“I am anti-pants.”
“I’m always afraid that I’m being unprofessional, yet I continue to sign all my e-mails ‘xoxo’.”
“I feel like I’m constantly asking [my parents] to please stay out of my work life but also to please bring me soup.”
A well-educated, “full-figured” woman who isn’t afraid to speak out about sex, show off her natural body, and admit that she still lives with her parents, Lena Dunham has arguably become a cultural symbol for this generation. She quickly skyrocketed to fame through her snappy one-liners, a handful of which are featured above, and for boldly bringing fresh, “taboo” themes to her hit television show Girls. Creating and starring in the Emmy-nominated series, Dunham has been both highly praised and highly critiqued for the show’s shameless depiction of scandalous themes: realistic, often awkward, sex; and nudity- particularly Dunham’s own nude scenes, in which her “non-traditional” body is on display. But what is perhaps Dunham’s most admirable quality is her resilience to such judgment: simply making a well-crafted remark and moving on to talk about her obsession with her dog, Judy Blume, or quesadillas.
And that is the beauty of Twitter.
For someone whose job it is to create witty one-liners, Lena Dunham has found a comfortable home on Twitter. As opposed to countless other celebrity Twitter accounts, where the Tweets are typically promotional, vague, and controlled by a member of their public relations team, the appeal of Lena Dunham’s Twitter is its supposed “authenticity.” As Alice Marwick and danah boyd discuss in their piece, “To See and Be Seen: Celebrity Practice on Twitter,” celebrities who use Twitter as a publicity platform are seen as “less authentic than those using the tool for dialogue and engagement with fans,” (142). Dunham is arguably the latter, openly displaying what Erving Goffman describes as “backstage” information in his 1959 piece “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life“– the intimate details about a celebrity’s (or anybody’s) life that the general public is usually kept in the dark about. In fact, Dunham recognizes this rare quality of hers and embraces it, particularly within celebrity culture. As Dunham herself puts it, “It’s interesting to see how people react to an oversharer.”
However, while I agree that Lena Dunham’s Twitter is among the more authentic of celebrity accounts, I also believe that her quirky, humorous Tweets are a strategic way for Dunham to participate in what Sarah Banet-Weiser calls “self-branding.” In her piece, “Branding the Post-Feminist Self: Girls’ Video Production and YouTube,” Weiser elaborates on the idea that whenever we post anything about ourselves on social media, we are marketing ourselves: ‘
‘Broadcasting yourself’ is also a way to brand oneself, a practice deployed by individuals to communicate personal values, ideas, and beliefs using strategies and logic from commercial brand culture, (2).
While Weiser’s focus is specifically on YouTube, I believe this notion resonates across multiple social media platforms- including Twitter.
In Lena Dunham’s case, it appears that she is constantly performing, and therefore marketing, her own character on Girls. Hannah Horvath, Dunham’s character and the protagonist of Girls, is often characterized similarly to Dunham: outspoken, witty, and bold- and struggling to navigate through young adulthood as a single writer (Dunham’s own occupation). Some of Hannah’s most notable quotes include, “I don’t want to freak you out, but I think I may be the voice of my generation,” along with “I just want someone who wants to hang out all the time and thinks I’m the best person in the world and wants to have sex with only me.” These humorous lines, two of many that Hannah has become famous for, could have easily been pulled from Lena Dunham’s own Twitter page, in my opinion. Because Dunham writes for Girls, her own voice and writing style comes across clear as day within the script. And her Twitter perfectly captures the connection between Lena Dunham and Hannah Horvath. While there are obvious differences (Dunham has clearly found her calling in the TV world, while Horvath will continue to struggle to make ends meet as a writer), their insecurities (particularly with weight) and senses of humor are almost identical:
This connection could potentially draw more viewers for Girls, a fact that Dunham cannot be naïve to. After all, it is a brilliant business plan. And in this sense, even when Girls is off the air, fans can still find a piece of Hannah Horvath on Dunham’s Twitter page- not only through her blatant promotional, behind-the-scenes Tweets for the show, but through Dunham’s own language and one-liners. By putting her own unconventional attitude about body image, relationships, and young adulthood on television, Dunham has made herself a marketable personality.
But as Weiser warns, through this self-branding we are ultimately shaping ourselves to fit the social norm; at the end of the day, we are not able to freely construct our narrative, even though it may seem that way:
…[branding] does not imply simply any narrative of the self, created within an endlessly open cultural script, but one that makes sense within a cultural and economic context of recognizable and predetermined texts, beliefs, and values (12).
While Dunham is famous for battling against social norms, one can argue that she is still aiming to please the general public by keeping up this quirky personality. And while this process may be working in Dunham’s favor for now, what if her beliefs change in a few years? What if she completely changes her mindset about sex, politics, etc.? She has already created a “brand” for herself that must remain consistent, in order to please her producers, writers, and fans. This is where self-branding becomes truly complicated.
As a huge fan of Girls and this Lena Dunham “brand,” I applaud her for being as authentic as a celebrity can be online- and reminding us of the simpler things in life:
Amen. And keep on doing what you’re doing, Lena.