Need to Meet: Lena Dunham
By Laurie Sandell
Photo Credit: Brigitte Sire
In Girls, Dunham plays Hannah, a wannabe writer struggling to get by in New York City. (Sound familiar?) But unlike the preternaturally glossy Carrie Bradshaw, Hannah raises quiet humiliation to an art form, practically exulting in crumbs of affection — and at times, outright emotional abuse — from men. (In one scene, Hannah is facedown and half-naked on a couch while her non-committal boyfriend goes off in search of "lube.") Hannah struggles with her weight, though her figure is what anyone with a working pair of retinas would call normal. Dunham identifies with this dysmorphia. "I always feel that there are two choices for women," Dunham says. "Either be totally confident about your non-size-zero body and say, 'I love what I look like and this is who I am,' or be the person who is obsessed with diet and exercise and keeping toned. What feels more realistic to me is that some days I wake up and think I love how I look. On other days I say, 'If I had real self-control, I would be 10 pounds lighter.' That contradiction is, to me, what being a girl actually feels like."
Be forewarned: Girls is, like Dunham herself, uncensored. Take, for example, the graphic sex scenes. "I've never had any desire to videotape myself having sex, but when I watch the show, I think, I'm pretty sure that's what I look like having sex," she laughs. But the show's rawest insights are reserved for the complex relationships among its female leads. "You see movies about frenemies and movies about girls who support each other till the end, but I wanted to show what real female friendships are like," Dunham explains. "My friendships are sweeping, intense, and romantic. You would kill someone for this person — but you also have all these secret resentments, challenges, and jealousies. At my age, no one is married, no one has kids, no one has a career. Everyone is growing and changing so quickly, you think, Are we going to change together or are we going to grow apart?"
As the waiter clears our meal, Dunham stands and offers me a hug. Diners around us are oblivious to her presence; she isn't yet a familiar face. But if her ambition keeps pace with her talent, they will know her soon enough. "Having been around creative people my whole life, one of the marks is that you are never satisfied, even when other people think you should be," she says. "I am so at the beginning of my own education."