Photo credit: salon.com
I was in my first or second year of university when Girls first aired. I was living at home and taking a degree in communications, which to me just sounded like a more prestigious way of saying ‘writing.’
That was all I’d ever been truly good at, and not even especially so. I was surrounded by people who seemed to have actual direction in their lives, taking things like science, or starting businesses, or at the very least, not living with their parents. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t wrought with existential dread, but I already knew then that what my family had wanted for me—to be this special, genius child that would change the world—was probably not going to happen.
My best friend and I fell in love with Girls instantly. The characters were kind of like us: determined to be great, but not really sure how to get from A to B. Plus, the soundtrack included Robyn, the eternally depressed party girl who dances through her tears. All of it felt so relatable, even though they were in New York and we were in a small Canadian city. They went to parties in alleyways, but we had our hangover blunts and our beer in the park. Being that age is such a difficult thing to capture, especially in just over 20 minutes, but after every single episode, I felt less alone.
It has become popular to poke at Lena Dunham about anything and everything. Some of it, I understand, like the lack of diversity (is that the politically correct term?) in her show. Some of it, like anything do with her younger sister, I have no educated opinion on. Maybe it’s just because I’m also a white 20-something, but to me, the show stands apart from who Dunham is as a person—it’s so much bigger and all encompassing. And that’s not to discredit her in any way—I just mean that regardless of my feelings about her as a person, I’ve always been enormously comforted by her as a writer.
And without dismissing some of the real criticisms that people might have, I think it’s because Dunham has hit on something completely and utterly unique. When someone breaks the mould, they get a lot of heat for it, don’t they? Especially women. And most of all, women who have the audacity to hold no shame over who they are. So often in my life, I have watched movies and shows to escape—Girls is the first time that I have felt better by coming closer to reality.
Is it always realistic? No. But it smacks of truth. The abject loneliness of being your twenties and being surrounded by people who you call friends, but maybe not the kind of friends you imagined having when you were a kid. The exhilarating thrill of success, a precarious shock, followed by the lows of failure. The way relationships look one way from the outside, but are so different when it’s just those two people. All of those abstract, hard-to-describe ideas are so visceral in Girls that it just feels like, ‘Aha!’ every single time. Finally. Somebody gets me.
And people love talking about Dunham’s naked body on screen, but to me it was another kind of nakedness that has stood out. The ability to turn it around on herself, really, truly, and make her character the one that gets dismissed, left behind and left out. All of that is real in that we’ve all felt that way, but we didn’t want to talk about it.
My best friend’s mom once watched an episode with her and asked, “Is this what it’s like to be young?” “Yep,” she answered.
“Well, that seems awful.”
And it does. But it’s also beautiful, in a way. I never thought I’d be where I am at 25, and I guess that’s the thing that I love best about Girls. It’s something to show you there is no point at which you’re grown up. It’s all just moving forward, and maybe backwards once in a while.