Stripped-down strip-offs and the body positivity debate

Lena Dunham and Lonely lingerie- Wildabout Magazine

Let me ask you a question- have we, as a generation, improved in terms of body image and body positivity? Have we progressed from Moss minuteness, hollowed cheeks and heroin chic? Some would say yes indefinitely, with greater diversity within the industry- voluptuous beauties like Kate Upton and Ashley Graham (more on her later) making waves in all their bikini-clad, size 14 fabulousness. Then there`s the cultivation of clean-eating- a movement promoted by green juice goddesses Ella Woodward and Madeline Shaw, championing a “count goodness, not calories” mentality through an abundance of nutrient-rich, plant-based foods. Kale and almond milk replace cigarettes and diet coke, strong becomes the new slim.

And yet when it comes to the acceptance of the less-than-size 0, cookie-cutter kind of women, our progress seems somewhat limited. Lena Dunham is a particularly prominent example- the Girls writer appeared alongside her co-star Jemima Kirke in a completely unretouched, raw campaign for Lonely lingerie a couple of months ago. The two women are photographed in slumped around Lena`s own house, hair scrapped back, look pared back. A spokesperson for the brand said: “As an unconventional approach, Lonely aspires to showcase women wearing underwear in a way that we usually don’t see in mainstream advertising and the media. Instead of being objectified, the women who participate in this journal series – in this case, Lena and Jemima – are empowered and exhibit real beauty that will hopefully help women everywhere feel a little more liberated.”

A shot from Dunham and Kirke`s Lonely lingerie campaign
A shot from Dunham and Kirke`s Lonely lingerie campaign

One would think that the response to this “real beauty” would provoke a predominantly positive reaction- fashion, particularly lingerie, has always been criticised for being less diverse in the range of body types shown. However, within hours of the images posted online the body shaming began. Samantha Rea, an I columnist, commented “Dunham did not inspire me to sit about in my pants, buy Lonely lingerie… – she inspired me to go to the gym. It was an epiphany of: “Christ, two more loaves of bread and I’ll be looking that lumpy” before then concluding “the pictures I’ve seen of Dunham and Kirke together are nothing more than pseudo-Sapphic titillation.”

Then there`s Ashley  Graham, the ultimate queen of curves who is a key figure in the empowerment and acceptance of all body types, having done a TED talk on the need for a global embrace of body type diversity, designed a sexy-ass swimwear line and launched the hashtag beautybeyondsize. But recently the supermodel has faced a new kind of body shaming- for being too thin.

Ashley Graham
Ashley Graham

In a recent Lenny letter, Graham discusses how an Instagram post of her in a white crop and skirt became a breeding ground of body backlash, with comments claiming she had betrayed the curvier community and was conforming to the Hollywood norm. “I’m so disappointed in you,” said one user. “You don’t make plus-size dollars anymore, you make backstabbing dollars” said another. Graham calmly pointed out that not only had she not lost any weight at all, but rather she was not here only for the plus-sized beauties but for “all women who do not feel comfortable in their own skin” and that she was not to be defined by measurements or dictated by her modelling.

However, despite this body image backlash, the fact that Lena Dunham and Ashley Graham have the influence, admiration and huge social media followings prove that the one dimensional, repetitive, size 0 is no longer the sole appeal. Both are undeniable icons of intelligence and confidence- two magnetic, powerful qualities and will undoubtedly continue to inspire and reassure the insecure among us. However, only time will tell if people listen to Grahams message, welcome Dunham`s raw, untouched sexiness and allow fashion to be an industry about dressing up, not tearing each other down.

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