When I first heard about Jezebel's offer to pay $10,000 for Lena Dunham's pre-photoshopped Vogue photos, I thought it was some sort of joke, because wow -- that's a whole lot of money.
Anyone familiar with Annie Leibovitz's work knows her knack for using Photoshop to add a mixed-media look and feel to her fashion photography, and the cover story featuring Ms. Dunham was no exception. Remember her fantastical take on "Alice in Wonderland"? It's among a series of fashion editorials that are permanently etched into my memory.
While I've come to expect the excessive Photoshopping that so often happens in fashion magazines, when I first saw the photos of Dunham's Vogue editorial I was relieved, and it was honestly a breath of fresh air. The fashion felt true to her personality: it's quirky, playful, and pushes the boundaries in a natural, organic way, and while Vogue has turned already-teeny-women into waifish versions of themselves, I was relieved to see a body that actually resembled the same naked, headline-making person I've seen (on my computer while using my mom's HBO Go account) on so many Sundays.
Whether you love or hate "Girls," it's pretty amazing to see the totally-normal body of a 27-year-old-woman on TV -- and finally, on the pages of Vogue, too.
The conversation on the internet subsequent to Jezebel's $10,000 offer, of course, was unsurprisingly unhinged and negative, and what I saw was a whole new form of body snark. An insinuation that Dunham must have been Photoshopped to hell and back. And an insinuation being made by a feminist publication, at that? Yes, body representation in fashion is a problem. Yes, Photoshopping normal bodies into totally unrealistic representations of themselves is a problem.
But however good their intentions may have been, what Jezebel presented was a proverbial witchhunt when there was not a Coven in sight, (sorry, the Polar Vortex (TM) has lead me to binge on "American Horror Story").
As I'm wont to do, I went on a little twitter rant.
Almost immediately, I got a text from my good friend-musician-feminist-Renaissance Man, Brad Walsh:
Before I knew it, he had already signed up on IndieGogo, contacted the coordinators at Step Up Women's Network, an organization we've long admired, and we were getting ready to put together a statement and a call to action. In the time it took me to get from my Brooklyn apartment to a meeting in the West Village, Brad had essentially handled all the logistical work of getting together a crowdfunding page, and we were on our way.
In a matter of minutes, we took our anger, our frustration, and feelings of hurt at the sudden in-fighting happening among so many of our friends and allies, and tried our best to change the conversation. $10,000 is a lot of money, so why not try to match that amount to do something that's actually good, and positive, and leads to real female empowerment?
What if the energy that goes into nitpicking other women -- or people in general, really, their appearance, their work, their ambitions - what if, instead, we put that energy into supporting each other? Into patting each other on the back and giving credit where it's due? What if we diverted our attention and click-bait to sites that promote female talent and potential?
It takes virtually no effort to change the tone of conversation (there have already been over 475 Tweets that specifically reference the campaign!) from one of negativity into something that promotes a positive outlook and positive change -- and that's something Brad and I proved on Friday.
We've started with SUWN, but the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, Girls for Gender Equity, Girls Educational & Monitoring Services, Grl Pwr, and She's The First are all on our radar -- and we both kind of have this lofty goal that we'll be able to focus our energies on a different organization each month.
This isn't to say the conversation about the portrayal of female bodies in the media isn't important; it absolutely is, and it's something I've devoted much of my career toward. What we hope to bring to light, however, is that there are plenty of other concerns that we should have on our minds when talking about gender equality and the issues that SO MANY women face -- like promoting literacy and education, empowering women to pursue leadership roles, and ensuring that women have adequate access to healthcare resources (and by this I mean all women -- including transwomen), and gaining financial independence.
To find out more about SUWN and this campaign, please check out our IndieGogo page. Brad and I are going to continue promoting this campaign until we meet and exceed our goal, and we hope you will, too.