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Why Loving Your Body & Working On It Are Not Mutually Exclusive

Why is it that a woman has no real ownership of her own body? This is particularly poignant question to ask in Ireland at the moment, where the battle for a woman’s reproductive rights continues, but it’s a worldwide issue. The media, men and even women all see fit at various times to tell you exactly what they think of your particular body part; what you should cover up, what part is too thin, which part is too heavy, and what parts you should always show off if you’re to be seen as an object of desire to the opposite sex.

Female public figures, in particular, know first hand that they will never escape such scrutiny or the automatic ownership that comes with their bodies. The media owns this celebrity body, you see. Or I own it; you own it, even Facebook, Twitter and Instagram own it. And with this ownership, comes the Judgement; the criticism of a woman’s celebrity body that will happen, come what may. It happens whether they are slim or curvy. It happens if they lose weight, if they gain weight or in the case of Lena Dunham, even if one tries to get fit.

Dunham was, at one time, celebrated for defying social norms when it comes to the female form on screen and off it. In fact, she radically championed the ‘love the skin you’re in’ mantra for thousands of women.  And this was because she possessed body confidence and self-acceptance. For all its good parts and imperfectness, she loved her body, to hell what the critics thought and we loved her for it. But because of this, she wasn’t allowed to alter her body in any way, as this weekend proved. She certainly wasn’t allowed to work with a celebrity fitness trainer without mass cries of “HOW COULD YOU?!” or “She BETRAYED us!” from the corners of the internet. Dunham told People magazine: “I came to her and was like, ‘I have endometriosis, I have chronic physical pain… I just want to have a stronger core, I want to feel like I have more power throughout my day, how do I get there?”

And as quickly as they sought to put her on a pedestal, they tore her down twice as fast. She’s now a #hypocrite. Only she isn’t.  She’s simply putting her health and her body first. So why is it such an issue? What is it about Lena Dunham working out that elicits cries of rage from social media? Or why too, is it branded a “triumph”? Surely it should be neither? Surely after all that women go through in the fight for equality, we’re passed the point of tearing another woman down for her life choices?

Thank you for this @Refinery29. I feel I’ve made it pretty clear over the years that I don’t give even the tiniest of shits what anyone else feels about my body. I’ve gone on red carpets in couture as a size 14. I’ve done sex scenes days after surgery, mottled with scars. I’ve accepted that my body is an ever changing organism, not a fixed entity- what goes up must come down and vice versa. I smile just as wide no matter my current size because I’m proud of what this body has seen and done and represented. Chronic illness sufferer. Body-shaming vigilante. Sexual assault survivor. Raging hottie. Just like all of YOU. Right now I’m struggling to control my endometriosis through a healthy diet and exercise. So my weight loss isn’t a triumph and it also isn’t some sign I’ve finally given in to the voices of trolls. Because my body belongs to ME–at every phase, in every iteration, and whatever I’m doing with it, I’m not handing in my feminist card to anyone. So thank you to my girl @ashleygraham for writing so gorgeously about this on @lennyletter (link in bio). Thank you to @tracyandersonmethod for teaching me that exercise has the power to counteract my pain and anxiety, and to @jennikonner for being my partner in FUCK IT. I refuse to celebrate these bullshit before-and-after pictures. Don’t we have infinitely more pressing news to attend to? So much love to all my web friends who demand that life be more than a daily weigh in, who know their merit has nothing to do with their size, who fight to be seen and heard and accepted. I love you- Lena

A post shared by Lena Dunham (@lenadunham) on

But, we’re clearly not, and it is deeply sad. It’s sad that we use real people such as Lena Dunham – known as the ‘real’ one or quite cruelly the ‘fat’ one in Girls – to feel better about ourselves. But now she’s changing – getting fit, maybe losing some weight and feeling better about herself, happier – and that bothers people. It bothers them because they see her doing something about her concerns instead of just accepting them – so they take aim in order to make themselves feel good again.  You can almost hear the sneering, “well, she said she loved herself EXACTLY as she was.” They don’t like it when the token ‘fat girl’ (not our label) starts to change; society has always resented women for this because it forces those critics to take a closer look at their own insecurities.

And yet, that’s the point of all this.  It isn’t about Lena Dunham getting fit. It’s about the fact that we view that as a problem. So, maybe that’s what we should focus on fixing, instead of pulling yet another woman down.

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