When Lena Dunham and Claire Danes fangirled over each other at the Emmys, no one expected the New York Times to frolic in the delightful unlikeliness of a Lena / Claire best friendship. However, Ruth La Ferla's response to the red carpet moment was somehow more surprising than the paper's potential use of the AP-approved acronym "BFF":
Ms. Danes ... turn[ed] out in a Giorgio Armani tulle confection that showed off an ethereal, if slightly skeletal, frame. What Ms. Danes lacked in pulchritude, Lena Dunham of "Girls" supplied in abundance, wearing a coral-rose-patterned Prada gown that (somewhat sloppily) showed off her curves.
Abundant pulchritude? Skeletal? Really?
The snide pretentiousness with which La Ferla shames both women is a master class in highly articulate, "Mean Girl" style bullying. It redefines the very art of body-shaming, far beyond the realm of euphemistic words like "curvy," and strips the insulter's need for a buffer like "just kidding," projecting the nightmarish cruelty of a table of high school cheerleaders armed with SAT vocab books.
"The bountiful nature of your corpuscles exceeds our optimal aesthetic. You can't sit with us."
Of course, "pulchritude" means "physical comeliness," but it connotes a "voluptuous" figure, and in this context the Latin word for beauty has a bifunctional means of insulting the contrastingly "skeletal" Danes and serving as a scoffing preface to the presentation of Dunham's "sloppy curves." Doesn't it all just make you long for a William Wordsworth poem discussing the abundant pulchritudinousness of one of his intellectual rivals, whilst partaking in a twilight stroll?
To be clear, La Ferla's job is to identify and analyze fashion trends and not the bodies that wear them. Garments can be flattering or not so flattering, and there is room for comment on that sort of thing from a red carpet journalist, but directly comparing Danes' and Dunham's frames had literally nothing to do with what they were wearing. They're surprising pals, bumping into one another at the Emmys ... not each other's accessories.
It should be noted that Dunham's dress (which her sister likened to the Delia's catalog come to life) received decidedly mixed reviews. The Fug Girls were less than impressed, saying the flower-print Prada gown turned Dunham into the "Titanic of Ottomans" and E! ranked her among the worst dressed, noting that the shape added a "lot of volume to her frame." Both commented critically and even addressed the specific way the dress fit Dunham without insulting her frame itself.
The contrastingly blatant fattism we see in La Ferla's commentary is nothing new. Lena Dunham's body is far from the Hollywood ideal, and as a strong, feminist woman in the spotlight, she is a prime target for all sorts of shaming ... especially the fat kind. The point is that this sort of observation has absolutely no place in a red carpet writeup, and is especially disturbing coming from such an esteemed publication.
The juxtaposition with the "skeletal" Claire Danes further highlights the conspicuous cattiness of La Ferla's analysis. Fat-shaming is unacceptable, as is thin-shaming. La Ferla is discussing both bodies in a way that is especially problematic, and the empirical size of the women is irrelevant. The act of drawing attention to a woman's shape is cruel and offensive. Not to mention the pragmatic issue with the comparison: if Claire is too skinny and Lena is too fat, can women just not win?
I have no issue with the Times' right to criticize, as that is often a primary aspect of their cultural function. Please, Ruth La Ferla, skewer the very core of all award show fashion choices (as if the stars pick the dresses themselves). Call people frumpish and unkempt. Use lots of 14-letter words and just scathe away on the sidelines. Although, when it comes to women's bodies, it might be best to stick with the Thumper rule, "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all," or, as the Times might put it, "If you are impuissant to vocalize pleasant phrases, refrain from expatiating."