Lena Dunham Won’t Accept Retouched Photos Anymore

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Dunham vs. Dunham.
Dunham vs. Dunham.Photo: Tentaciones, Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images

In today’s issue of Lenny Letter, Dunham wrote an essay about her long history with being retouched, ultimately announcing:  >

“Not done with getting my picture taken (once an insufferable ham, always an insufferable ham) but done with allowing images that retouch and reconfigure my face and body to be released into the world. The gap between what I believe and what I allow to be done to my image has to close now. If that means no more fashion-magazine covers, so be it … I bid farewell to an era when my body was fair game.”

The piece was spurred by an incident last week, when Lena Dunham accused Spanish magazine El Pais Tentaciones of retouching her photo, writing on Instagram, “This is NOT what my body has ever looked like or will ever look like.”

The magazine responded by telling her they acquired her image through Corbis and hadn’t Photoshopped it. The way they cropped it had simply made Lena appear more slight. Like a true champ, Lena apologized to the magazine, a little freaked out she could no longer tell what her own body looks like.

So now, in the style of Kate Winslet and Jamie Lee Curtis, Lena is pledging to keep it real.

There’s a plethora of think pieces and blog posts about why Photoshopping women’s bodies to conform to Eurocentric unrealistic beauty standards is harmful. Companies like Dove have built successful ad campaigns directly out of concerns.

But Dunham’s argument for why she no longer wants to be retouched is uniquely personal: It makes her feel like she doesn’t know or own her body.

She writes that earlier in her career, she didn’t question it when Photoshopped her. She writes, “[At 24,] whatever they did to make women appear important, desirable, and worthy of praise was what I wanted … Considering my commitment to showing my realistic body onscreen, this was a kind of cognitive dissonance I didn’t want to, and couldn’t yet, consider.”

But the incident with El Pais made her want to reclaim ownership of herself. She concludes,

“This body is the only one I have. I love it for what it’s given me. I hate it for what it’s denied me. And now, without further ado, I want to be able to pick my own thigh out of a lineup.”