Lena Dunham was thrust into the cultural zeitgeist at the age of 24 when she first appeared on her own HBO hit series Girls. And although both the immediate and long-lasting impact the show has had still makes her "proud," the 35-year-old actress has yet to recover from the way that she was bullied about her appearance on TV.
"People had a very swift and strong and allergic reaction to what I looked like, and they made it very clear to me," Dunham told The Hollywood Reporter in a recent interview. "I was getting messages — many, many, many of them a day — about what I looked like. Things most people will never have said to them in their lives because most of polite society keeps people from walking up to each other at a Target and going like, 'You're fat, you're ugly and you deserve to die.'"
As a young woman crafting a show about the tribulations of being a young woman, it was even more surprising to Dunham that so many of the messages were coming from fellow women who likely experienced similar shame or awareness of their own bodies.
"I think people would think it would be like Trump-loving men in the heartland," she said. "But it was women. Probably women with similar body types to me who had internalized the kind of hatred that we are supposed to have of our bodies. If they weren't going to enjoy their body, then I sure as hell wasn’t supposed to enjoy mine."
In the years since the show came to an end in 2017, Dunham has spoken openly about her relationship with her body, as well as the impact that body shaming had on her mental health. She's even opened up about struggling with addiction and endometriosis, which have played roles in her appearance as well.
In February 2019, she took to Instagram to share a photo of herself in lingerie where she talked about gaining weight and being "the happiest I've ever been."
She's also spoken up about being labeled as a voice in the body positivity movement, asserting that she's never claimed to be "body positive." Instead, she's described herself as "body tolerant" and explained to The Hollywood Reporter that her frequent nakedness in Girls was misinterpreted.
"People thought I had been raised a nudist or something," she said. "It’s like, no, it was a decision about who this character was, the way that I wanted the sex scenes to look and feel, how we were using them in the story. I had all the issues with my body that every young woman has. I just happened to not be self-conscious naked."
Dunham also pointed to other instances of feeling misunderstood or misjudged as a result of growing up in the spotlight and making public mistakes.
"There are things I said in my 20s and 30s that I apologized for because I knew they came from a place of ignorance and lack of awareness," she explained. "But I was young, and I had huge blind spots. I came right at the cusp of the internet becoming a thing. The speed with which the hammer comes down is so much more intense right now. I am not one of those people who creates a binary between wokeness and good art — because I really like the fact that we live in a moment where people whose voices have historically been marginalized can speak out through the tool of the internet."
She continued, "At the same time, I have a huge amount of empathy for people who make mistakes. There came a point where I was sort of apologizing for breathing. That waters down the meaning of the words. I’d love the next decade to be less about apologizing and just about openly making art."
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