Girls and Nudity: Why Naked Women Don’t Have To Be Titillating

What don't you get, Tim Molloy? Lena Dunham's skin-flits serve an obvious purpose

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HBO

Season three of HBO’s Girls premieres Sunday, but Hannah Horvath’s nudity is already a topic of discussion.

At a Television Critics Association panel for Girls on Thursday, a writer for The Wrap asked the show’s creator and star, Lena Dunham, why she insists on appearing naked so often on the show. “I don’t get the purpose of all the nudity on the show. By you, particularly,” the writer, Tim Molloy, said to Dunham. “I feel like I’m walking into a trap where you say no one complains about the nudity on Game of Thrones, but I get why they’re doing it. They’re doing it to be salacious. To titillate people. And your character is often naked at random times for no reason.”

Dunham, likely bored by the subject which has been raised again and again since the show’s first season, brushed him off by saying her aim was realism. “It’s a realistic expression of what it’s like to be alive,” she said. “If you’re not into me, that’s your problem.” Judd Apatow, who executive produces the show along with Dunham, took a harsher stance, later accusing the journalist of asking a question that was not only “sexist and offensive, it’s misogynistic.”

But Molloy was still confused, going on to write a post about the panel where he again noted his confusion over why Dunham’s character frequently appeared naked. “I don’t like it or not like it,” he wrote. “I just don’t get the artistic reason for it, and want to understand it, because I’m a TV critic.”

It should be obvious to a TV writer — and any other savvy consumer of pop culture and/or thinking human being — that there are reasons why a female character would appear naked onscreen that go beyond “titillation.” First of all, there’s a comedic aspect to nudity and as Girls is ostensibly a comedy, nakedness is often used this way. Think of the scene in season two where Hannah, high on cocaine for the first time, trades shirts with a total stranger in a club in the middle of the dance-floor. She then spends the rest of the night walking around braless, in a mesh top. It’s not gratuitous nudity, it’s meant to be funny — and it is. Of course, it’s possible that Molloy doesn’t find scenes like that particularly amusing, which is fine. But the fact that he can’t recognize that they’re meant to be humorous is perplexing, especially when plenty of male characters have used their nudity as a punchline in the past with no questions asked. Think of Jason Segel’s full-frontal nude scene in Forgetting Sarah Marshall – not titillating, but many found it hilarious.

But the nudity on Girls often serves another valuable function that is neither funny nor sexy, in that it illustrates the intimacy between the show’s characters. Hannah’s nakedness typically occurs in the presence of her girlfriends or someone she’s sleeping with. (Though not always during a sex scene. There are numerous sex scenes in Girls that show very little skin.) Take, for example, another scene in season two where Hannah is in the bath and Jessa (played by Jemima Kirke) shows up, distraught over the sudden collapse of her marriage. Without saying a word Jessa strips and joins Hannah in the tub. As she begins to cry, Hannah holds her hand. Both characters are nude, but there’s nothing titillating about it. The characters simply share an intimate, vulnerable moment, like many close girlfriends of a certain age would. It’s a beautifully done scene, and the nudity allows it to take place with very little dialogue.

Girls is peppered with moments that are funny and poignant and Dunham often uses nudity, her own and her casts’, to emphasize these moments. Sure, not every viewer enjoys it, but then again not everyone likes the provocative nudity on Game of Thrones. But what’s really troubling is not the amount of skin that appears on either  show, but the reaction to it. For anyone who thinks that female nudity should solely be about titillation — and are subsequently confused or even angry when that’s not the case — has a disturbing view of women’s place onscreen. And if Dunham and Girls helps shift that view, I say bring on the nude scenes.

132 comments
samziam
samziam

Face it.  If Dunham had an hourglass figure, it would hardly be an issue.  The nude women on other HBO and Cinemax series have bodies that titillate.  Dunham's doesn't--at least for most men (and women).

jackdeelee
jackdeelee

Judd Apatow's defensive reaction says he doesn't get it either.

lee.s.vieira
lee.s.vieira

TV shows are all about getting you to watch. 


What Dunham has done with her nudity on 'Girls' is give you one more reason to watch the show, but not the usual one associated with nudity. You're not titillated by her nudity, in part because it's not presented in a titillating way, and in part because Dunham admittedly does not have a 'supermodel' body (nor should she, realistically). 


But you are sort of fascinated nonetheless, because she's doing it without fear or self-consciousness, and it helps you feel more like you're really watching someone's real life. It's one more weapon in Dunham's storytelling arsenal. 


I can understand Tim Molloy's confusion, because this is something you don't really see much on television at all (though I think it will become more common going forward). It's sort of 'new', at least for any TV show anyone's really heard of. I certainly can't recall another show that addressed nudity in this way in a frequent, ongoing basis. 


