On January 16, polarizing ladyblog Jezebel offered a $10,000 bounty on unretouched images from “Girls” star Lena Dunham‘s Vogue cover shoot; a stunt that left a lot of people wondering if Dunham would have something to say in response.
The answer? Yes, she does. And ooh, it’s scathing.
First, the backstory: Jezebel made the Internet an offer it couldn’t refuse, in the form of a $10,000 reward for unretouched versions of the photos from Dunham’s big, glamorous feature spread in Vogue‘s February issue.
It didn’t take long for the pics to surface: 24 hours later a post went up proclaiming, “Here Are the Unretouched Images from Lena Dunham’s Vogue Shoot,” with accompanying side-by-side comparisons of the portraits before and after they’d been digitally altered.
Jezebel’s decision to call for these photos — as opposed to those of some other celebrity — almost certainly hinged on the hypothesis that Dunham, who looks decidedly unlike a conventional, cookie-cutter Hollywood starlet would need a particularly major makeover in post-production before she was fit for the pages of Vogue.
And so it was interesting (and not a little gratifying) to discover that actually, the alluring shots of the actress and director had barely been altered at all. The biggest surprise: The pigeon in this photo was digitally added after the fact — which probably had less to do with Vogue‘s beauty standards and more to do with the fact that pigeons poop roughly every six seconds.
Meanwhile, Dunham’s response at the time was largely confined to a single, dry tweet suggesting that anyone who wanted to see her un-airbrushed body could just as easily donate the $10K to charity and order HBO. But in an interview with Grantland posted yesterday, she finally called out Jezebel for its distasteful stunt — articulately, extensively, and without pulling punches.
“That was messed up,” Dunham said in response to a comment by Bill Simmons about the post. “I think Jezebel can be really smart and funny. I think it’s just, like, once you’ve been attacked in that way — it’s hard to enjoy, once they’ve made such a monumental error in their approach to feminism.”
A monumental error in their approach to feminism, ladies and gents. That sizzling sound you hear is Jezebel sustaining a serious burn. And Dunham didn’t stop there, adding, “It felt gross. I don’t know that I even talked to the woman who did it directly [Jezebel editor Jessica Coen], but I can’t imagine the reaction made her feel particularly great.”
Meanwhile, though Dunham did allow that Jezebel’s constant need for fresh content creates an environment ripe for mistakes like this one — “I did have sympathy for that,” Dunham added — she also admitted that the whole thing made her feel extremely anxious.
“I was kind of scared to see the unretouched images,” she said. “I was like, ‘Maybe I’m delusional in this and I don’t look how I think I look.’ ”
But when she — and the rest of the world — saw the raw photos posted, Dunham said, “I felt completely respected by Vogue. I felt like, ‘Thank you! For removing the one line from my face! Because I’m 27 years old and shouldn’t have that there. I appreciate this.’”
And for Jezebel, Dunham suggested that the wiser thing would have been to realize their mistake and choose not to post the photos at all — a missed opportunity that has certainly damaged the site’s credibility, including with Lena herself.
“Instead of going, ‘Hey, we kind of f—ed up. These pictures are not that retouched. Lena, enjoy the Vogue spread that you’ve been excited about since you were 8 years old,’ they were like, ‘She’s not retouched… but she could have been,’” Dunham explained. “It was this weird, almost political maneuvering that I have a lot of trouble respecting.”