NY MAG on Girls, Weight Loss, and Television

So much has been made of Lena Dunham’s penchant for flaunting her less-than-perfect body on the HBO series she writes, directs, and stars in, that it’s been easy to overlook how the other girls of Girls bucked the repressive Hollywood standard of beauty too. During the first season, Girls co-stars Jemima Kirke and Allison Williams played what can, in TV parlance, be described as the hot and pretty friends, and indeed they were hot and pretty — but in a refreshingly normal way. That is to say, neither was particularly skinny that first season — certainly not Hollywood skinny. Trim, yes, but their bellies were noticeably soft, their hips curvy and faces full. Like so many of us, they’d look luscious in bikinis, like women who enjoyed brunch and weren’t cultish about spinning. And yet they were no less attractive or desirable: Kirke as the sexually adventurous, bohemian femme fatale with “a face like Brigitte Bardot and an ass like Rihanna,” so tempting she breaks up a marriage; and Williams as the uptight career gal with the classically patrician face and curves, who attracts a hot young artist at his own art show.

This realism was a departure from the standard template of a sexually desirable woman we’re used to seeing on TV and film in recent years: typically modelesque things with cut arms, a smooth hip line, and flat abs. Today, most sitcom actresses have the kind of fantasy figures that in real life require hours at the gym: Cheryl Hines as a hard-bodied cougar on Suburgatory, Krysten Ritter’s willowy vixen in Don’t Trust the B---- In Apartment 23, Sofia Vergara as an impossibly buoyant trophy wife in Modern Family. (Even Vergara's theoretically less-glamorous Modern Family foil is the astonishingly toned Julie Bowen.) There are exceptions, of course, among them Kat Dennings on Two Broke Girls and Mindy Kaling on The Mindy Project, but neither character spends much time unclothed or rolling around in the sack. That isn’t the case on Girls, where sexually explicit, skin-baring hookups are frequent and much like in life, having a stick-thin body is secondary to attitude and style.

It’s a testament to the show, then, that during the first episode of the second season, Dunham doesn’t let Williams get away with her real-life weight loss — she looks very Hollywood now — without comment. In a scene between Williams’s Marnie and her mother (played by Rita Wilson), her mother tells her that she looks “30 years old.” “I miss the softness in your face,” she tells her. “All you girls think that you look really good, but you just look like floats in the Macy’s parade — these big heads on these tiny bodies.” And over the next few episodes, Marnie’s problems only seem to get worse as she starts to rely more on her looks than her smarts to make a living.

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