People Need To Stop Comparing Me To Lena Dunham

I finally watched Girls, and now I'm really mad at you guys.

by Jill York

Suppose for a moment that it's 1977, and you are an asthmatic, socially awkward teenage male. You're kind of dark and brooding, so you wear black a lot, and occasionally you walk around wearing an old beekeeper helmet, because it covers your face and you're self-conscious about your acne. Then Star Wars comes out, and all of a sudden people start whispering and pointing at you in the cafeteria even more than usual. The comparisons to a fictional villain in a movie you haven't even seen anger and frustrate you, and before you know it, a school security guard's searching your locker and confiscating all your porn.

This is sort of how I feel when people compare me to Lena Dunham's character on Girls.

"Lena Dunham's character is such a stupid, annoying bitch. But you know, you kind of remind me of her."

Since the show premiered in April, I have been compared to Hannah Horvath, the twenty-four-year old aspiring essayist that Dunham plays on the controversial HBO series, approximately seventy-five-thousand times. Ex-boyfriends, relatives, people I haven't spoken to in years, all feel compelled to comment on the ways in which I am similar to the character. This would not be an issue, if they weren't also listing the myriad reasons why they hate her.

"Did you see last night's Girls?" these conversations usually start. "Lena Dunham's character is such a stupid, annoying bitch, and seeing her topless is like looking at autopsy photos of murder victims. But you know, it's weird, you kind of remind me of her." Or, "Lena Dunham and her friends are a bunch of racist fucking untalented hipster assholes. I hate that show, and I hate myself for watching it. I feel like you'd love it, though, 'cause it's pretty much about you."

I hadn't even seen Girls when I first started getting these comparisons, but at first, I assumed that any parallels between me and Lena Dunham were purely superficial. Like Hannah, I'm a white, female, privileged twenty-something from New York with aspirations of writing professionally, but these commonalities are certainly not unique to me; in fact, they probably apply to about sixty percent of the total Girls viewership. I couldn't figure out why so many people seemed to see shades of me in what was, by all accounts, an incredibly unlikable character. So I put myself to work, skimming through the hundreds of reviews and blog posts that had been written about the show.

Compared to the rest of the internet's response to Girls, my friends' assessment of Hannah had been extremely generous. Critics and commenters made her seem like the most nefarious pop-culture super-villain since Hannibal Lecter, or Flo the Progressive Insurance Lady. She was alternately described as "spoiled," "lazy," "entitled," "self-absorbed" and, as one Rolling Stone critic put it, "kind of a pissant." Time magazine critic James Poniewozik even compared her to Tony Soprano in a piece on TV "antiheroes." Others seemed less interested in analyzing the show than in running Lena Dunham over with a truck.

Either way, everything I read about Girls indicated that I should be hurt about being likened to someone so repugnant. I wondered if I really seemed like the kind of person who would pocket a twenty-dollar tip intended for a hotel maid, or, as Hannah's boyfriend Adam puts it, "fuck someone just to go home and write about it in [my] diary." I never thought I'd be one degree away from the guy who garroted a former business associate in a hot tub. Was I really, like Hannah, a spoiled, lazy, entitled, self-absorbed pissant? I had to find out, so I caved and caught up with Girls.

Almost immediately, I realized that the answer was a resounding yes.

Everything my friends and the internet hated about Hannah seemed to be plucked directly from a checklist of things that I was embarrassed by or hated about myself: criminal levels of self-absorption; a tendency to throw myself into relationships at the expense of other friendships; sky-high literary ambitions, despite the fact that the only decent thing I'd written in months was a nasty note to my downstairs neighbor about leaving laundry in the dryer.

Watching Girls felt like going through one of those boot camps for out-of-control teenage girls.

Even Hannah's sexual partners seemed to be lifted directly from my own roster, from the gay ex-boyfriend to the anti-social, fitness-obsessed manchild to the nice, unassuming dude averse to dirty talk and backdoor stimulation. It felt uncomfortable to watch them paraded onscreen, one-by-one, like contestants in some perverse Mr. Bushwick competition. It felt even more uncomfortable to realize that this was yet another thing I had in common with Hannah: fucking someone only to go home and write about it later. (You know, kind of like what I'm doing right now.)

