Shape Shifting

Why We’ll Always Be Obsessed With Lena Dunham’s Weight

Lena Dunham shouldn’t be so surprised that people are talking about her weight loss: Her body, and body image generally, are long-held topics of public fascination.

Lena Dunham hoped we were done talking about her conspicuous weight loss for a little while. She’d politely answered to the initial headlines back in March about her “slimmer look” and “dramatic weight loss” at the launch of celebrity trainer Tracy Anderson’s new studio.

She’d politely answered to her so-called body positive fans who decided she could no longer be their body championing advocate.

But when US Weekly featured a photo of the Girls creator on an early May cover with the bolded caption, “20 Slimdown Diet Tips Stars Are Using,” Dunham unloaded with her own personal, uncensored “diet tips” in an Instagram post.

Those 20 “tips” ranged from ongoing health issues she suffers (“anxiety disorder,” “abdominal adhesions pinning ovary below uterus”) to election-induced loss of appetite (“a quiet rage that replaces need for food with need for revenge,” “constant sweaty dreams of dystopian future”).

The tone of the now-viral post was both sarcastic and earnest, with Dunham telling her followers that she “has no tips” and that being on a tabloid cover touting weight-loss advice is “diametrically opposed to everything I’ve fought my whole career for and it’s not a compliment to me because it’s not an achievement thanx.”

The message was clear: Her weight loss was largely unintentional (many “tips” were related to her battle with endometriosis) and had nothing to do with conforming to body standards society imposes on women. She’d made that plenty clear during an appearance on Ellen back in March, after fans criticized her for losing weight.

She said she “never felt self-conscious” about the internet trolls who have targeted her for being overweight throughout much of her career. “Then, I had this experience of my body changing and suddenly I got all these people being like, ‘You’re a hypocrite! I thought you were body positive! I thought you were a person who embraces bodies of all sizes!’ I do, I just understand bodies change,” she told DeGeneres. “We live a long time. Things happen.”

But Dunham’s Instagram post was an expression of shock and rage, as if she couldn’t fathom why celebrity culture is still dissecting her weight loss.

There’s nothing surprising about that: Western society is obsessed with body image and beauty, and tabloids like US Weekly and the Daily Mail chronicle every celebrity roll of fat and trip to the gym because there’s an appetite for it. Yes, it is troubling and discouraging that women’s bodies are constantly scrutinized in the media—particularly for activists like Dunham who are working so hard to change the narrative around women’s bodies.

Indeed, Dunham has made her complicated relationship with her body a central theme in her art and her activism, so it’s hardly surprising that the public also has a complicated relationship with her body.

She was just fine with Vogue photoshopping her on its cover in 2014, then furious when a Spanish magazine, Tentaciones, appeared to do the same last year.

“I have a long and complicated history with retouching,” Dunham wrote in an Instagram post reacting to the Spanish magazine’s digital nipping and tucking of her body on its cover. “I wanna live in this wild world and play the game and get my work seen, and I also want to be honest about who I am and what I stand for…

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“Maybe it’s turning 30. Maybe it’s seeing my candidate of choice [Hillary Clinton] get bashed as much for having a normal woman’s body as she is for her policies. Maybe it’s getting sick and realizing ALL that matters is that this body work, not that it be milky white and slim. But I want something different now…Time to get to the bottom of this in a bigger way. Time to walk the talk.”

A year later, having suddenly lost weight because of health issues rather than a desire to look thin, Dunham is still walking the talk. She has always given her body a central role in her work, from championing body positivity and women’s reproductive rights to exposing herself on Girls.

As long as she continues to be outspoken about her body, she should expect that her fans and critics will be outspoken in turn—and that tabloids will feature pap shots of her alongside weight-loss tips for their legions of body-image obsessed readers.