Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Not That Kind of Girl


I was first introduced to Lena Dunham with her 2010 film Tiny Furniture, which she wrote, directed, and starred in. I thought, Who is this weird girl? I like her.

Over recent years, I've read a number of humorous memoirs: Tiny Fey's Bossypants, Mindy Kaling's Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), and, most recently, Amy Poehler's Yes Please. (I recommend all of these.) I knew they would be funny, but what I didn't expect was how insightful, candid, and powerful they would be. Not only did I laugh, but I also walked away with a deep respect for these women and their dedication to their craft.

Lena Dunham's Not That Kind of Girl fits right into the unconventional, playful way in which these memoirs are written. Like these other female actors turned memoirists, Dunham is killing it in the world of male-dominated show business, all while being hilarious.

She leaves nothing to the imagination: In one chapter, she describes how, after doing a sex scene for her hit show, Girls, she notices under the harsh lights of the set a black nipple hair. In another chapter, she shares a story about "almost" becoming a lesbian. She writes about body issues, obsessive compulsive disorder, and being in love. When you have finished the book, you feel like there is nothing you don't know about Dunham.

And that's one of the criticisms, both of her and the book. Oversharing. You've probably heard the others, too: pretentious, entitled, and shameless. And maybe, in some ways, she is some of those things, though I would argue that she can't help that she was born privileged and she can't help that she is young, albeit a young person with one hell of a resume.

In one chapter, she writes about her mother's nude photographs of herself. Like Lena, her mother was an artist, and at first Lena jokes that her mother invented the selfie. But she soon offers insight into her self-portraits:

My mother understood, implicitly, the power of it. See these hips, these teeth, these eyebrows, these stockings that bunch and sag at the ankles? They're worth capturing, holding on to forever. I'll never be this young again. Or this lonely. Or this hairy. Come one, come all, to my private show.
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Dunham can help that bit about being shameless and oversharing, but I call it unapologetic. And why shouldn't she be? She is baring all, making herself completely vulnerable, and I can't think of anything braver. In light of all of her accomplishments, maybe we forget that she is just twenty-nine years old. Maybe all of her nakedness on Girls makes us uncomfortable, and rather than admit the truth, we say she has this laundry list of character flaws. After all, would the nude scenes in Girls be considered excessive if all of the characters looked like Marnie? On this, Lena says, "[A] frequently asked question is how I am 'brave' enough to reveal my body on screen. The subtext here is definitely how am I brave enough to reveal my imperfect body, since I doubt Blake Lively would be subject to the same line of inquiry."

For me, the voice of this memoir is that of a hardworking, trailblazing, witty feminist who refuses to follow the rules. I share her sentiment: "There is nothing gutsier to me than a person announcing that their story deserves to be told, especially if that person is a woman." I can get behind that. Not everyone can, but I guess I'm just that kind of girl.


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