Feminism, Pop-Culture | Posted by Amanda C on 02/26/2014

Vogue vs Dunham vs Jezebel

Lena Dunham's Vogue cover

Recently, I have been caught up in thinking about Lena Dunham’s photo-shoot for Vogue Magazine.  I am an avid Girls watcher and a Lena Dunham fan: she’s quirky, funny, sharp, and not afraid to say what she believes.  So, of course, I was thrilled to see her on the cover of Vogue, a media source that would be far more likely to photograph the Giseles of the world than the Lenas.  But a controversy began to surround the photo – a controversy not instigated by those who wanted to take a quirky intellectual like Lena off the cover, but by Jezebel, a website which considers themselves to have a feminist aim.

Jezebel quickly responded to the photos of Dunham with skepticism about the images, offered to pay $10,000 for the untouched photo-shopped pictures and then published them.  The article, written by Jessica Coen, argues that Vogue “puts you where it wants you to be!” insinuating that Dunham had no say or awareness in at the matter of photoshopping at all, but was a passive victim of the media’s abuses towards women.

Not one to stay silent, Lena responded to Jezebel, proclaiming that she did not feel “bullied by Vogue” and that this photo-shoot was a fantasy, and if fans wanted to see what she looked like, they could watch her show.  Still, Jezebel stood steadfast in their opinion that Vogue only wants girls like Lena on their cover if they can photoshop them how they choose.

In the weeks after this controversy, I’ve had conversations with people about what this implies for Dunham’s stance as a feminist.  Of course, these conversations were between people who were fans of Dunham and readers of both Vogue and Jezebel. Many of my friends agreed with Jezebel’s argument that by allowing Vogue to photoshop the images, Dunham has lost some credibility.  I have to disagree.

It’s frustrating to me that so many people have failed to critique the fact that Jezebel proliferated the idea that the media is obsessed with discussing women’s bodies without directly including the women themselves in the discussion. Jezebel willingly paid $10,000 for images of a woman’s body to “prove” how wicked the media is towards women, contradictorily treating Duhnam’s body as an object for sale. They then proceeded to have a conversation about Dunham’s body without her input.  The author of the Jezebel article, Coen, framed Dunham as having no authority over the way Vogue handled the photos or the editing even though the Girls star revealed she had a part in the artistic process and was pleased with the end result.

What is Jezebel’s end goal here?  If they are trying to defend a woman’s right to have control over her body in its true form, why are they publishing articles that take away Duhnam’s authority over her own body?  These articles and this public debate gained national headlines on Good Morning America in recent video about Jezebel and Duhnam’s argument. The newscast includes both sides, but once again, Duhnam’s voice was only included in comments she made to a magazine and her postings on Twitter.

I’m not sure why Dunham isn’t allowed to have her moment on the cover.  I was really okay with the Vogue photos; let her have her time to shine! Besides, its not like we don’t all know what she looks like naked.  Seriously, watch any episode of Girls and you can see that Dunham is not afraid to show her body.  Why is it that Lena Dunham cannot have her fantasy in Vogue without losing all credibility?  Is it because it implies that she has lost the struggle to the media’s obsessive ideals of female perfection?  Is it because she gave in to capitalism and earned some $$ for this cover?  Is it because she admits to feeling beautiful in the photos?

Whatever the reason, I’m disappointed by the constant attacks proclaiming Dunham a ‘bad feminist’ by those who consider themselves feminists. Who gets to decide what ‘bad’ feminism is?  According to Jezebel, posing for Vogue doesn’t qualify.  Does that mean a feminist can’t appreciate fashion, or just fashion magazines?  Is it un-feminist to watch Girls and continue to support Duhnam, now?  It seems that there is some confusion about what makes a ‘good’ feminist.  I’m not sure we should qualify anybody as a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ feminist, but if we are going to label, paying 10k to exploit images of a woman’s body certainly shouldn’t be deemed ‘good’.

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  • Talia bat Pessi @ at 11:37 am, February 27th, 2014

    Hmm, interesting. I don’t watch Girls or follow Lena Dunham at all, so I hadn’t heard about this Voguegate until now. Based off what you’re saying, I think Jezebel was wrong to frame the controversy in the way that they did, but they had a right to make the claim that Dunham has lost some credibility by allowing for the Photoshop.

  • Sophia @ at 6:17 pm, February 27th, 2014

    I love a lot of what Lena does, but honestly I don’t think Jezebel was having a problem with her or at all calling Lena a ‘bad feminist’, but the problem was with the extent to which she was photo shopped. Vogue photo shopped away some of the things about Lena that are quirky and adorable, things that are beautiful about her body, but don’t coincide with society’s hyper-idealized standards of beauty. There lies the problem: Lena is beautiful and natural, Vogue did not need to change her to the extent that they did.

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