It was the bounty heard ‘round the world last week when Jezebel offered $10,000 for unretouched photos of Lena Dunham in Vogue. Jessica Coen, editor of the Gawker-run women’s site, wrote that they were offering cash for the before pics from Dunham’s cover shoot because the after images are, “all in all, quite nice. She's well-styled and looks fantastic. As if Vogue would have it any other way.”
Because there’s no way a known slob like Dunham could look good without technological assistance, right?
Coen was quick to point out that the bounty wasn’t about seeing Dunham’s “real” body, nor was it about shaming her for working with a known-Photoshopper like Vogue. After all, anyone can see Dunham’s body for the price of an HBO subscription, and Dunham can work with whomever she wants. What then, was Jezebel’s point?
Clickbait. Attention. Body shaming. Um, Coen says “This is about Vogue”?
Offering a queen’s ransom for unaltered images of someone who is consistently shamed and policed simply for being okay with her body does nothing more than reinforce the notion that Dunham is abnormal and worth gawking at. “Oh, that woman looks pretty on the cover of a fashion magazine?! $10,000 for someone who can prove she’s actually a giant turd.” It’s a higher-stakes equivalent of pantsing someone at the middle school dance—a desperate attempt to prove that, deep down, they’re just as gross as you always thought.
Lest you argue that Jezebel is trying to uphold its mission of “Celebrity, Sex, Fashion for Women. Without Airbrushing” remember that no one is offering to make it rain for unaltered photos of other recent Vogue cover models like Jessica Chastain, Kate Winslet, or Sandra Bullock. If this were really about Vogue, wouldn’t the offer extend to unretouched photos of any celebrity and not just Dunham? The last and only other time Jezebel offered cash for unaltered pics was in 2007, and that time it was for any magazine with any celebrity on its cover—because that time it really was about calling the fashion industry out for retouching women, not calling out the women themselves for being retouched.
Of course, it goes without saying that if Jezebel has $10,000 to throw around in the name of women’s empowerment there are countless other ways to spend that cash than on unaltered images of someone we’ve all already seen naked.
But in the immortal words of Fran Drescher, “money talks and bullshit walks.” It only took hours for Jezebel to trade 10 Gs for some original photos from the Vogue shoot. And while Coen predicted they’d be radically different from the finished product, they… weren’t very different at all.
Dunham was retouched in small ways, sure, but her face and body remain basically unaltered. In fact, even the pigeon-on-the-head photo turned out to be legit.
Coen explains that, “These slight tweaks [to the Vogue photos], the ‘you look great, but you'd look just a little more great if...’ stuff is insidious.” And yes, she has a point. A point that could also be made about the Instagram photos I take of my dog:
When alerted to the bounty and the unaltered photos, Dunham didn’t appear to give a rat’s ass. And seeing as how she’s currently living it up in Paris looking fly on the cover of a magazine, why should she?
None of this is to say that Photoshop is a good thing or that Vogue is right to promote an unattainable standard of beauty—it’s not, and Vogue is no champion of body acceptance. But Jezebel singled out Dunham for the same reason her other detractors do: Because they don’t think she belongs in a fashion magazine. By offering a boatload of cash (fun fact: Someone earning minimum wage would have to work full time for 34 weeks to earn 10K) for pre-Photoshop pictures of Dunham, Jezebel is reinforcing the idea that someone like her—someone comfortable with her body even though it’s not the body of a runway model—shouldn’t be in Vogue. And that stuff is truly insidious.