Today, Jezebel offered $10,000 to anyone who can provide the unretouched photos from Girls creator Lena Dunham's Vogue shoot. This will advance the cause of feminism, because... well, Jezebel hasn't quite figured that out yet.
Dunham is the Vogue's February cover star, and she looks good in the pictures. So good, in fact, that Jezebel suspects the images have been photoshopped. Jezebel editor Jessica Coen writes,
This [photoshopping] is what Vogue does — and yes, we already know in general what all of these magazines do — but now, on its cover, Vogue has a woman who rightfully declares that her appearance, with all of its perceived imperfections, shouldn't be hidden and doesn't need any fixing.
Coen is simply outraged that Vogue would photoshop Dunham just like everybody else who appears in the magazine. Dunham is supposed to be different.
This isn't the first time that Jezebel has offered a bounty for original photos — in 2007, the feminist site showed that Redbook thinned out Faith Hill for a cover. At the time, this was amazing to see — look how much they photoshopped Faith Hill, who is already blonde, thin, and conventionally pretty. This Lena Dunham stunt (and make no mistake, this is a stunt) is something entirely different. As Coen admits, the Dunham photos won't tell us anything we don't already know: "She's everywhere. We already know what her body looks like."
Vogue is a known entity. Everyone who appears in the mag is photoshopped in some way, sometimes with hilarious results. Dunham looks like she's missing an arm in one of her photos. Photoshop is dumb and damaging and wouldn't it be nice if Conde Nast's star magazine didn't use it, but everyone knows the score here. Vogue readers want to look at fantasy, and Jezebel readers are well aware of the horrors of photoshop.
And Lena Dunham is a known entity. We've seen her naked a few times on that show of hers. We know what she looks like. Demanding to know exactly how much Vogue smoothed out her skirt and/or bra bulge is petty. It's stomping all over shoot that Dunham apparently really liked.
Coen insists that this isn't about shaming Dunham, it's about shaming Vogue. But Jezebel could absolutely discuss the horrors of photoshop and shame Vogue without publishing side-by-side comparison photos of an actress who is already constantly criticized for the way she looks. Perhaps Juno writer Diablo Cody said it best in a response to Jezebel on Twitter: "This is total mean-girl shit masquerading as feminism. I'm disgusted."
Interestingly enough, Jezebel and Gawker get shout-outs in an upcoming episode on Girls. The sites become the subject of an argument between Dunham's character Hannah and her boyfriend Adam. Hannah — who for what it's worth is wrongheaded throughout this entire episode — is a fan, Adam not so much. The episode makes it pretty clear that Hannah's on the wrong side of the argument, and that her character is buying into a sort of shallowness that the sites are peddling. (In real life, Dunham's been at odds with Gawker media for a while. When Gawker got a hold of her book proposal in late 2012, she demanded, via a lawyer, that they remove the proposal from the site.) Dunham makes it very clear in that episode how she feels about Jezebel, and Jezebel, here, is making it clear what they think about Dunham, not Vogue.
The Jezebel money-for-photos stunt is a prime example of what Emily Gould called "outrage world" in a 2010 article for Slate. Jezebel and its imitators "are pushing readers to feel what the writers claim is righteously indignant rage but which is actually just petty jealousy, cleverly marketed as feminism," Gould argued. These sites aren't all that much different from the glossy magazines like Vogue that they claim to stand against:
Instead of mimicking the old directly anxiety-making model—for example, by posting weight-loss tips and photos of impossibly thin models like a traditional women's magazine — Jezebel and the Slate and Salon "lady-blogs" post a critique of a rail-thin model's physique, explaining how her attractiveness hurts women. The end result is the same as the old formula — women's insecurities sell ads. The only difference is the level of doublespeak and manipulation that it takes to produce that result.
For what it's worth, Gould pointed out that Dunham's Vogue photo looked a whole lot like one of Gould that ran on the cover of The New York Times Magazine in 2008. (Gould, though, has two arms.) Two talented young female writers, shot from above, lying passively on an unmade bed. It's the kind of stubborn cliche you'd expect Jezebel to destroy, if it weren't so busy hunting for authentic hi-def closeups of Dunham's upper arm fat.