“There is nothing gutsier to me than a person announcing that their story is one that deserves to be told,” writes Lena Dunham, and it certainly takes guts to share the stories that make up her first book, Not That Kind of Girl. These are stories about getting your butt touched by your boss, about friendship and dieting (kind of) and having two existential crises before the age of 20. Stories about travel, both successful and less so, and about having the kind of sex where you feel like keeping your sneakers on in case you have to run away during the act. Stories about proving yourself to a room of 50-year-old men in Hollywood and showing up to “an outlandishly high-fashion event with the crustiest red nose you ever saw.” Fearless, smart, and as heartbreakingly honest as ever, Not That Kind of Girl establishes Lena Dunham as more than a hugely talented director, actress and producer-it announces her as a fresh and vibrant new literary voice. – Goodreads
Before this, my only exposure to Dunham was a quickly-abandoned foray into Girls. I liked it on principle, but found the extreme awkwardness difficult to watch without a prohibitive amount of squirming.
As it was, I went into this book unsure of what I would find, but willing to give Lena another try – if for no other reason than that I think she’s pretty cool and admire her spunk. What I discovered was that on the page, the awkwardness that had made me flinch in Girls made me laugh out loud. Lena lives in TMI. She doesn’t hold anything back, and she has absolutely no shame in sharing embarrassing details of her journey to becoming the woman she is. She is smart, witty, unflinching in her self-revelation.
As much as I enjoyed Dunham’s open (and at times uncomfortably honest) writing, I feel that her book transcends its content, partly because its content is so damn good. Dunham herself is not only awesome, but very, very important.
She occupies a space in popular culture too long left yawningly vacant. She represents a role model we women (and girls) can actually aspire to. She isn’t the hollowed out husk of vapid beauty so often held up as the ultimate paragon of an idealized, over-sexualized, under-intellectualized femininity. She is perfect precisely because of her imperfections.
She shows us that it is okay to have physical flaws (and that in the end they’re not really flaws, they’re just part of us), that it is okay to struggle with our own minds (in her case with OCD and anxiety). And that, most importantly, if we can accept ourselves as we are, we can be powerful, valuable and magnetically interesting.
I love this woman. I love her willingness to appear nude on screen even though she’s not a perfect size two (and to not see how this is “brave” or even worth discussing). I love that she’ll tell us about mistakes she’s made (some of them pretty big) in her quest to fit in. And I love that her story doesn’t end there – that despite the limitations society places on girls who are too big, too loud, too awkward, she has managed to become hugely successful without having to change herself any more than she would have by growing up. She hasn’t tried to fit into a limiting mold that pinches and silences, she’s stretched it out and made it her own. She has succeeded precisely because she insisted on being who she is. And goddammit, this is what girls need to see. They need to see that no matter what you look like, no matter if you wear the “wrong” clothes or say the “wrong” things or if you can’t quite figure things out, you still deserve respect, happiness and a voice in this world.
She takes some of the power back for those of us who don’t have the long limbs or pouty lips of a supermodel, who can’t eat an entire pizza without gaining weight (but do it anyway) and who don’t always feel like being affable and pleasant. And we like it that way.
Being five years her senior, all I can say is that I wish Dunham had been around for me to look up to when I was in my late teens and early 20s, rather than the questionable example set by Sex and the City, which was what passed for honest female dialogue in my day. There was some value in its strong female friendships and open discussion of sex, but it maintained an unrealistic representation of beauty, success (no way could Carrie afford rent in New York on what she would have made from a weekly column in an obscure newspaper – let alone a designer shoe collection) and what being a grown up means. And watching it now, it just seems so silly to me.
We need role models who will have unapologetic discussions of intimate situations (particularly those involving rape or other ways in which young women are exploited) so that we can learn to recognize the lines when they are crossed, stand up for ourselves, and demand the treatment we deserve.
I think this book is not only an enjoyable read, but a brilliant portrayal of what it’s like to grow up female in today’s world – with all its pressures, expectations and limitations. Dunham is the antidote to pop culture – to reality TV and Kimye and powerful women being reduced to the sum of their parts by leaked nude photos. She is the potential we women can fulfill if we refuse to be muted or distracted by the fact that not a single one of us is perfect.
I am officially a Lena Dunham fan now, and am crossing my fingers that she’ll soon begin work on a follow-up. Or ten.
Just for fun:
And finally, though I was reticent to share it due to the recent controversy over Jian Gomeshi, Lena’s interview on CBC’s “Q” is worth watching because her answers are so on point.
Author: Lena Dunham
Published By: Random House
Released: September 30, 2014
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir, In-Your-Face
Date Read: November 1, 2014