Why Is Girls (Literally) So Hot?

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Hannah and Adam in Girls never-ending summer. Photo: HBO

The world of Girls is a balmy, hot, sticky place. Not always – occasionally it seems to be spring or fall, and characters wear light jackets or cardigans. In one shot, Hannah embraces Fran in the winter, and they tromp happily through the snow. But the familiar, iconic images of Girls are sweaty. There’s exposed flesh and ill-fitting, too-short rompers. There are bikini tops as shirts, and popsicles, and time spent wandering around Brooklyn at night with no outerwear. It is a sleeveless series.

So it’s perpetually summer on Girls. What is that about?

The conversations about Girls have always been, at least in part, conversations about bodies. Those conversations, and the show itself, have been about Lena Dunham’s body in particular, but also about the female body more abstractly, about how we view it, about the way shape and wardrobe coalesce into image and identity, about where exactly we put the line between “okay” and “too much” female bodily presence. Girls is distinguished by its unapologetic preoccupation with how bodies work — abortions, UTIs, HPV, periods, pregnancy, what does and does not give women sexual pleasure, what it looks like for a woman to crouch down and pee at a rural train station, or to wear a latex nurse’s uniform in a Japanese fetish salon. It’s about lots of bodies, including gay sex and frenulum piercings and exercise, and one infamous scene about eardrums. But it’s mostly about women’s bodies, and about insisting that they’re seen.

Girls’ unbroken heat forces that question to the forefront, literally putting Dunham’s body on display in conveniently revealing clothing. When it’s fall or spring, and Hannah dons longer sleeves and tights, her clothes tend to bunch or layer in odd, noticeable ways. When it’s distinctly hot outside, she ties the midriff of her shirts and puts on shorts with odd, unexpected lengths. Even when she’s clothed, in other words, Hannah’s visual presence almost never lets your eye glide over her physicality without taking note — there are very few all-covering winter coats.

The constant sweatiness fits in so nicely, so adeptly, with the show’s larger preoccupations. It’s not just that Girls asks us, again and again, to look at Hannah’s body and consider the way it fits or does not fit into the world (and how that image shapes our idea of Hannah as a person). It’s everyone. There’s Marnie’s recent season-six obsession with exercise, and the number of insane fitness courses she keeps taking to stave off actually grappling with the stasis of her life. There’s Jessa, strolling through the world in kimonos and bikini tops and flowing caftans that somehow communicate both ease and high maintenance. And then there’s Shoshanna, whose sweatiness has always been more metaphor than physical truth — where everyone else seems to fall into things and then figure it out from there, Shoshanna’s is an ethos of effort.

So that’s one explanation for Girls’ uninterrupted summer time. It’s a show about bodies and about sweat, and so it’s useful to just have everything always take place when it’s warm outside. That way Hannah can drape her mostly nude, pregnant self across a sofa and rub an ice cube up and down her abdomen, and make us look at her newly darkened linea nigra. She can also show up at a job interview wearing a body hugging dress and say to her interviewer that yes, she is pregnant, which may or may not have been apparent because she knows her body is “confusing.” When Adam swoops in to save her at the end of season two, he can do so shirtless, and can pick up the floundering Hannah wearing an oversize T-shirt and nothing else, and they can stand there like an inverted pietà, an image of contrasting vulnerability and strength and rescue and comfort. Hannah can, and unfortunately does, expose herself to more than one of her bosses, in clothing conveniently accessible for such a purpose. She can also stand in a famous author’s bathroom and try to collect herself, dabbing at her armpits with toilet paper. Consent, vulnerability, anxiety, immodesty, awkwardness, sexiness: summer, and the near-nakedness that can go with it, lets all of Girls’ most favorite thematic obsessions swim right across the surface.

Or, you know. Maybe it’s just a mistake.

As I and countless others have pointed out, Girls is hardly rooted in realism. On the scale from the whopper-sized “Hannah got an academic job with no qualifications whatsoever” to the relatively mild “who pays Shoshanna’s rent?”, “gee, it seems like it’s summer all the time” is a crime against verisimilitude that hardly registers. If you’re looking to judge the show on its plausibility, “somehow Hannah gets pregnant on a summer surf trip, and then she’s heavily, visibly pregnant when it’s still summertime” is a pleasantly inane, visually undeniable option for nitpickery.

Constant summer is a careless error, maybe, or the result of a weird production schedule, or just an odd artistic preference. The show has never cared about a direct correlation with the real world. Why should it start with something as dumb as seasons? Why have to deal with snow and winter coats and grey slush on the ground when it’s so much more visually fun to have sun and bare shoulders?

I’ve written this whole thing, so obviously my own sense is that it’s not just carelessness or inattention. Girls’ summertime existence is like all clear breakdowns in “realist” fictional worlds — it’s something that tells us about the show’s choices and priorities. It’s not a series that’s invested in accurate depictions of how to get a job, or a direct representation of millennial financial struggle; they’d get in the way of the stories it’s trying to tell about these characters. It’s summer all the time on Girls precisely because it does not live in reality, and the world of the series bends and stretches to accommodate the show’s priorities. Girls can live in slow, long, unending summer because it wants to make us look at Hannah’s physical self as she moves through the world. And also, of course, because it’s a show about a world full of people trying to deny that winter is coming — and often succeeding.

The long summer of Girls is coming to an end. Maybe, perhaps, Hannah finally will get herself a warm coat.

Girls: Why Is It (Literally) So Hot?