Lena Dunham is cool and gifted—and she’s not afraid to bare it all.

Love her or hate her, the multifaceted Lena Dunham has mucho guts. In a troubling American zeitgeist—characterized by a frail economy, young graduates who still live with their parents, a disillusioned middle class that’s lost all trust in Wall Street, and the omnipresence of social media—Dunham has been able to perceptively capture an overriding sense of imperfection and anxiety in today’s youth.

First drawing attention with her directorial debut feature, Tiny Furniture (about a privileged, albeit directionless, angst-ridden liberal arts grad who returns home to her family’s TriBeCa loft and tries to find her way), Dunham truly made headlines with her candid (and rather risqué) performances in her award-winning HBO show, Girls. She’s since been named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people and snagged a $3.5 million book deal, an essay collection acquired by Random House. And she’s only 27.

But back to Girls, now in its third season. Dunham plays the main character, Hannah, a shabby, though smart and funny aspiring writer longing for experience to write about. But she consistently (and often comically) falls short, whether it’s in her career, her attempts to evade her comfort zone to gain “experience” (like when she goes on a coke binge with her roommate Elijah for a freelance piece), and her self-destructive sex escapades and dubious relationships (she memorably receives a photo of her boyfriend’s penis, yet he then apologizes for having sent it to the wrong person). It’s been the sex factor—and both Dunham’s not-so-skinny-or-toned looks and her willingness to go nude (quasi-ad nauseam)—that has fueled both love and hate throughout the mediascape and cyberspace.

Take this article in the Daily Mail, highlighting her spot on the cover of February’s Vogue, where she said, “I want people

[…], even if they’re disturbed by certain moments, to feel bolstered and normalized by the sex that’s on the show,” and adds, “Seeing somebody who looks like you having sex on television is a less comfortable experience than seeing somebody who looks like nobody you’ve ever met.” After reading the piece, we were amused by the comments, such as this one, by username hyper7: “Unfortunately, your obesity has become the ‘norm’ in some Western countries—but no one aspires to that, nor will they ever, because it is not ideal or remotely attractive.”

Seems like that’s missing the point (especially since the Vogue cover is only a headshot, even if it’s Photoshopped). Dunham is relevant because her writing is fresh and timely, and because she embodies and extends what most of us fear deep inside: her thick-skinned resolve to bare it all, whether through words (see her 2012 video campaigning for Barack Obama in which she affirms how first-time voting can be like losing your virginity) or through nudity, in an attempt to reach emotional, intellectual, and sexual truths.

And relax, it’s not like her sex scenes are ridiculously lovey-dovey or romanticized. Instead, they’re messy, awkward, and realistic—ultimately relatable in one way or another. As she told The Guardian, “The times I’m embarrassed are when I’m writing about loving situations and romantic moments, rather than totally degrading sex and looking bad in your underwear.”

Perhaps her freedom here could be influenced by her bohemian parents, both prominent artists (her dad’s famed painter Carroll Dunham and her mom’s Laurie Simmons, well-known for her photographic depictions of domestic scenes featuring posed dolls). “A lot of my parents’ friends were performance artists,” she mentioned in her interview with The Guardian, “so I think I just understood that the body could be a tool [for] exploration.”