Channeling Candor—the Girls Approach

I am a girl. Well, I am a woman, but I am still naive at times and still a girl in many ways. And it’s no grand mystery or revelation to note that I also love women, but that’s not this story.

Lena Dunham entered my life via the 2013 Golden Globe Awards. When she accepted her first award she stood, gorgeous and humble, conveying a manner of youth, stylishness, intelligence and sincerity. Those were purely my first impressions of her, other than that, I knew very little about Lena Dunham or Girls. I had heard of the show, and that was the extent of my knowledge. After Dunham’s Golden Globe wins, she began to materialize quite steadily in my mailbox—first on the cover of Entertainment Weekly, then a few weeks later on the cover of Rolling Stone.

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These events tossed Dunham onto my radar. I remember thinking there is something remarkable about this girl and feeling as if I were missing a pivotal pop culture moment. Still, my initial response was to rebel against watching Girls because it was being so widely hailed. More than anything, I was terrified this show might actually be good.

Either in the midst of these transitory reminders of Dunham’s existence or shortly after, HBO offered a free preview weekend. As I flipped through the preview offerings, I encountered a Girls marathon and dived right in to “Hard Being Easy,” which was already in progress. This episode presented a series of back-to-back scenes containing sexual content, and I found myself trapped in a loop of blushing and aggressively pressing the volume DOWN arrow on the remote. Actually, as Jessa was being lewdly and raucously banged in a window frame by an ex, I was DONE—and further, adamantly convinced this show was not for me. The sexual material made me feel incredibly uneasy, and I began to think I was adopting firm prudish standards with a reserved perspective on what I deemed appropriate cable broadcasts of sexual conduct.

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Shortly after this incident, I had a sick day and quite possibly a fever. To compliment bed rest, I requested my partner pick up a copy of the first season of Girls on DVD. Perhaps a culmination of work stress and germ-induced flames caused my Girls curiosity to peak. Whatever the reason, somewhere between hallucinations and deterioration of judgement I afforded this show a second opportunity to woo me. And it did! I viewed the entire season in one evening. Watch the ending to “All Adventurous Women Do” here to see the kind of storytelling perfection that wooed me.

After three seasons of Girls, I have concluded that the sexual content wasn’t what really unnerved me or made me squeamish. Intrinsically, I always felt there was something much deeper to this elevation of discomfort, and I now understand the dirtiest most risqué word applicable to Girls is, wince and brace yourself—REAL. The honesty in Girls is almost overwhelming. There are admissions about life on this show that even I would deny well beyond my headstone.

In retrospect, I confess I didn’t want to like this show, because not only did it make me confront some of my own confusing experiences and examine a few of my more disturbing and disparaging characteristics, but also this show and Dunham’s writing made me feel inadequate. I quickly ascertained that those girls and boys on Girls, in all their imperfections and insecurities, were representations of me. I am Ray—feeling like an unmotivated loser, utterly alone, benched at the mid-30 mark, and talking to an entity that doesn’t belong to me or seemingly anyone—left to cry into my hands as I feel completely lost and worthless. I am Hannah—neurotic, obsessive, selfishly overanalyzing everything, abandoning careers for self preservation, feeling unsatisfied, and pursuing futile attempts to control the trajectory of my life through words. In fact, while none of these characters specifically capture the spirit of me, I am certain I have something in common with all of them.

Briefly, Dunham’s brilliance reminds me that my own dreams are impractical and distant, and contributes to a fear that my abilities will always appear lackluster and menial in her presence. At least, until I was able to understand that even though her voice is accurate, engaging and applicable for a range of people, it is still uniquely her own. And I too have a voice. Maybe better, possibly worse—maybe neither, but mine. Dunham, with her unbelievable talent as a writer and spectator, is exasperating at times, but more than anything her work is honest, exciting and inspiring—and therefore functions as more than a voice for her generation.

There are so many indispensable lessons resonant in this show, and I would imagine that the meaning and value inherent in the expression depends on the viewer. Does Girls reflect everyone’s experience? No, nor should it. But it is a smart and direct show with truthful observations and contemporary depictions of LIFE—sometimes crushing, sometimes agonizing, sometimes extraordinary, more often than we care to admit – embarrassing, awkward, messy, and certainly theatrical. For me, emotions run deep. I feel. I’m sensitive. When I share, I experience vulnerability. I struggle. I’m dramatic. I’m scared. I’m insecure. I’m selfish. I’m selfless and compassionate. I love. And I would like to think I’m not alone in any of these things. Life is about connections, relationships, love, laughter, experiences, making mistakes, learning, growing and living—and so much more. I believe we all have stories to tell, and as long as we’re genuine with our stories perhaps they’ll reach someone and result in a connection.

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Girls was never meant to intimidate me or make me feel inadequate as a writer or a person. I am well aware of my own insecurities and accept responsibility for those, and I expect Dunham didn’t create this show to mute dreams, amass haters or stockpile criticisms. Instead, I think she writes because she’s passionate about writing, and she has something important and real to share. At times, it is tempting to be angry, covetous and frustrated by Dunham’s talent (and at such a young age) — but I choose to revere, recognize and respect her instead, and use her as a source of motivation for my own writing endeavors.

For those still debating on whether or not to leap into Girls, for whatever reason, I say, “Do it!”—and write your own conclusions. If you don’t like it, don’t watch it.

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Read more from Kat here and on Twitter.