It was a watershed moment in my life as a woman. This past summer I saw a not-skinny naked woman on a cable TV show. I remember feeling a bit shocked, like I just saw something that I shouldn't have — my honest first reaction was "Whoa! She has a belly something like my own! THAT doesn't belong on TV."
I'm ashamed I had that thought, but there it is. Maybe because I had never seen a naked woman who sported anything other than a stereotypically "perfect" body on any show previously (and come to think of it, not in the movies either), or maybe because I've had my own share of frustrations with my own corpulent corpus, but it came as a downright shock to me to see 26-year-old Lena Dunham bare it all (and do so a few more times before "Girls" was over for the season), and to do so totally unapologetically. Lena's character even says, when asked about her not-flat belly by her boyfriend, (who's into working out himself), “No, I have not tried a lot to lose weight. Because I decided I was going to have some other concerns in my life.” But that was, after all, HBO. It was a fluke — a delightful, surprising, sort-of-shocking display of a size-8 woman's body. (I am a size 8)
But then it happened again. This fall, I've been watching (and very much loving) "The Mindy Project
," which is headlined by the lovely Mindy Kaling (she really is a strikingly gorgeous woman), who is, like Dunham, a curvy, vivacious size 8. She is also criticized for her weight (on the show), and just doesn't seem to care. She plays a successful doctor on the show and seems to be (at least in a comedy-land sort of way) more interested in that aspect of her life.
Alessandra Stanley, the New York Times's chief TV critic, also noticed what I did, (and a few other examples that I hadn't seen) in a piece called "Women on TV Step off the Scale
," which explained why she thinks this is happening now: "Self-acceptance has become a new form of defiance on television, especially among younger female comedians. Partly that’s because it’s refreshingly unusual. There’s little comic shock value left in profanity, obscenity or intolerance, but it’s still quite rare and surprising to see a woman not obsess about her waistline."
In both Kaling and Dunham's cases, these smart, talented non-size-zero women are specifically making it a point to show a diversity of women's shapes — starting with their own. At the New Yorker Festival,
Dunham said, "I realized that what was missing movies for me was the presence of bodies I understood."
I like that phrase, because it's not judgmental. "Bodies I understand," means just that — that Dunham wants to see women whose bodies she recognizes, not that skinny women are somehow less than normal, or should be demonized for being naturally slender (which happens). "Bodies I understand" takes into account the wide variety of shapes that human women come in — it is much more interesting to get to see all of it, because then all of a sudden, there's more fodder for all kinds of entertainment. More (variety) equals more (jokes, skits, scenes, perspectives). It's healthier for women (and men, and kids) to see that there's not just fat and skinny, but everything in between —a and that health really does come in more than one size.
Being that both Kaling and Dunham are still several sizes smaller than the average American woman, this whole "being curvy on TV" shouldn't be that big of a deal. But it is. After years of seeing men of all sizes and shapes in TV and movies (with some being downright weird looking and totally unattractive as an integral part of their characters), now women who are outside that narrow ideal of female beauty are getting a chance to show that they can be funny, or act dramatically, or whatever, too.