I do have to take issue with Judd Apatow's harsh (and I tend to think, unwarranted) attack on Molloy though... there was nothing "sexist, offensive or misogynistic" about Molloy's question, Molloy simply was not seeing or understanding the new paradigm. For that, he does not deserve to tarred and feathered as a misogynist who only sees women as sex objects. Dunham is employing nudity in a different way than we're used to seeing (a good thing), and it's thrown a number of people for a loop, not just Molloy. If Apatow wants to be angry with someone, he should be angry at the entire history of television from Charlie's Angels and Three's Company onward, not one TV critic asking an obvious question based on the entire history (or close) of television to this point. 


Dunham's nudity has also gotten more people to pay attention to the show. So while it may not be titillation, it has the same desired effect, from the point-of-view of those making the show. Dunham's not selling out, but she is boosting her show and her career with her body, in part. 


So... clever, that. It's a bit like having your cake and eating it, too. Dunham gets to be nude and 'fearless', rather than nude and bimbo-ish. It's evolution, of a sort, in TV-land. 



murse88
murse88

If I said the same 'joke' or variances of it to the same audience everyday, it would get old fast. What's happening here is, Dunham is selling her body to her viewers. The show is fitting for women, but gives men a reason to watch it as well. She must justify to the public that it's not about being salacious, that way people like Malloy can't make an argument that it is. Then when the question is asked about titillation the women take offense that a MAN asked this question. If you sent a female writer in and she asked the same question, would the Dunham and her partner say, "Oh, that's misogynistic". Doubt it. People get upset when you bring the elephant out of the cage, but really it's a valid point. 

bottlesflying
bottlesflying

"Think of Jason Segel’s full-frontal nude scene in Forgetting Sarah Marshall – not titillating, but many found it hilarious."

Megan Gibson doesn't understand that Segel's purpose was not to be funny, but rather "vulnerable." Also, it's obvious Segel is an exhibitionist, just like Lena Dunham.


bottlesflying
bottlesflying

Let's cut to the chase - Lena Dunham is naked a lot because she's an exhibitionist. There's nothing wrong with that, just own up to it.

Rick
Rick

I DVR'd the show thinking "woohoo!", well... ummm, that one fat chick really needs to exercise more.  I unDVR'd it, obviously.

DavidKirk
DavidKirk

Personally...I think all naked women should be titt ilating...

eifg
eifg

The reporter is allowed to not get the artistic value or humor in the show's use of nudity. It seems a bit of a reach to label the question “sexist and offensive, it’s misogynistic.” The people making the show should be confident enough in what they are doing to deal with people who don't get their vision. They seem a bit close minded when they try to shut him up through name calling. Unfortunately many "open minded" people are only open to those who agree with them.

PeterJohnson83
PeterJohnson83

The reporter asked an innocent question and was labeled as "misogynistic".  This is where  the Feminazis have gotten us and they can deal with the backlash, every day.


And of course the nudity is an artistic choice and is also there to get stories like this and get more people watching and higher ratings and more money.   

gendotte
gendotte

Don't knock Lena. She reminds me of more than one of my ex girlfriends.

AaronFTW
AaronFTW

This is way over-analyzed.  If a show wants "realistic expression" to show how people really live, then great - people are nude sometimes.  It's a fact.  Move on.  Just because you see a naked body doesn't mean it has to serve any other artistic expression or agenda.

We are a country of prudes sometimes.  When Erykah Badu "expressed" herself in Dallas, you would think she was shooting a porno in downtown - one lady wailed on and on about how her child saw her breasts!  Gasp!  Oh no!  Now you will actually have to TALK to your child about body parts that they are probably already seeing online anyway!


Get a grip.  Sometimes boobs are just boobs.

trojaniam
trojaniam

Let's face it.  Lena Dunham looks like a sack of potatoes and her nudity accentuates that reality.  That's why critics carp.  It's much easier on the eyes when the women of GoT appear nude.


The larger question is how long will it be before this boring, depressing venture thru 20-something navel-gazerdom gets the axe.  Save Boardwalk Empire!

youngexec
youngexec

Is it really taht hard to understand that you are full of crap as is Lena Dunham?

RU4Real?
RU4Real?

Is it really that hard to understand that womens' bodies do not exist solely for the pleasure of men... that nudity is a natural state... that being naked is a universal symbol of being vulnerable, or of showing courage while in a vulnerable situation? How is anyone (especially the critic himself) not understanding these concepts (especially the literary symbolism of nudity)? To me, his question is implying "if you're not here to make me lust for you, why are you here at all?" and THAT is what makes it misogynistic.

swg333tx
swg333tx

He doesn't understand the nudity, but wants to, as a critic.  He asks some questions, and BAM:

he's sexist and offensive, and misogynistic.  Now I don't understand...

