The women's website Jezebel proudly revealed untouched photos from actress Lena Dunham's controversial Vogue photo shoot. However, the move didn't resonate with fans of the actress, who slammed Jezebel's stunt as "cruel" and "stupid" on Twitter. Vogue also chimed in, posting an outtake from the shoot on its Instagram page, of Dunham posing with a pigeon on her head. The caption read, "The VOGUE pigeon. Any questions?"
It all started on Wednesday, when Dunham's Vogue cover was released online, portraying a gorgeous shot from the chest up. Almost immediately, the Internet began buzzing about the image, with many fans complaining that the magazine had cropped the actress's curvy body out of the frame and applied too much airbrushing to the inside shots (slimming her down, erasing her arm). In response to the public outcry, Jezebel offered a $10,000 prize to anyone (i.e. someone who works in the art department at Vogue) who could pass along the comedian's untouched photos for all to view.
On Friday, someone did send Jezebel the photos, which are completely underwhelming. Sure, Dunham's neck was thinned out a bit, her chin narrowed, her jawline sharpened. The lighting was fixed. Some of the polka dots on her shirt were removed to make way for bigger cover lines. But compared with the airbrushing hack jobs we've seen in the past, Vogue did a pretty great job of maintaining the "Girls" creator's face and body — impressive for a magazine that amputated Claire Danes's leg in July.
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Jezebel's stunt was similar to an offer it made in 2007: $10,000 to anyone who could send it unretouched images from a women's magazine cover shoot. The winner was an original cover of Redbook featuring country singer Faith Hill, who had been considerably altered (slimmed down, under-eye circles removed). However, Jezebel's latest offer seems like fat-shaming a woman who is already so criticized for her body. It's also unnecessary. Since we're already quite familiar with Dunham's body (if not, check out her Instagram page, or watch an episode of "Girls," where she strips down on a regular basis), Jezebel's stunt brings our focus back to Dunham's body and the "What's wrong with it?" debate.
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All magazines use airbrushing in order to convey artistic, fantastical, aspirational images. Does it go too far sometimes? Absolutely — Lady Gaga's dramatic slim-down for Vogue's September 2012 issue and Vanity Fair reportedly lightening actress Lupita Nyong'o's skin are two good examples. But most women who read fashion magazines do so for escapism. They likely understand that photos of 45-year-old wrinkle-free women are not real, in the same way that they intellectualize that the outrageous hats and feathered jumpsuits on the runway are not to be worn in everyday life. As Christine Leiritz, an editor at the French edition of Marie Claire, told the New York Times in 2009, "Our readers are not idiots, especially when they see those celebrities who are 50 and look 23. Of course they're all retouched."
So, let's save our outrage for when it counts. Even Dunham, our unofficial spokeswoman for body love, is over it. On Thursday night, she addressed the issue, tweeting, "Some s*** is just too ridiculous to engage. Let's use our energy wisely, 2014." Good advice.