In this sense, watching Girls felt like going through one of those boot camps for out-of-control teenage girls on the Maury Povich show, where former drill sergeants attempt to reform pregnant thirteen-year old meth addicts by screaming at them about what worthless, terrible people they are. It was like Lena Dunham was blowing an airhorn in my ear and screaming, "Stop judging me and start judging yourself, you spoiled, lazy, entitled, self-absorbed pissant." And after a while, I couldn't help but acknowledge that she had a point.

Next week, HBO will air the season finale of Girls. Although there have been hints of Hannah maturing into a capable, decent, non-loathsome person throughout the season — her first forays into the literary world, her surprisingly healthy relationship with Adam, her fledgling attempts at severing ties with her toxic best friend — it's unlikely that she'll pull off a complete 180 from anti-hero to hero in the span of twenty-eight minutes.

In a way, though, I kind of hope she never makes that transition, for both the show's sake and my own. I still don't like Hannah Horvath, and I certainly don't like that I see so many of my own negative qualities in her, but I like that she and her cohorts force me to see them. And I think that's why Girls has resonated so strongly with us spoiled, lazy types: it takes these uglier truths about ourselves and how the rest of the world sees us and it spits them back in our faces, leaving us to think about whether we'll choose to stay on the Dark Side or take our first steps toward the light.

Want to meet someone who doesn't remind you that which you hate most about yourself? Meet them on Nerve.

Commentarium (62 Comments)

Jun 15 12 - 12:01am
gag

Well, if its only based on her personality, this can be overcome.

I hope you don't physically resemble her.... Yikes all those horrible attributes and to look like that, good luck.

Jun 15 12 - 3:27pm
Alex Heigl

And so, the level of discourse is raised by bringing her appearance into it.

Jun 15 12 - 5:55pm
Wait, what?

Level of discourse? What is this, n+1? I know that y'all think it's fun to play "writer" but don't forget, you're a just a blogger. You're regurgitating pop culture discussions, you aren't writing dissertations.

Jun 16 12 - 8:47pm
src

I love this site. It's in my daily rotation. However, I'm inclined to side with "Wait, what?". Good writing is something I can enjoy for its own sake. You can appreciate the craftwork no matter what the subject matter is. But in this blog post the author is pretty much telling us how a self-centered TV character mirrors her own self-centeredness, and I'm amused. The Level of Discourse is pretty basic, and that's just fine.

Jun 17 12 - 7:19pm
Nope

I love this site, too, and I agree with Alex. It's unnecessary mean-spirited to attack a young woman's looks when that's off-topic in terms of what she's written.

Jun 18 12 - 9:25am
Alex Heigl

@Wait, What? and @src -- I have no idea what either of you are referring to. My point is that when literally the first comment on an article is a cheap shot on Lena Dunham's looks, that's not adding anything to the discussion. And I'm not "just a blogger." I also have a Twitter.

Jun 18 12 - 9:04pm
hah

alex is just being defensive cause she IS as unattractive as her

Jun 18 12 - 10:21pm
gag

Uh, I just want to say I was being snarky on purpose to prove a point.

Of course looks do matter in reality, and given how much of a big deal the writer placed on resembling someone, why was the physical aspect left out? It has a lot to do with the character and Lena herself, if only for the fact that a hit t.v. show isn't showcasing tall, thin good looking women and a writer or auteur aspirant isn't a male.

Jun 22 12 - 2:26am
really??

"I'm not just a blogger. I also have a Twitter."

Wow, are you serious? Is anyone at Nerve a *real* writer??

Jun 22 12 - 3:14pm
Nope

@really??: Now I'll ask you the same: Really?? I mean, REALLY?? Can you really be so tone-deaf as to not recognize that Alex Heigl was being facetious with that line? I usually try to not insult anyone on here but wow, you must be, let's say, not so swift to have misunderstood that.

Jun 23 12 - 12:04pm
JCB

LOL @ "really??" being "really" dumb.

Jun 26 12 - 4:47pm
Um

@Nope "tone deaf" doesn't really apply here since this is obviously an online format and "tone" doesn't factor into the equation, dummy :)

And as someone who actually went to COLLEGE for writing, I still maintain that she was probably being totally serious with that comment.

