A newly published interview with Jemima Kirke (a.k.a. Jessa on Girls) reflects a central truth of the show: like Lena Dunham‘s characters, Kirke is a mixed bag of endearing and irritating traits that make you want to hug her one minute and slap her the next.
First, the huggable. Kirke is refreshingly honest when discussing things like abortion and body image, and if her words are somewhat muddled, it’s because this is fraught and ambivalent territory for most women.
Here she is talking about her post-baby body (she had a baby six weeks before the film started filming):
I can’t imagine you’re the type who would start working out like a maniac right after having a baby, either.
No. I haven’t done that … yet. [laughs] I mean, I have worked out. I’ve always worked out a little, you know, when I felt it was, like … time. [Laughs.] Just to get on an elliptical. But, no, I don’t. I mean, I’ve considered it. Obviously I’ve been like, “Maybe? I’m on TV. Allison Williams is looking really skinny and Lena’s, like, lost a ton of weight, and Zosia’s always, like, tiny. Maybe I should.” And then I’m just like, [groans] “I love eating with my family and I love eating Reese’s at night and watching American Idol. I can’t.” That’s actually more important to me than the show, eating with my family. [Laughs.]
And on whether it was weird for her to have a storyline about abortion on the show right after having a baby:
How did the dichotomy feel?
It felt fine. I mean, I’ve done both. I’ve had a baby. I’ve had an abortion. So, uh, it felt fine. Totally natural. I didn’t have any harsh feelings about it. I was like, “Yeah, this is what happens.” And actually, I didn’t even associate the two. I didn’t even think about it.
She also talks amusingly about her body hang-ups and mismatched boobs:
Are you going to get naked on the show?
[Shrugs.] Probably. I mean, Lena’s probably gonna write it for me. I think I’d like to, only because my body is, like, is not necessarily … aspirational. You know what I mean? It’s got flaws and it’s also got some nice things about it. It’s average and it’s also not so average and it’s kind of weird. There are weird spots about it and I hope, I would like to see that on TV, like someone with boobs that are just … one’s so different. You know, that would be really nice to see the main part of one show be something that … you know, not someone who’s really fat or really something. But just someone who’s got those things that some girls hate about their bodies.
One of my boobs literally looks like it’s from another set of tits. And I love it! I really like it.
But even when Kirke is being mostly charming, certain annoying traits start to show. Like, why shouldn’t they show someone who’s “really fat or something” naked on television? Fat people have sex, too.
It gets worse when she talks about race and class. For instance, when she talks about how she’d like to slum it by working in a restaurant, she comes off somewhat sheltered and tourist-y:
Why is that a dream of yours?
I don’t know. I guess when you’re an artist — painting, let’s say, because I’m a painter — your schedule is so flexible and you are your own boss, and although that sounds very liberating and fun to make up your own schedule, there’s actually times when I kind of like crave this nine-to-five general accountability and I want to just get there and not be special and do my job. And that’s kind of what appealed to me about doing this show. It’s just like you’re a spoke in the wheel. You’re not that special. You’re coming to work at this time and this time, and that was a turn-on to me. And a restaurant is like the ultimate thing for me. It’s, like, irreplaceable. Kind of show up, do your job, do it well. You know what I mean? It’s like, do fucking service! I mean, get real! Painting, yes, I could make an argument about how I’m doing service to the world, but I’m not, like, serving people food, which I would like to do. [Laughs.]
I’m sure there are plenty of waitresses out there who’d love to switch with her and paint and live off her parents while Jemima takes their shifts. It might be difficult for her to get them to switch back, though.
And when she dances around the show’s race issues (and the criticism that it doesn’t have any non-extra minority characters), she gets downright cringeworthy:
I mean, I kind of get it. I get it. I totally get it. It’s true, this isn’t every girl. This isn’t … the title is misleading because it’s not all girls. This is a very specific demographic. You know, we’re not talking about girls living in projects, which there are millions. We’re not talking about, you know, girls who live on the Upper East Side with, like, loaded parents who have no idea how to leave home. You know? There are all kinds, and we’re just a very specific … We’re not the average. So I get it. I don’t think there’s any sense in getting mad at it; it’s just a show. It’s just a show about this type of girl. And I think when it claims to be something else, it’s a mistake, but that’s what it is.
This seems to imply that there are no people of color in the upper middle class, post-collegiate, hipster world Girls portrays, which is just…not true. I think the best defense of the show’s whiteness is that a.) these are only four people, so there’s plenty of room left for their world to expand to include people of color, or b.) their homogenous whiteness is part of an implicit social critique.
Then again, could we really expect anything different from her? Kirke is, after all, part of the group of friends that Dunham based the show on, so it makes sense that she’d share both positive and negative traits with Dunham’s fictional characters. Or rather, that they would share them with her.