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Lena Dunham/Lenny

Lena Dunham doesn’t know what her body looks like any more

In a Lenny essay, Dunham announced that she would no longer allow any of her images to be retouched, saying ‘I don’t recognise my own fucking body anymore. And that’s a problem.’

Only last week, we reported that Lena Dunham – actress, writer and arguably the best-known feminist of her generation – had become embroiled in a dispute with Spanish magazine Tentaciones over whether the magazine had Photoshopped an image of her on its cover. After the magazine claimed that no Photoshop had been used and that Dunham’s own reps had approved the image, the actress gracefully climbed down and issued an apology to the magazine.

Now the actress has addressed the issue in a personal essay in her newsletter Lenny. The piece, called “Retouched by an Angel”, charts Dunham’s complicated relationship with her own body through her growing awareness of how Photoshop was being used to manipulate her image as she achieved fame.

Speaking about her first experiences of retouching, Dunham writes, “When I started getting photographed by professionals to promote my work, it didn’t occur to me to ask about, or to question, the use of Photoshop. I was 24, and whatever they did to make women appear important, desirable and worthy of praise was what I wanted. When my skin seemed almost painted on, when my nose was thin and pointed, I felt grateful for the future Google image search a potential paramour would enjoy, replacing a few candids of me with angry red zits at an indie-film-festival party.” 

Addressing the controversy after Dunham’s first Vogue cover in 2014 (when Jezebel called out the magazine for excessive use of Photoshopping), Dunham questions, “Was I being called out on the chasm between the goals of my television show and the reality of posing in Vogue in a fancy dress and a support garment? Those were fair lines of inquiry for Jezebel, but it still felt like having the stuffing ripped from my bra at the seventh-grade dance. Would I ever get the chance to just be beautiful, no questions asked?”

Simply by virtue of the fact that she isn’t supermodel-slim, Dunham’s body has frequently been the source of cultural commentary in our society, something she addresses in her essay. “It feels nice to look at a photo of yourself where everything that’s ever felt like too much is suddenly under perfect, glossy control.” As anyone who’s ever deleted an unflattering picture from Facebook will know, it can be difficult to be confronted with an image that highlights your perceived flaws online – and this pressure is magnified immeasurably when you’re in the public eye.

Now, however, Dunham wants to close the gap between “what I believe and what I allow to be done to my image”, saying “(I’m) done with allowing images that retouch and reconfigure my face and body to be released into the world.” What does this mean in practice? “If that means no more fashion-magazine covers, so be it… 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 line-up.”

Given that Dunham remains hugely in-demand, it’s unlikely we’ll be seeing less of her in our magazine covers and online. Which means we should get used to recognising Dunham’s “own fucking body” – imperfections and all.