Jun 15 12 - 12:03am
what

am i the only person that can stand her? i mean sure she has flaws but she's funny and idk it just seems like some of the things she does are just meant to entertain people because it's a tv show and that's what tv shows do. hannah does make me see some flaws in myself but when i think about this, i'm honestly more upset at the fact that i'm overanalyzing a tv show than i am at the fact that she's lazy and egocentric.

Jun 15 12 - 7:16pm
eponine87

I like her. She's not normal, and she has flaws but I am interested in her as a character. More than all the other characters, in fact.

Jun 28 12 - 10:54pm
jen

my husband has a huge crush on her. he likes that she's weird and has a normal body

Jun 15 12 - 2:06am
Idk

I don't think Hannah is an evil character, however I can see where people get that assumption from. Hannah does have very selfish tendencies, she mooches off of her parents and friends. She does dive into shitty relationships, and uses sex as sort of an escape mechanism from all the crazy shit that surrounds her. But don't we all do this during times of self- discovery. Like many twenty something year olds in NYC, and anywhere else in the country, Hannah is just trying to find herself. She is suppose to represent young people that are out there trying to find themselves. As a matter of fact every character in the show is. In order to do so, some of us do become very selfish and narrow minded. We get what many like to call "tunnel vision", all we see is our dreams and nothing else. It does not matter how we get there, or how many people we have to trample over to get there. All that matters is arriving at our desired destination. What makes Hannah so unlikeable is not her shitty personality, but the fact that we can all see little factions of our selves that we are not to proud of. I am not saying that EVERYONE can relate to Hannah, or that she is a representative of our generation as the show advertises.

Jun 15 12 - 2:42am
greg

I've been told that in almost all social circles today of 20+ yr old ladies that the characters in this show exist in them all. However that aside, this is the worst show I have ever seen (watched 2 episodes) I think the only reason Leah has a job is because she wrote herself one. How any network, even the Oprah network could put this crap on just shows there are too many channels and not enough programming. So I guess real life 20 something ladies aside (never too far aside) this show is terrible on it's best day and Leah needs to find something to make a living as it will NEVER be as an actress or writer

Jun 15 12 - 8:52am
ummm

Who's "Leah"?

Jun 15 12 - 10:26am
MS

"Leah needs to find something to make a living as it will NEVER be as an actress or writer."

Her name is Lena. And she, in fact, is ALREADY making her living as an actress and a writer, you jackass.

Jun 16 12 - 1:05am
Rj

Well she sucks at it, and I don't understand how this show appeals to anybody.

Jun 17 12 - 6:12pm
KS

Definitely my favorite new show of the last year. Taste is subjective.

Jun 24 12 - 12:38am
fk7

good taste isn't

Jul 05 12 - 11:32am
jake

I think this show is hilarious. Anyone who doesn't think the episode where the virginal friend accidently gets high on crack wasn't funny needs to pull there head out of their ass.

Jun 15 12 - 9:43am
Joe

I really liked this piece. It's frank and honest. Enough people have talked about girls...mostly negatively....that I'm curious

Jun 15 12 - 9:51am
g

what the fuck is everybody's problem? I think the show is rather interesting and I'm a dude. They're just regular girls. I've gained insight from, and seen bit of personalities in actual people I know. It's like science! I'm lazy and self absorbed, who the fuck isn't? The shit is a lot more interesting than "Game of Thrones" because I can (and have participated in) situations JUST like that. Nobody is trying to shank me with a broadsword. The show is about her and her friends. It's supposed to be self absorbed because that is the fucking premise of the show. Seinfeld was self absorbed too.

Jun 15 12 - 11:47am
AAC

"I'm lazy and self absorbed, who the fuck isn't?"

Uh, lots of people? Not everyone in the world is steeped in New York-style narcissism.

Also, not everyone thought Seinfeld was the pinnacle of comedy. Plenty of people were rubbed the wrong way by it, not least because everyone in it was a self-absorbed caricature. I never found it to be more than occasionally funny.

Jun 15 12 - 11:55am
taco

"Nobody is trying to shank me with a broadsword."

This made me laugh more than anything all week.

