For many, Lena Dunham is the embodiment of millennial: unwaveringly frank, social media savvy, unafraid to make mistakes, extremely fond of selfies and outspoken on issues she cares about. Not to mention a confidence that sweeps aside restrictive patriarchal ideas on what women in the public eye should look like.
But while she says she’s never let criticism of her appearance, both in her schooldays and later, when appearing naked on screen in Girls, affect her, in an essay for her website and e-newsletter lennyletter.com she reveals that developing skin condition rosacea has shaken her self-confidence.
In a piece titled My Perfect F**king Skin, writer-actor Dunham explains that what she terms her “preposterously high self-esteem” has always shielded her from comments about her weight, she initially felt unable to own her skin problems in the same way.
“Chronic illness — endometriosis, along with an accompanying autoimmune disease that gives me chronic joint pain and fatigue — has made my body far less predictable to me, and in far more frightening ways than whether I’ll wake up able to fit into my high-waisted jeans,” she writes.
“And a few weeks ago, a course of steroids to treat a massive flare of joint pain and instability led to rosacea’s appearing overnight, making me look like a scary Victorian doll, two perfect pink circles painted on her porcelain face.”
Redness and flushing is a common symptom of rosacea, and can be permanent. Spots, visible blood vessels and burning/stinging sensations can also be present. She goes on to say that a long night shoot prompted a severe outbreak of spots and she felt “terror, rage, and piteous sadness. My face burned, but not as badly as my pride.”
“Hysterical” with the diagnosis of another chronic problem, Dunham says she “took the news hard”, sending pictures to friends and telling “everyone who encountered me over the next few days what had happened.” She says the experience hit harder because she’d become used to “having good skin”, and that she realised she’d been relying on that “one area of fully conventional beauty”.
She writes: “I had finally found my vanity. Seven years of being treated in the public eye like a punch line about female imperfection may not have felt like it was wearing me down, but it had actually forced me to rely emotionally on my one area of fully conventional beauty: my perfect f**king skin.
“They could tag me in a picture of a beached whale. They could call me a bag of cottage cheese. But they couldn’t take away the fact that I was able to eat seven slices of pizza, a wine spritzer, and three-quarters of a chocolate cake and still look like my face was kissed by sweet, sweet angels when I woke up.”
She adds: “I wasn’t just mourning my easy skincare routine or my ‘No filter? No problem’ lifestyle. I was mourning a life raft that had kept me, silly as it was, bobbing above the fray.”
Dunham has often spoken of her health problems, including suffering painful endometriosis, and says she is speaking out this time for teenagers without the advantages celebrities might have.
“There are millions of teenagers applying the entirety of their time, resources, and wit to attacking classmates in painfully inventive ways. I’m starting to believe that speaking this pain aloud isn’t just good for my own healing: it allows any young woman who might be watching to understand that nobody is immune from feeling bad about hateful attention.”
She ends: “I love myself. I think I’m grand. I hear the voices of the Internet when I get dressed. I have a bunch of blister-pimples. All are true. All are fine. None are forever. I promise you.”
Read the essay in full here.
Images: Rex Features