Love her or hate her, it's impossible to ignore Lena Dunham. Since her poignant debut film Tiny Furniture, Dunham hasn't had a moment out of the spotlight.
She went on to create the zeitgeisty Girls with Judd Apatow. Four seasons of the show, a best-selling memoir, and a half dozen essays for The New Yorker later, Dunham has cemented herself as "the voice of a generation."
Though Dunham claims she'd never call herself the voice of a generation in earnest, her latest interview published in Harper's Bazaar suggests that's been her goal all along.
"I think women, when they're given an opportunity are so afraid it's going to disappear. That was [me in] my 20s. I was like, 'This may never strike again. I'm a kind of weird-looking girl, with a very specific voice, and the fact that I get to have a job is insane.'"
But Dunham isn't satisfied with just being ubiquitous. Fame was never the endgame. Her goal, she says, is "to spread positivity. I know I'm not most moms' idea of a role model, but I try to use the attention that comes with that wisely. Yes, I will tweet about my issues with underpants, but I also want to say things that matter."
So, when it comes to her latest brainchild, the feminist LennyLetter, what should we expect? And perhaps a more important question — Why should we care?
Well, Lena knows better than most how detrimental the anonymity-fueled shaming of the Internet can be: "I've been put to bed for weeks from reading things about myself on sites that used to be considered feminist gospel."
She sees Lenny filling a much-needed role in the lives of millennial teens, especially girls, who don't have a safe, positive place to discuss the issues that will — in many respects — define their lives over the next decades.
"I love the Internet because every piece of true pain I've experienced as an adult — with the exception of death in the family and breakups — has come from it. There's no shortage of stories of how Twitter and Instagram and Facebook... led to girls feeling ostracized, alone, slut-shamed... I felt like there should be a safe place for women on the Internet."
One of Lenny's more unconventional elements is that it is entirely comment-free. Comments sections are one of Lena's major issues with supposedly "feminist" websites: "It never ends well. I mean, have you ever read, 'Girls, let's all go meet for drinks! You guys are such nice people!'”
But what reason do we have to think that Dunham is the kind of person the next generation should be looking to for guidance? I'm not sure there's a black-and-white answer, but I would offer this: In a culture where PR gurus are responsible for cultivating most of the polished public personae and Twitter feeds of celebrities and political figures, Dunham's well-intentioned awkwardness and unapologetic — at times, uncomfortable — vulnerability provides a stark and refreshing counterpoint.
She will not teach America's women how to be pristinely poised or to epitomize an ever-changing, engineered ideal of beauty. Instead, she will teach them, through her life and her work, that they don't have to be or do those things to matter. And as someone who is on this journey herself, she is in a position to be the most credible messenger.
"There's so much torture that comes with being young, female, and trying to figure it out. I just want to be a person who's in my life."
As far as role models go, we could do a lot worse.
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