A Love Letter to Girls HBO
I remember the day I watched the very first episode of GIRLS. It was 2012, I’d been living in London for about two years, weaving in and out of jobs, parties, dates, old and new friends. I had a job that looked great on paper but made me feel like a faceless cog. I went to glamorous parties that left me feeling empty. I went out on dates with men who only really liked talking about themselves. I would scroll through Facebook late at night and could already imagine my future – and it looked bland and uninteresting. I knew that if I carried along this route, falling into the trap of doing things because it looked good on paper, then I’d soon be in big trouble. The clock was ticking. I could practically hear it as I got dressed each morning.
Sometimes, if you can’t put your finger on something, you just have to chase a feeling. Chase what makes your heart glow.
I had a distinct and memorable feeling that I wasn’t being totally “me” yet. I knew the things that made me happy were on the other side of a big glass fence, and I kept looking over the fence and squinting. I just had to get out and get to the other side. I felt penned in and trapped, like a puppy who wasn’t allowed to play in the sun. I didn’t feel brave enough to make big decisions yet. But I couldn’t help but feel as though I was at the beginning of something….. I could feel it in my chest every now and again; that’s the only way I can describe it.
I didn’t have a clue what I should be doing. But I remember watching this clip of Lena Dunham from 2011 on repeat, she’s so young in this video, talking about creating things and how the Internet means you just can and you don’t need anyone’s permission before putting something out into the world. I felt this weird pull towards it. Turns out that wake-up calls reminding you of what you truly want in life, can come in the strangest forms and at unexpected times. I was still in post-University limbo, trying to figure out what the hell I was doing. What I should be doing. That’s perfectly normal when you’re 23, but at the time you still feel like a failure, with no sense of direction.
We forget how much we grow during our twenties. I was a totally different person aged 23, than I am now, on my way to 27.
So at this point, I was living with my best friend E from school, and together we were carving newer identities, while feeling secure in our decade long friendship. We would explore, fuck up and try new things together. E made me feel safe; we looked after each other. I never felt alone when I was with her. We didn’t watch TV much, we’d always come home from work late, but it was always on in the background while we made dinner around the wooden island by the kitchen, ordering sushi, nipping out onto the terrace for cigarettes and a bit of wine before bed. At most, we’d laugh at (not with) Made In Chelsea, or put re-runs of FRIENDS on for background noise. Then, GIRLS came on one night as we were flicking through Sky. I remember that very first awkward sex scene with Hannah and Adam on the sofa: I was hooked. Thinking: “what is this? What are these real-looking people doing? Why am I squirming? Why is this all so scarily close-to-home? Why are they doing real-life things? Why is the lighting a bit dingy? Why does that main character have an arse and thighs like me? Oh my god! I love this.”
It was the first time I saw girls who had body shapes like me and my friends on TV.
There were a few articles in the press at this point in some of my favourite magazines, about GIRLS, ranting or raving about it: no in-between. Then the lazy think-pieces followed written by people who clearly hadn’t even properly watched it, quickly likening it to Sex And The City because it was in NYC and had four women in it. The blogs, Tumblr and Twitter erupted. It was a one-second bonding question: “do you like GIRLS-OMI-GOD-ME-TOO.”
After a few episodes, I was even more transfixed. More than that: I was invested. I needed to know how things ended, I needed to talk about the episodes afterwards with other people and pick it apart like a piece of coursework. In between seasons I properly missed and mourned it. These girls were imperfect, narcissistic, confused and contradicted themselves every five minutes. I saw myself in that. I saw my friends in that. (I wrote about friendship & GIRLS here in an old post.) I understood the variety of personality types in each of the girls, all mixed up and fucked up; the strange friendship dynamics at work; the anxiety; the drama; the weird social set-ups and intensity of it all. Women are normally told to “reign in” their feelings and be “The Cool Girl” – and we don’t see much real friendship or relationship drama on TV about twenty-somethings full stop. Women are complicated. It was the first show that to me showed so many deeper layers of being a woman rather than just “girl next door”, “psycho ex-girlfriend”, “the best friend” or “the bitch”.
The whole show felt like one big private joke with all the Confused Twenty-Somethings of the world.
At this time of first discovering GIRLS, London was making me feel a bit sick and what was going on the screen was mirroring some of my melancholic feelings. The feelings of claustrophobia, horrible dates, flawed friendships and the long and winding road to the “dream career”. It wasn’t an exact mirror, of course, but the emotional undertones were spot on. It was witty. It was sad. Watching the highs and lows of Hannah and Adam’s relationship made me cry a lot. It was spot on, and miles away from some of the sitcoms who try and be “down with the kids” and actually end up alienating everyone in the process.
I couldn’t help but see some of myself in Hannah. It was inevitable. The hunger for wanting something but everything going a bit wrong along the way. But more than anything else, it was the start of an infatuation with the actress Lena Dunham. Although Lena is not Hannah, whenever I watched Hannah (and the others) royally mess up it somehow made me more and more proud of Lena, for acting, directing and writing this show. For creating a character like Hannah. A real, weird, ballsy, anxious, unstable person. Watching Lena’s confidence in her acting and nakedness (although I know Lena never feels like showing her body is “brave” which is also refreshing) as well as witnessing Hannah’s flaws, made me feel better about being me. It was this mixture between Lena being a BOSS and Hannah making mistakes that made it feel all magical and inspiring to me. It was the fact that for the first time I had a role model who wasn’t skinny, perfect and nailing life 24/7. Lena Dunham is sexy. Sexy in a way we don’t see very often on TV or magazines. She’s sexy – yet not a size 8, and without any sort of a tan or thigh gap. She looks great, but she’s also sexy because of who she is. Her presence made me do a big sigh of relief. My shoulder’s lowered. I felt better.
All along I was simply looking for a different role model of “success” than what I’d seen so far around me. Did a TV show give me more confidence to be truly myself? Yes. Did it inspire me to be more vulnerable and open in my writing? Absolutely.
Creating something you’re proud of while making other women feel better about themselves? That, to me, is success.
GIRLS does not reflect everyone; and in lots of way it doesn’t reflect my life, but for me, it is the perfect balance of empowering and melancholic. It made me want to carry on being imperfect, striving for what I want, being proud of being a complicated woman and making no apologies.
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