Lena Dunham's Most Controversial Moments

When Lena Dunham first started making big moves in Hollywood in the 2010s, people couldn't help but pay attention. At just 26 years old, she had created a hit show on HBO, "Girls," that she also wrote and starred in — and she seemed to be just getting started. But while "Girls" did receive a lot of critical acclaim during its run, as a celebrity, Dunham quickly became problematic, especially as she began to be more and more outspoken on social media as she rose to fame.

Between the comments she's made about her personal life, what she's said about fellow women, and the choices she's made in her career, Dunham simply can't seem to stay out of the spotlight — and not always in a good way. She's been accused of racism several times, as well as not recognizing her own privilege, and somehow, that barely seems to scratch the surface when it comes to her personal history of offending people.

Here are some of Dunham's most controversial moments while living in the spotlight. Though she's certainly faded from view more than she was in the days when "Girls" was in its primary run, it seems inevitable that plenty more of these moments are to come.

Lena Dunham's plus size clothing collection did not go over well

As someone who's always been vocal about not fitting into the standard Hollywood body norm, it wasn't surprising when Lena Dunham debuted her own plus size clothing collection with online retailer 11 Honoré in 2021. But when the pieces were revealed, the lackluster options left people very disappointed. Only five items were included in the collection, and they weren't offered in any sizes beyond a 26, which immediately drew criticism.

It didn't take long for Dunham to receive a heavy dose of backlash for her foray into fashion. "When a person with Dunham's influence and privilege gets an opportunity to bring luxury fashion to eager plus-size consumers and yet fails to remember the most marginalized members of those communities, it comes off as self-serving," said an essay from NBC News Think.

The Twitter response to Dunham's collection was negative as well. In just one example, a critic tweeted, "That clothing line is a joke. It's super basic stuff that is already available in plus sizes — really, an oversized blazer and oversized tunic? — and for much, much cheaper. Most plus sized women are poor, but hey let's sell a basic white tank top for 98 bucks."

As of this writing, it doesn't appear as though Dunham has directly addressed the backlash. 

Lena Dunham's controversial comments about her own body

Lena Dunham spoke with The New York Times to promote her plus size clothing line. However, at the same time Dunham was attempting to promote body neutrality, she also said problematic things about her own body and weight. Admitting she was taking steroids for hormonal effects on her body after being diagnosed with COVID-19 in 2020, Dunham commented on what the medication was doing to her appearance.

"[I'm] trying to be chin positive. I can deal with anything, but a triple chin is a hard place to land," she said. Dunham then disparaged her own body, while trying to illustrate the problem she finds with the body positive movement. "I have a big stomach, I always have. That's where I gain my weight — especially after early menopause, I have a straight-up gut, like an old man — and that's not where anybody wants to see flesh," she said. "It's not like if I posted a sensual nude of myself on Instagram, people would be marveling at my beautiful derrière."

HuffPost writer Juliet James took particular umbrage with this passage, arguing, "There is definitely plenty of love for both big bellies and big butts." Summarizing the whole issue with Dunham's remarks, James concluded, "If you're making unpleasant comments about your own body, that translates to people in bodies like your own ― and those in even larger bodies than your own. This is a lesson Dunham very clearly still needs to learn; one I hope she'll come to understand among the critiques."

Lena Dunham defended a Girls writer against accusations of rape

In 2017, an actor Aurora Perrineau accused "Girls" writer Murray Miller of sexual assault. According to The Wrap, Perrineau filed a police report claiming Miller raped her in 2012, when she was 17 years old. At the time, Miller's attorney denied the claims, calling them "false and offensive."

Lena Dunham, along with fellow "Girls" showrunner Jenni Konner, released a statement via The Hollywood Reporterdefending Miller based on what they claimed was their "confidence" in "insider knowledge" of the situation. "While our first instinct is to listen to every woman's story ... sadly this accusation is one of the 3 percent of assault cases that are misreported every year," the statement said, concluding, "We stand by Murray and this is all we'll be saying about this issue."

Dunham's defense of an accused rapist surprised fans, as she vocally championed the #MeToo movement, and in December 2018, she took to The Hollywood Reporter once again — this time, to publish her apology to Perrineau. "There are few acts I could ever regret more in this life," she wrote. "I didn't have the 'insider information' I claimed but rather blind faith in a story that kept slipping and changing and revealed itself to mean nothing at all."

