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May Wilkerson May Wilkerson

Lena Dunham Discusses Body Image Issues in New Book

The iconic young actress says it was hard to admit she's struggled with food issues when much of her work is devoted to promoting body image acceptance.

7 Substance

Lena Dunham has revealed even more than usual in her book of short stories, Not That Kind of Girl, which came out this week.

In the book, the actress and writer/producer of HBO’s hit show Girls addresses her childhood battles with anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder. But she says it’s her struggles with food and body images that were most difficult to divulge to the public. Especially because the actress, who often undresses on camera in Girls, has become somewhat of a champion of body image empowerment for women of all shapes and sizes.

“My food intake was a hard thing to share publicly,” she says. “A lot of my life and work is sort of about not succumbing to [those pressures], so it’s a little painful to go, ‘Oh but look, there was a time where this dominated every moment of every day.’ ”

The character she plays on the show, Hannah, exemplifies the tension of being a woman who is both sexually liberated and constrained by the pressures to be conventionally attractive. Despite her own success and fame, Dunham says she has hardly been immune to these pressures: ”When I got out of college I thought, ‘What am I gonna do? No one’s gonna hire me, I’m a fat girl.’”

She talks about how, while filming her show’s first season, she became so obsessive about losing weight that she ended up in the hospital with stomach pains. “It was basically revealed that I’d been just drinking laxative tea and coffee and smoking cigarettes and then eating weird foods at weird hours,” she says. “I really messed myself up.”

Girls is now on its fourth season, and 28-year-old Dunham says she’s in a much healthier place. She credits this in part to her supportive boyfriend Jack Antanoff, to getting older, and to “getting busy and realizing that food was fuel.”

“I really feel good with my size now,” she says. “I know when I say that people are like, ‘mm hmm’, but I just do! It used to be when I went into a room with all thin women I felt like, what’s wrong with me? Now I just feel special.”