Lena Dunham may be one of the most precocious creative forces Hollywood has seen in a long time. The writer, director and performer was in her mid-20s when the acclaimed, much-debated and generation-defining Girls premiered on HBO in 2012, and barely 30 when it wrapped last year. But there’s a catch: Exceptional talent, success and accolades at an unusually young age don’t nullify the whole youth thing. Which is to say that Dunham didn’t always know how to handle her fame, her influence, or her platforms.
“There were a lot of moments in my 20s where I didn’t know what to do with the eyes that were on me,” Dunham, now 32, tells Refinery29’s global editor-in-chief and co-founder Christene Barberich in this week’s UnStyled. “So I thought that my job was to be – obviously it's a very important moment to be politically engaged – but I thought my job was to be the loudest, most busy, most active, most present, most noisy, most feminist, most, most, most, and there were amazing things that came out of all of it.”
Not all of those “most” moments were amazing — especially not on social media. “But there was also a cost to me personally, and I didn't do it all well all the time,” Dunham admits. As it happens, the end of Girls wouldn’t be the only life-altering recent change in Dunham’s still-young life: 2018 saw the end of her personal relationship with musician Jack Antonoff (another prodigy, by the way), the conclusion of her fruitful producing partnership with Jenni Konner, and the disclosure, back in March, that she’d just undergone a total hysterectomy following a traumatic, seven-year battle with endometriosis. And, just last month (after the UnStyled chat), she and Konner announced they’d shut down Lenny Letter, their newsletter and website, after three years. (Their final producing project together, the series Camping, premiered on HBO October 14.)
So, after all of that, Dunham says she’s back to basics. “I'm really trying to focus on writing, and being a constructive member of my community. My community is now smaller than what it was before.” And while Dunham doesn’t reject the burdens of her celebrity, her access or her art, she’s put it all in crucial perspective. “It used to be [that] I thought my job was to be an important voice for women in Hollywood, an important voice for body positivity, an important voice for this [and that] in the world … now I'm like, ‘that's all great.’ But really, I just want to be a solid, strong connected friend, a good daughter, a loving sibling, and a writer. That's all I dream of.”
Of course, all of this flux is not easy to absorb, to put it mildly. “It's a really complicated time,” Dunham tells Barberich. “All of us know that change is equally magical and terrifying. So you can wake up in the morning feeling excited about the world of possibility available to you, and by evening you're shaking in your boots because it just feels like too much.”
To hear much more of everything from Dunham and Barberich’s chat – the aftermath and side effects of her illness, what she’s really learned from social media, working with “loon” Jennifer Garner on Camping, and her next projects – click here and subscribe to UnStyled via Apple Podcasts today.