Today, Jezebel - the Gawker blog that touts itself as "Celebrity, Sex, Fashion for Women. Without Airbrushing." - really upped the ante on the last part of their mission statement by offering a ten thousand dollar reward for anyone who can provide the untouched photos from Lena Dunham's recent Vogue photoshoot.
Lena Dunham is a woman who trumpets body positivity, who's unabashedly feminist, who has said that her naked body is 'a realistic expression of what it's like to be alive' and 'if you are not into me, that's your problem.' Her body is real. She is real. And for as lovely as the Vogue pictures are, they're probably not terribly real. So Jezebel is offering $10,000 for pre-Photoshop images from Lena's Vogue shoot.
Read the rest of the post here, and then read on for Britt's and my take on this stunt.
I'm surprised at myself for still having the capacity to be shocked and disappointed by Jezebel, a so-called (and once, I believe) feminist blog that has devolved into very nearly the worst that the Gawker group has to offer - and that's saying something. I think what bothers me most is the hypocrisy here. Noooo, they're not shaming Lena Dunham. This is about Vogue, and how the villainous mag photoshops the real body of a real woman. Well guess what, Jezebel? You are offering to pay ten thousand dollars to make that real woman feel bad about herself on what should be a nice day for her. Vogue is gross, I agree. But Jezebel is grosser.
Here is my big problem with this: Jezebel is seriously, desperately reaching. It's hit-whoring at the expense of the feelings of a real-life person, and it's a shameful attempt to create controversy where there really isn't any. We all know what Lena Dunham's body really looks like, and we can see it the way she wants us to see it, how she wants us to see it, and when she wants us to see it on a weekly basis on her show. I'm not sure what they're trying to prove here. Diablo Cody tweeted a little while ago that this is just Mean Girls tactics masquerading as feminism, and I agree. What's the point of this? We should be celebrating her Vogue editorial, which I'm sure she's pretty stoked about, not looking for a reason to stir up controversy and rip her to shreds.
It's absolutely a Mean Girl move. There are certain female celebrities that Jezebel loves to attack under the guise of concern for their image or the way they're representing all of womankind: Gwyneth Paltrow, Anne Hathaway, Kristen Stewart - the way they hounded Amanda Bynes when she was clearly suffering from a psychiatric disability was actively disturbing to me. But to attack Lena Dunham in this particular way, when she is one of the most outspoken allies "real" women have, and further, to clothe it as support for her, is just about as low as it gets. And you're right: it's nothing more than hit-whoring, and I guess we're contributing to that right now, but this feels like an injustice that can't go unspoken.
The worst thing about this, and about Jezebel's crusade against magazines as of late, is that they're not taking the time to consider or ask these celebrities how they feel about their covers and spreads in the mags. A week or two ago, Mindy Kaling was one of four actresses featured on various covers of Elle. While the other actresses, including Girls star Alison Williams and Amy Poehler, were shot full-bodied and in color for their covers, Kaling was shot from the chest-up and in black and white. It's totally reasonable to assume that there's some racism and body-prejudice going on there, but the first thing that should be asked is how Kaling felt about her cover, and instead they immediately went into rage-mode, crafting controversy and crying foul, creating a victim out of Kaling without considering how she might have felt at all. And the same thing is sort of happening here. How does Lena Dunham feel about her spread in Vogue? Does she feel slighted? Does she feel like Vogue misrepresented her? Does she feel like she's participating in perpetuating harmful standards for young women? Instead of going to the source, they're declaring a bounty on her head(shots), placing monetary value on her body, which doesn't make them much better than Vogue. I am sick and tired of feminists like Jezebel doing this faux-heroism BS and saying a woman needs saving when she never asked for help. It's the female equivalent of that paternal "I know what's best for you" crap that we've been fighting against for centuries. It's self-cannibalization.
They did the same thing with Melissa McCarthy's Elle cover, and she looked incredible and was forced to go on Leno later to say that she chose the coat herself because she liked it. It was cashmere - who doesn't want to wear cashmere when it's cold outside? It's this idea that in order to be considered admirable role models for women, these ladies aren't allowed to want to look glamorous every now and then. That Lena Dunham's somehow failing us by being on the cover of Vogue, knowing that Vogue has a history of over-zealous airbrushing.
This paragraph makes it clear that Jezebel knows what they're doing, and what the criticism will be:
To be very clear: Our desire to see these images pre-Photoshop is not about seeing what Dunham herself 'really' looks like; we can see that every Sunday night or with a cursory Google search. She's everywhere. We already know what her body looks like. There's nothing to shame here. Nor is this rooted in criticism of Dunham for working with Vogue. Entertainment is a business, after all, and Vogue brings a level of exposure that exceeds that of HBO.
But then they never adequately address what good trumpeting the untouched photos will do. And I agree, placing a specific monetary value on Dunham's body is the most upsetting part of all this. Can you imagine waking up and reading that a widely read website has placed a ten thousand dollar bounty on unflattering photos of you? How mortified you would be?
It's as if Dunham can never do enough. It's not enough that she is one of the most unequivocal feminists in the public eye today. It's not enough that she's surrendered her body in all its vulnerability to widespread scrutiny in the name of realism and honesty. It's not enough that she's accomplished more at 28 than many men do their entire lives. She dared to be featured on the cover of a fashion magazine - THE fashion magazine, if we're being honest, and good for her - and for that she must be punished. But again, Jezebel would never call this campaign punishment, oh no. This is concern. This is protection. This is in her best interest, because certainly she must have had no idea that her photos would be airbrushed! Bless, she's just a babe in the woods.
I think Jezebel commenter littlefish said it best (and to be fair, the majority of the comments on this post are outraged) with this:
"We're Offering $10,000 for $20,000 Worth of Clickthroughs for Lena Dunham Photos!"
Today's the day that I'm finally done with Jezebel. Although I'll give them this: it's cute that they added this tag to the end of their fatuous crusade:
(Lena, we'll also extend this offer to you, if you want to submit them yourself.)