Stars look to re-define ‘normal’ body types

It has never been much of a secret that teenagers and young adults’ perceptions of body image are influenced by movie stars and TV shows.

In fact, Lena Dunham, star of the HBO show Girls, has received a broad mix of criticism and recognition for her decision to take her average-shaped body and go nude on television.

Many criticize Dunham for taking the part too far. For example, in one recent episode, it appeared somewhat unnecessary to play pingpong without a shirt on, not to mention going all out and wearing a mesh shirt without a bra (but who knows, maybe that’s a normal thing for some people).

Others say her openness and self-confidence is refreshing. In a way, Dunham is saying, “It is OK to be normal” (and naked).

During one episode of Girls, a boyfriend asks Dunham’s character about her weight. She responds, “No, I have not tried a lot to lose weight. Because I decided I was going to have some other concerns in my life.” Imagine that — girls having more on their minds aside from not eating.

In an E! interview on the red carpet, Dunham explained why she goes nude so often.

“I hope that my presence and that of my cast members on television has given people some sense that a range of body types is appropriate and even wonderful on TV,” she said.

Despite the controversy on whether or not baring it all on the TV screen is beneficial or off-putting, it is indisputable that Dunham and other current TV stars are working on creating a new normal.

But though Dunham might have good intentions, the fact that she won a Golden Globe for her role and that the show is so well-liked does not necessarily mean a revolution is occurring regarding female body types.

A recent Cosmopolitan article, and many other articles since Girls debuted, argues that stars, such as Dunham, The Voice’s Christina Aguilera and The Mindy Project’s Mindy Kaling, are redefining body standards.

In order to see how this idea is misguided, however, all that’s necessary is to look at how each of these stars have had to defend their bodies and explain that they’re making a difference. Once these women no longer need to explain to the media how they are creating change, the mission will be accomplished.

In Kaling’s book, Is Everybody Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), she often addresses the issue of her body weight.

“My body mass image is not ideal,” Kaling writes. “Since I am not model-skinny, but also not super-fat and fabulously owning my hugeness, I fall into that nebulous, ‘Normal American Woman Size’ that legions of fashion stylists detest. For the record, I’m a size eight (this week, anyway). Many stylists hate that size because, I think, to them, I lack the self-discipline to be an aesthetic, or the sassy, confidence to be a total fatty hedonist. They’re like ‘Pick a lane.’”

Moreover, in an early episode of The Mindy Project, Kaling’s co-worker tells her that she would look much better if she lost 15 pounds. Kaling’s character, instead of getting utterly upset and going on some sort of insane water diet, is, as The New York Times described, “irked but not undone.”

Nonetheless, Kaling is not fat. Rather, like Dunham, she is normal and not afraid to show it. In fact, like most girls everywhere, her body weight fluctuates. The problem is that Kaling is constantly defending herself to the media, explaining that she’s normal, when it should just be a known fact that does not need to be reinforced.

On HelloGiggles, in an article titled, “Why Lena Dunham’s Body Matters (And Why It’s Ridiculous That It Does),” Michelle Konstantinovsky discusses the ludicrousness of Dunham’s body size.

“Dunham’s body is what women see in dressing rooms, in locker rooms and in the mirror,” Konstantinovsky said. But nevertheless, Konstantinovsky still asks the question: “Seeing it in a space typically reserved for stick-thin starlets seems somehow avant-garde. And that’s just silly, isn’t it?”

Hence, TV will only have truly created the new normal when people are no longer shocked to see the average size on TV — and when it no longer calls for a full spread in Entertainment Weekly or a special on VH1.

Moreover, what’s often ignored is that these girls do not just represent a normal, healthy body weight with a confident attitude, but also represent TV’s new vision of normal people.

It’s great that people focus on the body weight issue, but it’s also interesting to look at how TV personalities and human traits have changed over time.

Not only has TV been historically critical of body weight, creating unreasonable standards, but it also has created the ideal girl. She’s not only thin, but she’s also sweet, hilarious, sassy and sexually appealing (but not promiscuous).

Yes, Kaling is a size eight instead of a double zero, but she’s also a genuine person who makes mistakes, blurts out the wrong things and is often insecure about what she wears and looks like.

She’s a true girl, a real girl. And lately, true girls have taken over TV — one just has to open her eyes and look beyond waist size.

In Bunheads, an ABC Family show produced by the creator of the once-epic Gilmore Girls, the girls might be fairly svelte, but that does not mean they are not real.

The premise comes from a drunken “mistake” made by Sutton Foster’s character, Michelle, who gets married after one crazy night in Las Vegas. She’s not an ideal person. She blurts out inappropriate things, wears clothes others see as tasteless, dances promiscuously and is sarcastic.

Also, the character Boo is not the ideal body weight, especially for a ballerina. Nevertheless, she does not give up on her dreams to be a dancer. She constantly has to defend her weight because her body is not ideal for her desired profession. Though she is insecure at times, she still fights her battle and is true to herself (as cliche as it sounds).

Nevertheless, characters like those played by Foster, Dunham and Kaling, bring a new light to TV. With their utter geniality and authenticity, viewers can truly connect with them and understand their tragedies and good fortunes.

Still, change can only come once these stars no longer have to explain the reasons behind their ordinary characters. But the important thing is a real character has more to her than just a few extra pounds.


Mollie Berg is a freshman majoring in communication. Her column “Mollie Tunes In” runs Mondays.

2 replies
  1. Jack
    Jack says:

    uh, lena dunham isn’t “normal”, she’s fat, and it’s really gross every time she disrobes on screen. I get that she’s trying to make a point about body image, but it’s still incredibly off-putting.

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