Prosecutors ultimately declined to bring charges against Murray, citing (via Deadline) that "the statute of limitations on the case had expired, and also that 'based on the evidence presented ... there are inconsistencies which cannot be overcome.'"

What is up with Lena Dunham's questionable history with animals?

Though Lena Dunham has shared her love of animals on social media many times, she has also seemingly struggled to properly care for them. Her dog, Lamby, who she shared with ex-boyfriend Jack Antonoff, made frequent appearances on her Instagram, until one day, she announced in a post that he had been "re-hom[ed]" after what she described as "four years of challenging behavior and aggression that could not be treated with training or medication or consistent loving dog ownership." She also alleged that "Lamby suffered terrible abuse as a pup that made having him in a typical home environment dangerous to him and others," which an employee from the shelter where Dunham got Lamby explicitly refuted

A year later, Dunham returned to Instagram to share the sad news that her Sphynx cat, Gia Marie, had suddenly died after she'd come home to find her "limp and wheezing," and just two months later, she eulogized yet another pet on social media — her 13-year-old dog, Bowie.

This many issues with animals raised more than a few eyebrows, and eventually, Dunham responded to The Cut, saying that since she adopts older pets, of course they die soon afterwards. "You can say a lot of s**t about me, but I am a very committed pet owner," she told the outlet. As for the shelter employee's claims? Dunham mocked him as "an electronic DJ" who was only aiming to "extend [his] career by telling people what a bad dog owner [she] was."

The diversity problem with Girls that Lena Dunham never really addressed

One of the biggest criticisms of "Girls" was the show's lack of diversity — something that Lena Dunham acknowledged just after the show's debut season and promised to "respond to" in an interview with NPR. At that time, Dunham said she wrote the show as a reflection of her own "experience," and actively avoided "tokenism in casting," as to "avoid rendering an experience [she] can't speak to accurately."

Fast-forward three years and Dunham had seemingly forgotten to "respond to" the criticism, as she told a roundtable for The Hollywood Reporter in 2015 that the story of "Girls" was about "weirdo girls and chubby girls and strange half-Jews," and she "had forgotten that there was an entire world of women who were being underserved." Dunham did add that she eventually realized it was her duty "as [a creator] to represent more than what we've seen."

Unfortunately, that representation materialized on "Girls" in the form of BIPOC characters in small roles that revolved around the white women starring in it — in other words, exactly the "tokenism" Dunham said she wanted to avoid. 

Writing for Buzzfeed, Tomi Obaro rejected Dunham's portrayal of "ethnic minorities as 'supporting characters,'" who are "blindly invested in white strangers' lives," and advised Dunham to "either embrace the verisimilitude of white hipster New York ... or hunker down and create POC who do more than give sage advice, make sassy clapbacks, serve as mute comic relief, and then promptly disappear."

Lena Dunham's controversial memoir

When Lena Dunham published her memoir, Not That Kind of Girl, in 2014, she opened herself up to even more criticism as she shared personal stories from her childhood and adolescence. One of those stories revolved around her sibling (above right) and behavior she admitted engaging in when they were both minors that earned her quite a bit of backlash. While critics (via USA Today) fiercely accused Dunham of "sexual abuse," "sexual assault" and "incest," others, including experts on in the field of abuse, failed to see anything more than normal experimentation of children at that age. 

Dunham adamantly defended herself against the criticism, labeling it an "upsetting and disgusting" smear by the political right wing. She even took legal action against detractors who isolated and published passages of the book. In a tweet, she wrote, "I told a story about being a weird 7 year old. I bet you have some too, old men, that I'd rather not hear. And yes, this is a rage spiral."

Eventually, Dunham's sibling, Cyrus, who was the subject of the story in the memoir, also responded to the backlash in their own since deleted tweets (via E!), writing, "Heteronormativity deems certain behaviours harmful, and others 'normal'; the state and media are always invested in maintaining that. As a queer person: I'm committed to people narrating their own experiences, determining for themselves what has and has not been harmful."

The time Lena Dunham "wished" she'd had an abortion

On a December 2016 episode of her podcast, "Women of the Hour," Dunham recalled how she "sort of jumped" and said, "I haven't had an abortion," in response to being asked to participate in "a project in which women share their stories of abortions." The interaction took place during Dunham's visit to a Planned Parenthood in Texas, after which she realized that she, too, had bought into the stigma around abortion, despite her oft-stated position as an advocate for a woman's right to choose. But then Dunham declared, "I had internalized some of what society was throwing at us, and I had to put it in the garbage. Now I can say that I still haven't had an abortion, but I wish I had."

