Why I Love Lena Dunham—and Why I Always Will

Lena Dunham 
Photo: J. Countess/Getty

“I think I may be the voice of my generation. Or at least a voice, of a generation,” a doe-eyed Lena Dunham recited toward the end of Girls’s hip 90-second preview in 2012. When I heard those words, I knew the HBO show was destined to be my latest obsession. Something about that statement, flawed and unsure as it was, struck a chord in my millennial heart.

I was 18 when Girls premiered. Four months stood between me and the hallmark moment I’d been plotting for over a decade: leaving for college. My bags were packed and I’d already begun ordering NYU merchandise for my dorm room. I was excited to leave my small town and step into the bustling city life I’d always fantasized about, but beneath the giddiness, I was scared on almost all fronts.

I didn’t want to think about the loans I’d be paying off until my dying day, the burden on my self-employed artist parents, the cost of living in Manhattan, the fear of failing both socially and academically, and scariest of all, the idea that “Everything I’ve Ever Wanted” wasn’t really anything at all. What if I moved across the country to pursue my dreams only to find out I had no idea what they were.

Enter: Girls, a show about a group of privileged Brooklyn-based twenty-somethings who had absolutely no clue what the rest of their lives were supposed to look like. Little did I know, five years down the line this synopsis would describe my own life. Strangely enough, behind the show’s wayward characters stood a woman with an incredibly clear vision of what her life was and could be, the series’ 25-year-old writer, creator, producer, sometimes director, and star: Lena Dunham.

When I learned about Dunham’s huge stake in the series, I found myself completely in awe—her age, her talent, her wit, her bravery; she was everything I wanted to be, and she didn’t reach her level of success by dating-up or modifying her appearance. Lena was a real person, warts and all.

I’d never found myself more inspired by a public figure. Not only was she excelling professionally, she was using her newfound fame to make a difference. Lena’s mark on history has been well documented: she's encouraged body positivity, promoted causes close to her heart, and endorsed political candidates. Naturally, Dunham hasn’t always said the “right” thing—she’s made mistakes, she has regrets—but who hasn't?

As Girls went on, evolving in tone from season-to-season, my love of Lena Dunham only grew. When people would ask me what I majored in at NYU, I’d earnestly tell them “Becoming Lena Dunham.” Seriously.

VIDEO: Lena Dunham's Red Carpet Style

To me, “Becoming Lena Dunham” was less of an act in identity absorption than it was a confidence move. I was leaving doors open for myself. Why couldn’t I be a hard-working, power-wielding boss like Lena? Now, Dunham is still in the process of exploring her full potential; she’s never let someone’s opinion of her undermine her accomplishments or stop her from pushing the limits of what women are capable of, and I vowed to follow suit.

Through the seasons of Girls, my life always seemed to line up with Dunham’s character, Hannah Horvath: We were both hopeful writers, struggling for survival in the unforgiving land of N.Y.C., endlessly attempting to convince ourselves that we belonged, that we were somehow special and destined to succeed despite the odds. On a more surface level, we both loved cupcakes, had a penchant for saying the wrong thing, and were known to have crushes on gay guys.

Hannah was the reflection of myself that I hoped no one else could see: the obsessive-compulsive child living in the body of an ambitious New York transplant. Watching Dunham’s unapologetic celebrity persona throughout the years, she has made me less afraid to be myself.

Today, as the final season of Girls approaches, I’m proud to have been on the front lines, so to speak, watching the series grow and stay in-sync with our changing times. Though my love for Lena began with the show, I know it won’t end with its finale. Dunham and her motley crew of millennial misfits guided me through early adulthood, inspired me to follow my passion, and taught me to speak my mind.

Thank you, Lena, for helping me and many other TV-obsessed underdogs find our place.

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