Jun 15 12 - 8:30pm
el profe

So, g, for you to enjoy a movie/TV show/play, the events of said movie, etc. need to have happened to you? That's unfortunate.

Jun 17 12 - 11:23pm
Shut the Fuck Up

Never diss Game of Thrones.

Jun 15 12 - 9:57am
Jinna

It's depressing that where there once was My So-Called Life and Freaks and Geeks, there is now...Girls.

Jun 16 12 - 4:39am
JCB

My So-Called Life sucked. And those were shows about high school students, I'm not sure how they relate to Girls.

Jun 16 12 - 2:44pm
L

I'm curious, because I agree with almost everything you say. How did My So Called Life suck?

Jun 16 12 - 8:09pm
src

Ohhhhh Jordan Catalano.....

Jun 17 12 - 1:29pm
JCB

I remember watching it as a young girl when it actually aired, and finding the main character so insufferably angsty, drippy, and self-absorbed. She had so much going for her but spent all her time mooning over this douchey guy. I was at an age where I wanted to see girls my age who were cool, funny and independent - things I aspired to be. So it really surprised me when over the years the show took on this godlike cult status, when I remember it being pretty boring.

Of course if I watched it again as an adult I might amend my opinion, but I just don't care enough.

Jun 19 12 - 12:02am
My So-Called Blithe

My So-Called Life does not stand the test of time.

Jun 15 12 - 1:46pm
Bruce

Much to her credit--or purely by accident--Lena Dunham has managed to get the media in general to reproduce the tendencies of parents who tend to produce Hannah Horvaths. Dunham is constantly being hailed as so smart and exceptionally talented,when in fact she is simply fine. she is hardly the second coming of Orson Wells, and yet she is being hailed as a kind of wunderkind worthy of all this considerable attention. I like the show,a nd I like what I have seen of Lena Dunham. But, come on.

Jun 15 12 - 5:01pm
Jwow's Tits

If Lena Dunham were a guy this show would be number 1 on a major network--and no one would be commenting on her looks (which are fine btw--not everyone requires their tv stars to have fake tits and a nose job). It's not Masterpiece theater but it does capture a time and place with some incredible precision. I admit I really wanted to hate it--but it's way more compelling than Sex in the City, the show it's always compared to.

Jun 15 12 - 9:09pm
bl

yeah, entourage was a show that most people could not relate to. the characters lived in hollywood and just thought about what scheme they could get involved in next and which movie the main character, vince, should star in. the characters were all men, narrow-minded and narcissistic but it was a popular show that lasted eight seasons and i've never heard any complaints about it like i've heard about girls. both of them are good shows but girls is receiving so much abuse. if the main characters were men it would probably be depicted as a fun, light-hearted comedy about young guys living in the new york city trying to get as much ass as possible but instead it stars four young women who are depicted as spoiled and self-absorbed.

Jun 17 12 - 5:31pm
das

truth.

Jun 18 12 - 6:10pm
Svenson Björnson

God I hated Entourage. It was like one long trailer for a movie no one wanted to see.

Jun 16 12 - 2:40am
Weary

Lena Dunham is very skilled. Obviously she can write. I sort of like the show, but my only problem with it is that it's been portrayed, in interviews, and in articles, as a virtual documentary of a particular demographic group. That would be a very sad case if it's true. And it's certainly NOT true of the four lead actresses, all of whom, in "real" life, are products of privilege.
As for Hannah being evil, no. Marnie is evil.

Jun 16 12 - 11:46am
Lena Fan

Since every actress on TV has to be thin and made-up, I find Lena's deliberate decision to display her make-up free face and naked body totally brave and awesome, like a big fuck-you to all of the assholes who would have a problem with it. Good for her. I hope she keeps it up.

Also, I need to call a spade a spade... the excessively negative reaction to her character is at least partly rooted in sexism. I think that Dunham INTENDS for Hannah to have unsavory qualities--that's part of the humor of the show--but I think people are refusing to separate the character from the creator. Lena is not Hannah! Nobody complains about how gross Louis CK's body is (and it IS gross... the man sweats from his CLEAVAGE) or how unbearable Larry David's personality is, or how despicable the men are in Entourage. Everyone needs to realize their reaction to Lena Dunham says way more about THEM and their biases and insecurites than her.

