Last night’s episode of Girls seemed to upset the apple cart yet again as Hannah Horvath has the nerve to contemplate leaving her hot boyfriend Adam for Iowa’s writing workshop. Some will complain that the show is too unrealistic. After all, society has long since put “overweight” girls in their place. This is who they’re supposed to be, this is what they’re supposed to want, these are the only options they have. How dare Hannah act like a regular person worthy of love? How dare she show her naked body as though she weren’t ashamed of it? And how dare she dream a little bigger than being the girlfriend of a really hot guy but not much more than that?
I have to admit a little ambivalence at the way their relationship seems to be going. On the one hand, the feminist (yes, not a dirty word) in me wants her to never put her own ambitions behind the man she’s involved with. But the older lady part of me might want to her to remember that rare love is sometimes worth sacrificing for. Really what Hannah was saying to Adam, however, was really just that she wanted to attend grad school while maintaining a long distance relationship. He was saying, in turn, that he didn’t really want that. He likes having her there for him. He needs her. He loves her.
Some reactions to the episode, mostly from women, are starting to wonder whether the show is TOO unrealistic. No way would Hannah land a guy like that. No way would she have the choice of whether to be with him or not. No way would she get accepted to the Iowa writers program. But the show cleverly asks, why not? Here is a possible alternative to the negative swill women are conditioned to believe from birth. Lena Dunham says — what if? What if everything you’ve been taught to believe about yourself is WRONG? What if you really aren’t a worthless piece of shit because you don’t fit the mold of what desired, successful women are supposed to be? While she isn’t going to be Leonardo DiCaprio, George Clooney, or Bradley Cooper’s arm candy any time soon, she will hopefully do a lot better than that: attract someone who is just as turned on by what’s inside, and is drawn to the confidence she projects. After all, who wouldn’t be.
That “worthless piece of shit” thing is really what drives whole industries making money off the “self-esteem” industry. Spend more money on hair color because you’re worth it. Indulge in chocolate because you deserve it. But wait, you are getting too old – here’s some wrinkle cream that costs too much, doesn’t work and the model we use in this ad? Yeah, she’s 22. Weight Watchers, the Biggest Loser, the Secret – the constant cycle for self-improvement leaves many of us women simply exhausted and emptied out. We’re sorry we don’t all look like Jennifer Lawrence. We’re sorry we’re not all thin and perfect. We’re sorry we’re not nice and funny and easy going all of the time. We’re sorry for our very existence but look at all of the ways we’re trying to make ourselves better for you — oh wait, for US because WE deserve it.
Somewhere along the line the “message” has really been that you can be seen and heard and validated as long as you look the part — as long as you’re sexy enough to fuck you can keep talking. But Lena Dunham’s Hannah simply does not buy into that notion of who and what she should be because she just puts that minor detail way behind the much more important details, primarily: what is she doing here and how does she plan to use her time.
The other characters on Girls seem less important in this last season. Marnie continues to bug. Hard. It isn’t her fault but she’s more annoying than ever. The seductive and captivating Jessa wanders in and out of life trying to find where she fits in. She’s smart enough to know there’s no rush getting there. Shoshana, well, she’s comic relief. This season was really all about Hannah. Maybe it seemed as though all there would be to her was which dick she was putting in which hole but this season we’ve seen her struggle with so many things at once, as most smart young women are doing now. Girls, it turns out, is not at all about the boys in their lives. It’s about them, their choices, their mistakes, their ever expanding wisdom.
Does the mere presence of Hannah in all of her imperfect glory wipe out decades of brainwashing? No, it doesn’t. But it’s a start.