When I heard about the Lonely Girls Project—a body-positive campaign from New Zealand-based lingerie company, Lonely—featuring Lena Dunham, I was excited.
I really love Lena. Like her character on Girls, Hannah Horvath, I’m awkward and stubborn and often battling my own mental health issues. And most of all, I’m fat and confident in my body and sexuality. My husband even started watching Girls without me because I reminded him so much of her character.
I checked out the #LonelyGirlsProject, anticipating an extension of her awesome attitude of body positivity and acceptance of all body types. Plus, the lingerie brand behind the campaign was founded in 2009 with the mission of “showcasing women wearing underwear in a way that we usually don’t see in mainstream advertising and the media.”
At first glance, the project seems to have accomplished its goal.
The photos on the brand’s website and Instagram page are said to have never been retouched or Photoshopped. Each portrait is as individually sexy as the last. Each model exudes a specific kind of radiance—the kind that comes from defining what her partially nude body means in a nonsexual way. Each model exists in her own element, whether it’s that of a surfer or a furniture maker.
It’s empowering to see plus-size and average-size women embracing their beings in the name of self-love and lingerie. Some are adorned in tattoos, while other images feature bald or pierced women.
The only problem: Very few of these women look like me. I am a curvy, cute, dark-skinned black girl. I have kinky hair and I am not ashamed of any part of my body.
The Lonely Girls Project has almost completely neglected to include any black feminine bodies. Since 2014 the brand has only highlighted two visibly dark-skinned black girls, compared to all the tan and white flesh that’s exposed in every other picture. And both of these women are average size versus the thicker white thighs that have a stronger presence in this campaign.
The message behind the project resonates with me, but when campaigns like this happen, I am reminded that not all feminism is for me. I wouldn’t say I am surprised by the lack of melanin, but when the campaign is specifically targeting “women who wear lingerie as a love letter to themselves” and encouraging us to embrace our bodies, where are all the dark-skinned black girls? Are we not allowed to be unapologetic about our bodies?
It is no secret that black women’s bodies have always been up for public consumption. (Even Katy Perry knows what #misogynoiris.) Like many women, we are almost always seen through an over-sexualized lens. Black women are more consistently painted as promiscuous, with the Jezebel trope being trotted out at every opportunity.
So when a large campaign like this is in a position to champion women and protest this kind of sexualization by men, it is almost more harmful to exclude black women from the conversation.
What can you do when your brand of beauty has been erased from powerful imagery? I decided to find out why. I emailed Lonely for answers and was pleasantly surprised by a polite response from someone named Sarah:
There is no doubt Cynthia is beautiful. She is also dark-skinned—and that’s a phenomenal start.
I’m not saying everyone in this campaign needs to look like me, but when it comes to body politics, fat black femmes are the most often dehumanized in the media and disrespected in real life. Although this model is still thin, it’s a step in the right direction for representation. In the end, I am still excited about this campaign and hope the company continues to make strides toward being more inclusive.