Lena Dunham was nothing like I expected her to be in real life, and everything I hoped she would be. I attended the Jewish Museum’s Purim Ball last night, held in the Park Avenue Armory, where, surrounded by hundreds of rich white people, I felt completely out of my element. I was there to see Lena perform the Purim spiel, and maybe, hopefully, actually speak to her. I spent the whole day daydreaming about what might happen, and I’m fairly certain that the moment I actually got to speak to her, I said, “I think I just peed my pants.” And she laughed and said, “You’re so sweet.” From there on, the night was heaven.
I’m an avid watcher of Girls, and an even more avid obsessor of everything Lena. I read her tweets. I follow news about her book deal, her inability to walk in heels, her friends who use the n-word. I would say I’m a fan of Lena Dunham, but it’s really more like I want to be Lena Dunham. At my age—23—Lena had already written, directed, and starred in an award-winning movie. And even though that award is one I’d never heard of before (Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay?), who the hell cares. She made a movie. Three years later, she won a Golden Globes award (an award I’d most definitely heard of) for her first television show, struck a deal for another television show, and has a $3.7 million advance for her first book. So it’s fair to say that aspiring to be Lena is no shabby dream.
All that being said, she seemed like kind of a bitch. Or at least, Hannah Horvath, the character she plays on Girls, is kind of a bitch. She’s self-involved, she’s overwhelmed by life, and she has (spoiler alert!) sex with her friend’s sort of brother on the first day of meeting him. And she seems absolutely adoring of herself for no real reason. So, yeah, Hannah’s a bitch. So I expected Lena, the writer and actor of Hannah, to be just like her. I thought Lena was playing herself.
Turns out, not only is Lena a total sweetheart in real life, but she’s also kind of a babe. Even those of us who don’t watch Girls (I judge you, by the way) have heard all the buzz about Lena Dunham’s body. She gets naked (a LOT; I think last night was the first time I’ve seen her go two hours straight without getting undressed) and doesn’t exactly have the body of most HBO naked women. She has the body of most real life women, instead. But of course the show emphasizes that, dressing Hannah in unflattering clothing and exacerbating her awkwardness. In real life, Lena was dressed in a short sparkly dressed and strappy heels (confirmed: she really cannot walk in heels very well at all) and her non-model body just makes her cute and relatable. In fact, everything about her—her youth, her lack of polish and poise, her teetering in heels—makes her cute and relatable.
In fact, one of the most interesting things of the evening was how many people find her relatable. Truthfully, most of the rich middle-aged attendees had never heard of Lena Dunham before that evening, and were there for the honorees of the Ball, and yet Lena was constantly surrounded by everyone else who did know her and were clearly there, as I was, to catch a glimpse of the woman who captures their lives on HBO.
Girls portrays life as a 20 year old as an uncomfortable, awkward journey, where life is uncertain, and everything feels like you’re playing dress-up in an adult world. And yet the women surrounding Lena and jockeying for her attention were nothing like the bumbling Hannah on Girls. These were tall, put-together, attractive women who looked like they hadn’t had an awkward moment—or even a pimple—in their entire lives. These are the women who connect with Girls? These tall, beautiful women? But we’re all Hannah on the inside. We may not parade around naked in our apartments with our best friends present, but we find life confusing and scary, and being well-dressed doesn’t change that. Girls captures that feeling so perfectly, and that is why women love Lena. Because she is them, and she shows them. (Although, to be perfectly honest, I don’t know a single person who has accidentally smoked cocaine.)
Lena went on to perform to immense appreciation from the crowd, starting with “Welcome to my bat mitzvah,” and launching into a spiel of the Purim story from six year old Lena’s view as inspired by Eloise, Lena’s heroine. It was, of course, adorable and funny, and had a lot less profanity and a lot more clothing than we’ve come to expect from Lena. She showed a softer, sweeter side, and for a fuller read of her spiel, I direct you to JTA’s article about the evening, which spends a lot less time rambling about loving Lena, and much more about what actually happened at the Ball.
“What is it like to be so awesome?” I asked her, in the one question I had prepared. “You’re so sweet!” she protested, and then responded, “Exhausting.” (Then laughed again and said, “No really, you’re too sweet,” as if she had no idea millions of 20-something girls idolize her and think she’s awesome.) My guest and I ran to talk to Lena as many times as we could without getting a restraining order (as Jewcy put it, “Dunham spent the rest of the evening being politely accosted by girls in high heels and sparkly dresses,” of which I will proudly say I was one, sparkly dress and all). She hugged us each of those times, agreeing at one point to take a selfie photo with our phones. It was impossible not to be charmed.