The Problem With Lena Dunham’s New Plus-Size Clothing Line Is Lena Dunham

This week, “Girls” creator, writer and actress Lena Dunham announced the launch of the 11 Honoré x Lena Dunham Collection, her new “plus-sized” clothing line with the 11 Honoré brand. She celebrated the launch with multiple Instagram posts and a widely shared interview in The New York Times

To be honest, 11 Honoré was barely on my radar, simply because the brands the company carries, its own included, most definitely do not “include” bodies like mine. I couldn’t wear a single thing from its site, and this is the case for many fat people. 

The backlash against the limited size range of 14–26 was pretty immediate. Now, to be fair to Dunham, I have not seen her refer to her line as “inclusive.” However, 11 Honoré calls itself “a size-inclusive shopping site” in its mission statement — while also listing a size range of 12–24. 

I personally don’t believe “inclusive” can apply to sites that cater to a limited size range that excludes both larger and smaller sizes. That position may be somewhat controversial, but to me, “inclusive fashion” looks like a brand like SmartGlamour, by Mallorie Dunn, which has a preset size range from XXS – 15X, but additionally offers complete customization of every piece sold, each of which is made to order. 

Simply put, the goal of “inclusive fashion” should be to actually include every body type. 

While this a conversation that is worth having, it’s not what I’m here to talk about today. I want to talk about Dunham’s Times interview related to the launch of her collection ― because her comments are incredibly problematic for someone trying to sell clothing to fat women. 

Dunham has apparently dealt with some medication-related weight gain after battling what sounds like an awful case of COVID-19 last March. Anyone who has taken steroids for an illness or injury knows the side effects are awful. One of them involves weight gain; another is a puffiness that’s especially noticeable in the face, often referred to as “moon face.” 

On the topic of her face and being on steroids, Dunham said, “I’m … trying to be chin positive. I can deal with anything, but a triple chin is a hard place to land.” [Emphasis mine.] 

Dunham may be the ‘biggest’ one in a lot of rooms, but there’s still no denying that compared to many of us, she benefits from tremendous privilege where her size is concerned.

Yikes. This is problematic not only because when I look at Dunham, I don’t see a “triple chin,” but also because even if she does have one, it’s due to medication ― not actual fatness. If she were to go off the steroids, that puffiness would go away. 

Furthermore, imagine how anyone with a “triple chin,” who likely already cannot wear Dunham’s clothing collection, might feel when they read that — not to mention anyone else enduring “moon face” from steroids or chronic illness. 

This touches on a major issue I have with Dunham’s collection. Dunham says in the Times interview that her body has settled around a 14/16. Considering the average American woman is typically stated to be a size 16, Dunham’s size is, well, just that — average. Plus-sized, but just barely.  

By the entertainment industry’s standards, Dunham might be considered “fat.” I do not doubt for a moment that she has felt the vociferous backlash of being in a larger body in an industry that seems to consider women “plus-size” when they’re a mere size 8. 

In her personal and professional world, Dunham may be the “biggest” one in a lot of rooms, but there’s still no denying that compared to many of us, she benefits from tremendous privilege where her size is concerned — even if she can’t see it. 

This taps into one of Dunham’s biggest problems; the one that is the source of many of her self-created controversies. She seems to exist in a bubble; her vision made myopic by virtue of privilege. I suppose that is why, over the course of a few sentences, when talking about her belly, she informs us that this is where she’s always gained weight. 

She adds that particularly after going through early menopause following her hysterectomy, she has a “straight up gut, like an old man,” and adds, “that’s not where anyone wants to see flesh. It’s not like if I posted a sensual nude of myself on Instagram, people would be marveling at my beautiful derrière.” 

I’m not exactly sure how we get from her self-perceived gut of a belly to her naked butt in that exchange, but here’s the thing: She’s wrong. There is definitely plenty of love for both big bellies and big butts (many much larger than hers, I’ll add) on Instagram (and elsewhere). 

Fat people can absolutely be sensual. We have great sex ― and sometimes terrible sex ― just like any thin person. 

This isn’t to say I lack empathy for Dunham because, at least in this, I don’t. I absolutely get being insecure about your belly. I also gain weight in my stomach, and to this day, I struggle with those insecurities. 

This insecurity is why I’ve always tried to wear shirts that cover my stomach completely, especially as I gained weight. It’s why I never wanted my belly to show clothed, let alone nude, in pics. I’ve gotten a lot better about sharing pics showing me just living my best (fat) life, regardless of how much of my body shows, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy all the time, either.  

‘Liberated’ is a great word for what I want in my fashion as a fat person. I don’t need more neutrals.

I finally posted a pic of my bare belly (which is much, much larger than Dunham’s has ever been) on Instagram one morning when my dog happened to be resting his head on it. I knew I was opening myself up to hatred (I am doing that any time I write or post about being fat, to be honest ― just read the comments that will undoubtedly wind up on this piece or any of my previous ones). And I felt incredibly vulnerable. But I also felt incredibly liberated. 

“Liberated” is a great word for what I want in my fashion as a fat person. I don’t need more neutrals (Dunham’s collection is all neutral colors). I don’t want to be obsessed with “flattering,” because, let’s get real … the people who are going to hate fat bodies like mine aren’t going to find any clothing I wear “flattering.” I don’t want boring, basic clothing. I also don’t want the ugly house dresses of my teens.  

Dunham makes things even worse when she, to quote the reporter’s unfortunate and likely intentional choice of words, “suddenly began chomping on a sandwich,” which prompted her to comment, “It seems appropriate for this interview that I eat this large baguette.” Major cringe here. Thanks for adding to the stereotypes of people in larger bodies eating a lot. We don’t deal with enough of that already. 

I get so many comments about how I should just stop eating cheeseburgers at fast-food restaurants. I can’t even eat freakin’ beef, thanks to the fucking gastric sleeve surgery I had in March 2018, and I rarely eat fast food at all. I see those comments and just think, ”Pfft, I wish I could have a damn cheeseburger. Now, kindly fuck off.”

We (fat people) really don’t need someone in a much, much smaller body than many of ours to add to this bullshit narrative about how fat people eat, especially while trying to sell clothing to us (well ― not to me, but to people bigger than Dunham herself). 

The truth is, despite her claims otherwise, it doesn’t seem like Dunham is comfortable in her own skin at all. That’s understandable, as I said, for someone in her industry. However, perhaps before trying to sell clothes to fat people, she should’ve done some unpacking of her own internalized weight stigma.

It’s hard to separate her intentions from her words because, as I’ve written about before, you can’t separate one fat person’s body from another fat person’s body ― and that includes your own. If you’re mocking a fat stranger, you’re mocking me, too. 

If you’re making unpleasant comments about your own body, that translates to people in bodies like your own ― and those in even larger bodies than your own. This is a lesson Dunham very clearly still needs to learn; one I hope she’ll come to understand among the critiques. 

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