Lena Dunham and her fans, ourselves included, love her just the way she is. Vogue's opinion, of course, is another matter.
Within two hours of offering $10,000 for unretouched images from Annie Leibovitz's photography session with the HBO star, we received six allegedly unaltered images. As expected, they're great — Lena looks fantastic. Aside from the obvious lighting tweaks that any publication would make, the unretouched images are pretty perfect. Which makes some of the adjustments — slightly narrowing a jaw or raising a waistline — seem that much more unnecessary. Why bother? These slight tweaks, the "you look great, but you'd look just a little more great if..." stuff is insidious.
But this is what Vogue does, and it's interesting to see what Leibovitz and editor-in-chief Anna Wintour felt that they needed to "fix" before pictures of Lena could be presented to readers.
This tub photo has the most changes. The tweaks include:
- Shoulder/back of neck shaved down, lengthening the neck
- Line near mouth on face removed
- Jawline sharpened
- Neckline of dress pulled up — cleavage altered, armpit covered
- Waist/hip smoothed, made narrower
- Elbow shadow/dimple removed
- Hands smoothed
While Adam Driver's leg was raised to come up out of the water, his face and body were untouched; the dog was also allowed to appear in Vogue without being altered.
This shot of Dunham at a subway station in Brooklyn only has minor alterations.
Her waist was raised a little bit, and her front leg was lengthened. The final product appears to be a composite image — something Leibovitz is known for — meaning there were different shots used for the head and the body. Cut the head off of one shot, use a body from another, get the desired effect.
Here's the cover:
Just a few changes were made.
- Eyebrow on the right filled out
- Neck made thinner
- Head made smaller — so that eyes appear larger
- Jawline made narrower
- Shoulder on right side of image dropped down — gives the appearance of a longer neck
Some of the dots on the placket of the shirt were removed so as not to interfere with the cover copy — that's typical and makes sense.
Oh, and then there's this fun weirdness: An image of Lena pasted onto a Brooklyn street.
Stock pigeon photo! [Update: Vogue, via Instagram, has informed the world that this pigeon-on-the-street shoot did in fact take place, but it's still clear that the final product is a composite of selections from multiple shots (see below for more explanation on that). "Any questions?" they ask. Uh, yes! How did this shot happen?]
(Photographer Annie Leibovitz uses composite images quite often, dropping people in to a new background or cobbling together a background from a separate image. Sometimes it's quite obvious — her work for Disney and Louis Vuitton, for example — and other times, it's tougher to tell what's been digitally manipulated. When she shot Olympic athletes for Vogue, sometimes the models and sports stars posed separately. She photographed the Queen of England standing in room one day; then shot a field with trees another, and then digitally placed Her Majesty — who was disinclined to go outside — standing in a field. Which makes the pigeon shot even more weird; it's not as if Lena Dunham is averse to standing on Brooklyn sidewalks.)
While Dunham has not been radically Photoshopped, it's clearer than ever what kind of woman Vogue finds Vogue-worthy: The taller, longer-limbed, svelter version of reality. Vogue is not interested in reality, of course. The photographs are meant to be a fantasy, art. That's why someone (Ms. Leibovitz?) took the time to Photoshop a pigeon on Dunham's head — and paste her studio image onto an outdoor background.
It also looks like Dunham and Driver were pasted into an intersection in front of Manhattan's Flatiron building. A shot we received shows her in a similar pose on his shoulders — but not in the same location. Doesn't matter — Vogue puts you where it wants you to be!
In the end, while Dunham's images were not drastically altered, it's important to remember how unforgiving the media is when it comes to images of women. Men are generally allowed to have pores and wrinkles; women are supposed to be "perfect" — a state that does not exist. As Mother Jones' co-editor Clara Jeffery put it on Twitter: "If [Lena]'s given us an image of a real woman on Girls, and they altered — perhaps without her consent, isn't that a paradox that should be explored?"