While everyone loves to praise Lena Dunham for her “bravery” in choosing to showcase her body so unabashedly on Girls at essentially every opportunity she gets, Alanis Morissette was the true pioneer of displaying ugly nudity during a time when all anyone wanted to see was the thin perfection of Kate Moss.
Her birthday suit appeared in the 1998 video for “Thank U,” the first single from her sophomore album, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie. Freshly returned from a trip to India, Morissette was feeling all kinds of spiritual, which meant shedding her clothes and other materialist trappings in favor of bareness.
Lumbering through the streets of Los Angeles, Morissette lets anyone and everyone touch her as she pours her heart out through the song. She makes her way through buses (yes, it’s a bit foul to think of the person who might sit there after her), subway stations (L.A. has a subway, you know) and grocery stores all as a way to express her spiritual, I-don’t-give-a-fuck transformation. With Dunham, it’s a completely different story.
When Hannah Horvath isn’t boning someone, she’s still naked, hanging around with no clothes on because, as stated by Dunham herself, “sometimes people are naked.” Very salient. While the “artistic” motive for her nudity has always allegedly been to promote authenticity, it is more about Dunham’s own psychosis. She is proving something to herself and everyone else by displaying what is deemed by American standards of beauty as an ugly body. When Morissette did it, there was a more viable, daring motive behind it: making people question their own self-consciousness via her unapologetic nudity. Where Dunham is concerned, an absence of clothes is indicative self-gratification–the antithesis of Morissette’s message in “Thank U.”