Juliet Dunlop: Looking good is no crime

Juliet Dunlop. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Juliet Dunlop. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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IMAGINE for a moment that the editor-in-chief of Vogue wants to put you on the cover. No? Stretching things too far?

Don’t they sell furniture? OK then, let’s imagine you are a young, cool, successful actress and early one morning Anna “Nuclear” Wintour, the Kim Jong-un of the fashion world, gives you a call (obviously your assistant would speak to her assistant, but let’s pretend that Anna has taken the time to do it herself).

“But darling, we just have to have you,” she purrs down the line. “Women love you, girls respect you – even men like you. You’ll be perfect, darling. Just perfect…” You’d be sucking in your cheeks and channelling your inner Kate Moss before she got to “ciao”.

Of course, the joy would be short-lived. Fear, reality and regret – mainly about cheese, wine, profiteroles and exercise (lack of) – would soon see you crash back to down to Earth from Planet Fashion. By now you may even be giving serious consideration to that illegal leg-lengthening operation you once read about. Or perhaps not (and you would have to go all the way to China for the surgery), but the point I’m making is that anyone – especially a successful actress – would a) be flattered and b) want to look their absolute, total best on the cover of any magazine.

Yet poor Lena Dunham, the creator and star of the hit TV show Girls, and a poster girl for being “ordinary”, has taken a bit of a bashing over a) her decision to appear on the cover of US Vogue and b) how good she looks. By Hollywood standards, Dunham isn’t thin or beautiful, but there she is, staring out from the February edition, looking both thin and beautiful: the eyes are huge and expressive, the skin flawless, the hair a work of artful dishevelment. This is not the pudgy, pasty, snaggle-toothed twenty-something she plays on TV – of course it’s not. Only, it turns out she had help – and I don’t just mean the crack team of hair and make-up artists plus photographer-to-the-stars Annie Leibovitz. No, Dunham was (shock, horror) Photoshopped! Let’s just say some fine-tuning was carried out here and there. How do we know this? A feminist website called Jezebel apparently paid an insider $10,000 for the “before” shots.

Now, it’s been a while since we’ve heard about the evils of airbrushing. It’s still common practice: teeth are whitened, eyes are de-bagged, wrinkles are softened and that’s how we like it, broadly speaking. We expect perfection and magazines deliver it. They’ve been told off, of course, for adding inches to legs, taking them off hips, swelling breasts and chiselling faces into sharp, pointy instruments. But no extreme airbrushing was carried out on Dunham, so why all the fuss over a few, what shall we say, refinements? It was only a bit of shading here, lightening there, general tidying up and certainly no more than any model gracing Vogue would expect.

Yet she’s been repeatedly asked why she agreed to it and whether it means she’s “sold out”. In the UK this week, promoting the new series of Girls, Jon Snow, no less, asked Dunham whether Vogue had “killed” Hannah, the character she plays in the messy, depressing, less-than-glamorous HBO series. The whip-smart actress was pretty clear: she’s happy with the pictures and, no, neither she nor the character that made her famous had suffered death by airbrush. She was even “outed” by Snow during the interview for arriving with a hairdresser and a make-up lady in tow. The response? “I would like to have all the advantages of people in my profession.”

And that’s it in a nutshell. Why shouldn’t Dunham want to look good? She’s a rising star, bright, witty and highly articulate. Why can’t she look polished and groomed and still be the savvy actress and producer she obviously is? And really, can’t we tell the difference between what’s fake and what’s real? She’s an actress playing a part, for goodness sake.

And as for Jezebel, the website which prides itself on championing women like Dunham, it just looks petty and mean. By publishing those pictures, they made it all about the looks, not the woman. Dunham clearly isn’t afraid to ugly-up. Why shouldn’t she glam-up? It’s hardly a crime.