An Ode To HBO’s ‘Girls’

Of all people, my dad is the one who first introduced me to HBO’s “Girls.” I remember coming home from a night out to see him intently watching a woman covered in tattoos unabashedly dance around her apartment. I sat down as she exclaimed in laughter to her thin friend, “Elijah is gay!” As they both joined together in laughter to dance to “Dancing On My Own” by Robyn (which later became the anthem to my college years), I was immediately hooked. I soon came to know these women as Hannah Horvath, Marnie Michaels, Shoshanna Shapiro and Jessa Johansson. For the last six years I’ve laughed, cried and cringed alongside each one of them as they made their way (painfully) through their 20s, and yesterday we all had to say goodbye.

My early days spent with “Girls” were clouded by criticism and controversy, something the show’s creator, Lena Dunham, has faced fearlessly. There’s no doubt that this show has some major flaws. While Hannah exclaims in the first episode, “I think that I may be the voice of my generation. Or at least, a voice of a generation,” the show was solely focused on the experience of a generation of white women, and white women alone. Yes, I can clearly see that “Girls” doesn’t represent the experience of the majority of women – it didn’t even try. Criticism didn’t stop there. People have taken issue with the portrayal of millennials, many articles with headlines such as “Why ‘Girls’ made us hate millennials,” criticizing the show for its narcissistic portrayal of our generation. There’s also the extreme nudity, somewhat disturbing sex scenes, and the general selfishness of all four of the main characters. Yet what seems to cloud people’s minds even more is their conflation between the characters and the actors in real life, most notably with Lena Dunham, whose outspoken nature can often get her caught with her foot in her mouth. Despite its flaws, the female cast of “Girls” has revealed the dos and don’ts as we navigate out 20s, getting unapologetically real about friendship, love, and everything in between.

When Lena Dunham proposed her idea for “Girls” to HBO, she declared that it would be different from “Sex and the City” or “Gossip Girl,” two other portrayals of women in New York. Instead, Dunham painted a picture of women who grew up in the age of social media, talk openly about STDs, who have ex boyfriends that have ended up being gay and are navigating the world post-college. In the proposal, Dunham declared, “They’re beautiful and maddening. They’re self-aware and self-obsessed. They’re your girlfriends and daughters and sisters and employees. They’re my friends and I’ve never seen them on TV.” Whether you totally support or absolutely hate “Girls,” this is one fact you cannot deny – Dunham portrayed women on TV in a totally different way. We are messy, we are complicated, we love hard and sometimes we lose ourselves. This is what Hannah, Marnie, Shosh and Jessa represented – a beautiful mess.

No, Dunham didn’t paint the unrealistic picture of success and wealth that we saw in “Sex and the City” and “Gossip Girl.” Instead, “Girls” focused on the unflattering side of growing up, loving and losing. These women were educated, but often times selfish and closed minded. Unlike “Sex and the City,” people don’t say they are a Hannah or a Jessa; the characters are often times so unique it’s hard to see any of ourselves in them. Instead, the reason we connect so deeply with them is because they make the same mistakes we do. And unlike other TV shows that wrap up these mistakes to make them perfectly right, these women struggle like we do, live with their mistakes, and continue to learn – and “Girls” perfectly depicted just how painful it can be. They were imperfect, and their imperfections are what made the show so different. They weren’t put together like Samantha and Carrie or wealthy and beautiful like Blair and Serena. They were us.

Okay, you get it, these four women are something TV hasn’t seen before, but what did this do for other young women in their age group? Well, let me tell you: it opened the door to conversations we were otherwise avoiding. Each Sunday, my roommates and I sat together to watch the latest 30-minute installation of “Girls,” each one closely watching as Hannah navigated her latest sexual encounter, fully exposing her body to the audience, or as Jessa fought her addiction, Shoshanna sought employment and Marnie landed herself in another terrible relationship. And after each episode, everyone had something to say. “I don’t know what I would do if my best friend dated my ex,” someone would exclaim while others debated what the episode “American Bitch” said about male influence and sexual intimidation. Nothing was left out of the show’s six season run – from pregnancy and abortion, to drugs, STDs (as Jessa says ‘all adventurous women’ have HPV), hasty marriages and lost love. We actually saw love in the show as it is in real life – there aren’t big romantic gestures or perfect relationships. Instead, “Girls” reflected how we fight to get over crappy relationships, figure out who is right, and sometimes, continue to make the same mistakes. They fought through all of this while just trying to make it in New York City.

It’s not just their opinions and struggles that were newly brought to the forefront of television, but their bodies, too. Lena Dunham has bared her soul and her entire figure for all the world to see. While she has bared the brunt of harsh criticism, my roommates and I saw a real woman’s body – not a supermodel – owning her sexuality, refusing to cover up what other television shows and movies try to hide. Dunham stated in an interview, “there’s people who don’t want to see bodies like mine,” yet in her showing it in such a raw, authentic way, she allowed girls to recognize that her body, and ours, are normal.

Yet in the midst of all of this, what left the most lasting impression was the way “Girls” showed how complicated our friendships can be and how, despite the love we have for our female friends, sometimes we grow too far apart to repair these relationships. Episode 9 of this last season told the heartbreaking story of just that – how no matter how many laughs we’ve had or how many times we’ve cried together and lifted each other up, as we grow older, we may grow apart. The women of “Girls” loved each other, and although in the end their status as friends was unclear, their impact on each other’s lives was undeniable. This isn’t the fairy tale ending we see in other shows, this is reality.

As I sit here just one month from graduation, ready to catapult into the same shoes the cast of “Girls” started season one in, I bid adieu to Hannah, Marnie, Shosh and Jessa – the crazy 20-somethings who made me laugh until I cried for the last six years. Thanks to “Girls,” “Dancing On My Own” will forever be the anthem to my life and I will continue to reply to people in true Hannah form “I’m not being too much, I’m just enough” whenever I deem appropriate.

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