There is nothing gutsier to me than a person announcing that their story is one that deserves to be told, especially if that person is a woman.
It’s not often you come across a book as genuinely refreshing, utterly charming and brutally honest as Lena Dunham‘s memoir, ‘Not That Kind of Girl’.
Her style will be well known for fans of her hit HBO show Girls, but even that doesn’t quite prepare you for Lena’s take on her own life (so far). The book is an assortment of essays, loosely grouped into categories – life and sex, body, friendship, work and big picture. There’s not a standard chronology, just a collection of stories and memories, ideas and thoughts on Dunham’s life.
When one takes a stab at writing their own personal history they invariably want to brush over it, to present the best version of themselves. The urge is present in all of us, even with friends and family, let alone in how we present ourselves to the world. In an age where social media allows us to tell the story we want to tell, a carefully crafted image of status updates and holiday photos make it feel like the grass really is greener on our side of the fence, that we’re living a glamorous and exciting life. We don’t want to talk about the embarrassing bits, the raw bits, the ugly parts of living. Dunham is different. Her memoirs don’t just tell us the good bits. It doesn’t feel like there’s much she would ever hold back. Ugliness, failure, embarrassment just make up part of where she’s been and her honesty in the telling of them is of great value both to the story she weaves and to society and our values as a whole.
This novel is so important for its messages about things we don’t really want to talk about. Sex and nakedness are perfect examples. Movies will show you stylised frames of perfect bodies, big open mouth kisses and simultaneous climax. They’ve taught us, young women especially, that to be anything other then a conventional beauty is to be unworthy of sex and love. The reality of course is that sex and bodies come in all shapes and sizes, neither will ever really be perfect in that romantic film sense, and yours is to be entirely dictated by you.
Dunham is raw and honest about her sexual history, both on screen and in her memoir. She shows her body in ways that have been called ‘brave’ but is really just authentic and pursues sex in ways that haven’t always been acceptable in women. It’s a bit of a shame that the finding of her boyfriend, Jack (from the indie band ‘fun’ if you were wondering) seems to have washed away her anxieties and allowed her a kind of rom-com haze of perfection.
She describes her relationship with him as coming home, and it sort of feels like he made her complete in a way that sends shudders down feminists spines. In this perhaps she could have brought us to earth with the everyday reality of living and loving another person, after all sometimes they must fight over who does the dishes. But, this is her memoir and her life, if she has found this fairytale love who is to blame her for wanting to celebrate it.
Reading this review you might think that Dunham’s romantic life takes up a huge portion of the book. It doesn’t. It is in fact only a part of a novel that covers many things of interest, the fact that we all tend to focus on the love and sex part, (myself included) probably is a critique in and of itself. Lena eloquently and honestly describes her experiences in life that got her to where she is today. Her want to be taken seriously in an industry that is still male dominated, her home life, growing up and making her way in the world.
Lena is unsurprisingly brusque and raw in her observations, her emotion is obvious when she describes her struggles with her health, her weight, her career against many obstacles. You learn so much about her background. Lena didn’t have the most normal of upbringings, her artist parents gave her the unique environment to become exactly who she is. The world is a richer place for people like Lena Dunham and it seems we owe a lot of her ferocious spirit and raw talent at least in part to the family that raised her.
Lena is a creative tornado, she turns a phrase like no other. Some of my favourites include:
- “I am twenty years old and I hate myself. My hair, my face, the curve of my stomach. The way my voice comes out wavering and my poems come out maudlin.”
- “As a little girl I had been obnoxiously self-aware, irritatingly smug, prone to reading the dictionary ’for fun’ and making pronouncements like, ’Papa, nobody my age enjoys real literature.’”
- “I can never be who I was. I can simply watch her with sympathy, understanding, and some measure of awe. There she goes, backpack on, headed for the subway or the airport. She did her best with her eyeliner. She learned a new word she wants to try out on you. She is ambling along. She is looking for it.”
Lena will make you roar with laughter and think deeply, to question and own who you are and where you’ve been. She will explain feminism and why it’s important, along with personal anecdotes that both charm and reveal the realities of life as a modern, twenty-something girl.
This is a book that is important to read. It’s important to understand the phenomenon that is Lena Dunham because she’s already made a positive stamp in this world. It’s important for girls to see that’s it’s okay to be who you are. To watch her break down walls and trailblaze for the rest of us. Lena is strong, and unique and unapologetic. You might not agree with everything or even anything she says or does but Lena knows she has something valuable to offer and I tend to agree with her.
Join us next month when we review ‘The Martian’ by Andy Weir, now a major motion picture starring Matt Damon.