Jun 16 12 - 10:49pm
Hampton

No it doesn't

Jun 18 12 - 12:37pm
Sven

Indeed it does. Dunham has written flawed, human characters and no one can handle it.

Jun 20 12 - 9:32pm
let

preach girl. preach

Jun 23 12 - 6:23pm
@Lena fan

Exactly. Your comment is my favorite thing I've read on the internet today. The negative response IS largely rooted in sexism. I'm all about giving criticism where criticism is due, but seriously, this show has taken an unfair beating, simply for being about complex lady characters. No one is saying that this is a "show for our generation"--Lena's character said she would be as a writer in the fictional universe of the show, but we were supposed to look at her (and all of the people like her who make such generalizations) with a critical eye.

Jun 16 12 - 6:33pm
I friggen love Girls

That is all.

Jun 17 12 - 7:24pm
Nope

Yes, it does. Good post Lena Fan.

Jun 18 12 - 9:43am
DUNHAM DEFENDER

I actually don't think Lena Dunham is hideous like people make her out to be, but Jesus Christ in heaven you guys did a good job at finding the most horrifying picture of her. That face is the last thing you see before you die.

Jun 18 12 - 12:52pm
bl

what?! i think she looks adorable.

Jun 18 12 - 2:29pm
Rabbit

Am I the only one who was totally confused by the WTF-ness of the first paragraph of this article? I had to read it and the subsequent 2 pars about 3 times before I realised the author was female and had nothing to do with Star Wars.

Jun 22 12 - 2:31am
Not impressed

Lol. Yeah, a lot of them really do suck at writing. I'm amazed at what kind of bull shit passes for an "article" with them.

Jun 18 12 - 2:53pm
KingPellinore

"I be less self-centered, so I will write a column about myself and my self-centeredness."

Jun 19 12 - 1:30pm
shewasright

And now that the finale has aired, suffice it to say I'm glad Hannah got what was coming to her.

Jun 20 12 - 2:36am
g

Wtf was coming to her? Her boyfriend completely freaked out unnecessarily, just cause she didn't want him to move in, after having exactly a few hours to think about it? The dude went completely bonkers. She didn't want to break up.... And I was like "Damn. Been there." And now I am one of those dorks who discuss television shows (wankers who watch Friends) like they actually happened. You see? Real shit that gets people thinking even if they are vapid dummies.

Jun 20 12 - 2:37am
g

The characters on the show, not the audience.

Jun 21 12 - 10:29am
Johnny Utah

Maybe I misread the scene, but I think her boyfriend freaked out -- necessarily -- not because she didn't want him to move in, but because she didn't just tell him that and instead asked someone else to move in so that she wouldn't have to have that conversation.

Good show, by the way. I'm amazed by the tone of some of the negativity, as well as the tone of much of the responders to said negativity.

Jun 19 12 - 1:31pm
shewasright

Now that the finale has aired, suffice it to say I'm glad Hannah got what was coming to her.

Jun 20 12 - 12:28pm
Kia

Get over yourself. I can't believe someone would actually publish something so pretentious.

Jun 21 12 - 10:30pm
Rummy

I really enjoy Dunham's work. As a type of extension from Tiny Furniture, Girls takes on the issue of identity in a largely shallow, young adult, middle-class society. The underlying search of each of the characters for identity and validation that contemporary culture has made them think they need serves as a poignant quest against the backdrop of normal life. It's a coming of age story for a certain "type" of woman that has been ravaged by the media; Girls is about the journey of the four main characters towards self-realization. Dunham affectingly conveys the struggle to find yourself in modern society, which resonates.

I also love that she's comfortable with exploiting her discomfort with her body. A seemingly trivial and juvenile issue, weight and body image effect how one conducts themself in public. Lena delves into the trials and tribulations of growing up and figuring out what to do in the world.

Jun 23 12 - 10:51am
Mara Carrico

Hannah is my absolute favorite character. She is very real, apparently too real for most. Can we return to endorsing people with substance and some reasonable sense of comprehension?! (Barring the fact that she totally despises herself) Pfft... Girls.

Jun 24 12 - 8:57pm
SW

I don't think she's ugly, but she looks like the female equivalent of Michael Cera.