Pret-a-Reporter

Let's Discuss Lena Dunham's Lenny Letter

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Lena Dunahm

Actually, no, let's just celebrate its existence.

Lena Dunham, co-creator and star of HBO’s Girls, has been on a mission to make the world a cozier, more conscious place for women her entire career.

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Her candid, straight-talking 2014 memoir, Not That Kind of Girl, doubled as a self-help book for young women navigating relationships, love and career. And her frequent nudity on Girls has always challenged Hollywood’s unwritten rule that young starlets affect hard-bodied bobble heads. In early episodes, the sight of her unapologetically rounded form on the small screen endeared her to legions of twenty-something women whose abs look nothing like Taylor Swift’s.

Dunham has also consistently used the halo of her fame to spotlight iconic female figures in both the arts and politics — legends including the late Nora Ephron and Gloria Steinem. In the process, she’s educated millennials and Gen-Z on the history of badass women in America. She is, indisputably, the face of millennial feminism.

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All of this makes Dunham the ideal individual to launch a media outlet designed to enlighten the Instagram generation on women’s issues.

Lenny Letter, the weekly newsletter she launched last month with Girls co-creator Jenni Konner, is Dunham at her most undiluted.

Now on its fourth issue, Lenny — which arrives in our inboxes with its long articles fully intact, in the style of first-generation newsletters — has so far been a mixed bag.

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There are long-form interviews and first-person essays, a bit of original fiction (including a short story by Dunham), girl-centric click-bait ("Jenny Slate Got a Vajacial So You Don’t Have To!"), and more serious how-tos — the first of which offered tips on negotiating maternity leave at a small company and applying for a job while pregnant.

But so far, the newsletter’s celebrity interviews and essays have been the most engaging — no doubt because they've included chats with three of the most revered women alive: Hillary Clinton, Jennifer Lawrence and Gloria Steinem.

 

A photo posted by Lena Dunham (@lenadunham) on

These aren’t exactly hard-hitting interviews, but they’re also not total puff pieces. Each has included what (at least feels like) a decent reveal on the part of the celebrity subject. And getting public figures to go deep on spiky subjects like pay inequality and parental leave is a credit to Dunham’s influence and interview prowess.

Still, the real gold in Lenny’s celeb content resides in its ability to connect with Dunham's young readership on the subterranean level (they trust her and come to care about what she cares about) while challenging them to ask questions about their femaleness and the state of American Womanhood.

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For example, Dunham tapped Lawrence to write an essay on her feelings regarding emails in the Sony email hack that revealed her male co-stars in American Hustle earned more than she did.

Lawrence wrote candidly about being disappointed in herself for not negotiating harder, afraid she would come off as a brat — a phobia that plagues so many women at the start of their careers.

"I would be lying if I didn’t say there was an element of wanting to be liked that influenced my decision to close the deal without a real fight," she wrote. "I didn’t want to seem 'difficult' or 'spoiled.' At the time, that seemed like a fine idea, until I saw the payroll on the Internet and realized every man I was working with definitely didn’t worry about being 'difficult' or 'spoiled.' "

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Dunham’s long-form Q&A with Clinton included the former Secretary of State’s admission that when she got engaged to Bill Clinton, she worried her future husband’s charisma would overshadow her own achievements — an intimation that surely resonates with young women dating future power players.

"I was terrified about losing my identity and getting lost in the wake of Bill’s force-of-nature personality," Clinton said. "I actually turned him down twice when he asked me to marry him. That was a large part of the ambivalence and the worry that I wouldn’t necessarily know who I was or what I could do if I got married to someone who was going to chart a path that he was incredibly clear about. My ideas were much more inchoate. I wasn’t sure how to best harness my energies. So I was searching."

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For Dunham, the search for a perfect way to deliver feminist thought wrapped in the playful sheen of pop culture is over.

So far with Lenny, she and Konner are meeting their mission of creating "a snark-free place for feminists to get information: on how to vote, eat, dress, f—, and live better."

And as feminism continues to gain ground with women in Hollywood and beyond, Lenny will undoubtedly become one of the movement's most compelling voices.

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