nothing more. (Important unrelated side note from Bizarre: “Shout out to Justin Bieber!”)