ColinSmith
ColinSmith

Blah blah blah. Al we ever hear in the media is how women aren't respected and are used as props and sex objects. And yet we're supposed to look at this and go "Aw, how wholesome!" Hypocrites, hypocrites, hypocrites

notLostInSpace
notLostInSpace

I'm a big HBO fan but this show just doesn't work for me.  I find the characters (male and female) are not funny, not smart, not role models, nothing.  If you want funny despicable people watch Shameless, it is hilarious, and has uses nudity (with attractive actors).  I ask myself if these are supposed to be normal girls, and knowing plenty of normal girls I have to say "nope".  

jonimenz
jonimenz

Nudity on screen has always been about sex. The purposes of Dunham's nudity is to challenge this notion and to reflect realism. People walk around their homes all the time naked. It's totally normal. I love that about this show. Having every scene with clothed people doesn't reflect realism. There's a lot of things that happen in life when you're naked other than sex and that's the point.

jack-_smith
jack-_smith

I really don't get it. I love the female form, in all of "its" variations. If people don't appreciate Lena's nudity, they're brainwashed by the media and perhaps porn. At least I can say this- I love looking at women, in all their varieties. If you don't find Lena nude titillating, you're a victim.

youngexec
youngexec

@samziam

She doesn't need to have an hourglass figure for it to be a non issue.. Dunham just needs to less ugly on both the inside and out.

XanderLegere
XanderLegere

@eifg Sorry but Tom seems about as open minded as 

'I understand female nudity if the goal is to give me an erection... otherwise I don't get it.' 

I'd say the comment is closer to stupid than offensive.

youngexec
youngexec

@AaronFTW

If it's so realistic then how come only Lena is nude so much? Please shut up.

emncaity
emncaity

@trojaniam

Alls I know is, Lena Dunham is the wisest person who ever lived.  Just read a compendium of her comments over the past couple of years.  

Navel-gazerdom sums it up, alright.  I've thought for quite a few years now that contrary to popular opinion, there is far too _much_ self-esteem in the world.

XanderLegere
XanderLegere

@ColinSmith you don't actually know what hypocrisy is do you... or perhaps your post was too illustrate your own blinding hypocrisy in a humourous way... I'm guessing the first one though.

eagle11772
eagle11772


@jonimenz "People walk around their homes all the time naked."  ??? !!!  What planet are you from ? !  I've never heard of anyone doing tat nor known anyone to do tthat.  I don't even take a shower naked !   You're WEIRD !

youngexec
youngexec

@jonimenz

Except there is nothing realistic about  the nudity. Dunham is overly nude and some of the other girls are clothed even during sex.

GuoLiang
GuoLiang

@jack-_smith 

Have a look at this loser. 


He'll settle for anything! Standards are just so mean and judgmental! 

youngexec
youngexec

@jack-_smith

Well  you  two fetishists are made for each other. Dunham is a fat, pervy exhibitionist and you are a chubby chaser. Awesome!

samziam
samziam

@youngexec @samziamTo each his own, Herkimer.  When you are an older exec, maybe you will be wiser--though unlikely.

XanderLegere
XanderLegere

@youngexec @AaronFTW She's the main character maybe... that's why she gets naked more than the other characters on the show.

Bring on your stupid questions people! This time.com comment section realism is killing me.

neoncarrots
neoncarrots

@youngexec @AaronFTW You're nude right before you get dressed in the morning or about to get into the shower right? Realistic means to be able to relate to real life if you didn't figure that out, and this is what Girls does as well. It represents a real person doing real things in a show that doesn't intend to be fake. 

youngexec
youngexec

Your opinion omits that she isn't the ONLY character...

XanderLegere
XanderLegere

@youngexec your opinion omits that she is the main character of the show and would hence be featured more than the others.... think about kiddy.

XanderLegere
XanderLegere

@youngexec you live in your parents basement... are a virgin... and 'shakes magic 8 ball' a TROLL

MichelleKirkwood
MichelleKirkwood

@youngexec 

Why does any man who likes big women have to be called a "chubby chaser"? I find that such an ignorant,childish and stupid terms. Bottom line, not all men like only stick-thin women like the media constantly tells them they should---why should they be labeled with some idiotic name like that? And honestly, Dunham really isn't even that fat, unless you think anybody over a size 4 is. Like the other poster said, women's bodies have been so oversexualized, it's very difficult for people (men in general) to not look at a woman's body as anything BUT a sexual object. Sounds like Girls is trying to break that mold, which is refreshing, for a change, and show female nudity ina way that isn't always only about male pleasure.

youngexec
youngexec

@samziam @youngexec  If Dunham doesn't have a "body to titillate" then how ever is it "to each his own". Please shut up.

fafoxy11772
fafoxy11772

@JeffMo Go OUT and take a shower naked outside ?!  You're WEIRD ! WOOF !

XanderLegere
XanderLegere

@youngexec what's fat about her... she may not be aneorexic... but you clearly don't know the American definition of 'fat'


youngexec
youngexec

@MichelleKirkwood@youngexec 

Dunham is fat.... what do you think her BMI is? You know the medical measurement of fat.  What's childish is women like yourself running to defend this unhealthy perv just because she has a vagina like you. And you don't know jack about men so spare us your man hating offensive generalizations.