Cue the backlash: Twitter was ablaze with detractors, the kindest of which described Dunham's remarks as a "complicated mess." Writing for the Daily Beast, columnist Erin Gloria Ryan described Dunham's position as "a cartoonish version of clueless urban liberalism" that would only serve as "free red meat" for right wing "trolls."

Cue Dunham's Instagram apology: "I would never, ever intentionally trivialize the emotional and physical challenges of terminating a pregnancy. My only goal is to increase awareness and decrease stigma. I take reproductive choice in America more seriously than I take literally anything else, and therefore own full responsibility for any words I speak that don't convey this truth clearly," she wrote, adding that she had donated to abortion funds in three states.

Lena Dunham's tweet about Harvey Weinstein

During the height of the #MeToo movement, when multiple actresses and women in Hollywood were coming forward to speak out against Harvey Weinstein, Lena Dunham's 2017 joke about the topic that definitely wasn't a joking matter to those who were affected by it raised more than a few eyebrows.

Though she has since deleted the offending tweet, screenshots still circulate on Twitter. Responding to an article from the Daily Beast that quoted George Clooney calling the allegations against the producer "indefensible," Dunham wrote, "Ironically, guys, speaking out against Harvey Weinstein only makes you more sexually irresistible (consensually, of course)."

Making light of such a serious issue didn't impress many people who saw the tweet, with one writing, "Turns out you don't have to be a good writer to get paid for it."

Like she's done in many of her controversies in the past, Dunham eventually did apologize for her offhand comment, too, after Rose McGowan called it "not right" in a tweet of her own. "I'm sorry I missed the mark," Dunham wrote back to McGowan on the app. "I won't try to explain myself but simply say I hope you feel the love from me and many fellow assault survivors."

When Lena Dunham admitted to outing her sibling to their parents

Lena Dunham's sibling, Cyrus Grace Dunham, is out as a trans person, but they weren't always open about their sexuality and gender identity. And in a 2014 profile in The New York Times, both Dunhams told a story in which Lena had outed Cyrus to their parents after Cyrus confided in her — something that "messed up [the siblings'] relationship for like two years." Cyrus was still in their senior year of high school when they told Lena the news, and she lasted less than two weeks before she spilled the information to their parents.

"I consider Grace to be an extension of me, and therefore I couldn't handle the fact that she's a very private person with her own value system and her own aesthetic and that we do different things," Lena said in the profile, explaining that Cyrus' secrets felt like her own.

Cyrus also commented on the situation in the same article, saying, "Without getting into specifics, most of our fights have revolved around my feeling like Lena took her approach to her own personal life and made my personal life her property." 

Lena Dunham's long history of racially divisive commentary

Lena Dunham's history of making racially divisive comments is long, possibly starting with since-deleted tweets from her pre-"Girls" fame in 2010 and 2011. The tweets, which we won't reproduce here, were clearly jokes in poor taste, and they resurfaced in the wake of yet another scandal in 2016, in which Dunham appeared to make bigoted comments about Odell Beckham, Jr.

After she made a joke that when she was seated next to him at the MET Gala, he looked at his phone instead of her because he didn't find her attractive, critics pounced. In a scathing takedown, HuffPost's Peter Coffin described Dunham's unfounded assertion about Beckham, a Black man, who was (in Dunham's mind) inexplicably not attracted to a white woman as "racism manifesting itself." 

By 2017, Dunham faced non-specific accusations of racism again, this time by a Avril Clemmons, a former contributor to Dunham's "Lenny" newsletter. In her declaration that she would quit writing for the publication, Clemmons accused Dunham in a lengthy Facebook post of "'hipster racism,' which typically uses sarcasm as a cover." 

Dunham doesn't appear to have commented on the deleted tweets or Clemmons' accusations, however, she did profusely apologize to Beckham. And unrelated to any specific scandal, Dunham, via several lengthy June 2020 Twitter threads, acknowledged that through "a series of lessons" she's learned over "the past ten years," she has come to recognize her own white privilege, of which she vowed, "in coming months my company will share mandate on how we are holding ourselves accountable."