I love Lena Dunham. I love her confidence, both on screen and off. I love her tattoos, her punky-girlish style. I love that she writes, directs, and stars in her own projects. I love her stylistic fusion of brutal honesty with light, quirky humor. More than anything, I love her award-winning show, Girls, which follows the lives of four eccentric 20-something women living in New York City.
Even though HBO’s Girls recently won two Golden Globe Awards, the show has not always been well-received; in fact, many critics have attacked Girls as being too self-consciously awkward, too Caucasian, too naked, and, in terms of the characters, too whiny and self-absorbed. Sounds like a great show, right? Well, it really is, and despite the criticism, Dunham offers us in Girls a whole lot more than any other female-oriented show on television today.
So, what makes Girls so interesting to watch? For me, Girls is appealing because it doesn’t glorify female perfection. In most other television shows and movies, the female heroine is usually an independent-thinking, strong, beautiful, thin, fashionable, successful, sometimes-bitchy-but-secretly-kind woman. True, these “ideal” women might begin with some emotional baggage, but after 45 to 80 minutes, they resolve and overcome such issues—their prejudices, their cockiness, their self-hindering shyness, or their misguided independence. And much more than often, these transformations are facilitated by the emergence of a beau, making their “ever after” all the happier.
Well, Girls is quite the opposite, and some could argue that, while Girls does not perpetuate the mold of female perfection, it instead presents a degrading view of womanhood by introducing four unlikeable, privileged female characters struggling with silly, often futile problems. But perhaps this de-glorification in Girls is a good thing, and here’s why:
1. I’m sick of comparing myself to someone I can never be like. I’ll never have perfectly styled hair every day of my life; I’ll never have skyscraper legs or beautiful clothes. Girls sets reality straight, presenting viewers with unfashionable, normal-looking women. My favorite character, Shoshanna (played by Zosia Mamet), dresses like a hot mess straight out of Forever 21, while Jessa (Jemima Kirke) takes hipsterism to an extreme with stupid feather dresses and kimono robes. Realistically, their bad clothes look much more like my own wardrobe than the designer get-up seen on other shows.
2. Their problems are normal, average, and relatable—never melodramatic or life-threatening. That is not to say these issues are not painful; they are just scaled down a bit. The women, all overqualified and underpaid, struggle to pay off student loans, seek financial independence from their parents, and search for control and independence in an uncontrollable city and job market. If this doesn’t relate to us quite yet, it will in a few years when we’re not just searching for a well-paying job but also for personal fulfillment and autonomy.
3. All of the characters are very flawed. There’s Hannah (Lena Dunham), the self-loathing, aspiring writer; Marnie (Allison Williams), the responsible art gallery assistant whose emotional ambivalence hurts even her closest friends; Shoshanna, the silly and innocent student; and Jessa, a carefree world traveler who is wildly independent to the point of self-absorption. All these girls are, for the most part, awkward, selfish, and misguided, but we still appreciate them. Why? Because we recognize our own flaws in their personalities and unceasing mistakes. We don’t aspire to be like these women; we don’t crave their lifestyles or strive to look like them, but we do take comfort in their relatable problems and familiar flaws. Girls reminds us that we don’t need to constantly be the heroes or heroines in our own lives—it’s too much work, too much pressure in such a hectic, unpredictable world. So don’t stress out or feel alone. We’re all flawed in a big way, and that’s the point.