Before picking it up, I had seen the first season of Lena Dunham’s show, Girls. I had read the Bad Feminist essay that critiques Girls for not being very representative of the average girl. I read the Truth Revolt diatribe against Dunham, claiming her curiosity about her little sister’s anatomy was, in fact, molestation. (The article was titled “Lena Dunham Describes Sexually Abusing Her Little Sister,” and initially claimed Lena was 17 at the time. She was seven.) I had read Dunham’s tweets in response to the backlash, and even Grace Dunham’s defense of her older sister. So when I finally read the scene that apparently outraged people, I was left thinking… really? That’s it?
Lena Dunham’s comedy is often fueled by awkward situations, painfully embarrassing moments, and scenes that send shockwaves through social norms. She appears naked multiple times throughout the first season of Girls, including during some purposefully awkward sex scenes, made all the more cringeworthy by our cultural expectation of perfection in all facets of the scene. New York Magazine takes an honest approach: “These scenes shouldn’t shock, but they do, if only because in a culture soaked in Photoshop and Botox, few powerful women open themselves up so aggressively to the judgment of voyeurs.”
Then you have the same site that condemns her as an abuser using the phrase “unapologetic nakedness” to describe her on the show. Somehow, I doubt they say the same things about the supermodel-esque bodies on one of HBO’s other hit shows, Game of Thrones.
All of this confirms one thing: for one reason or another (or many), Lena Dunham is a controversial figure.
Her book is worth reading, but not because it’s an accurate portrayal of what it’s like to grow up as a young woman within our culture. Many of the the themes are universal — loneliness, uncertainty, overcoming obstacles — and that’s when she’s at her best. Her thoughts on self-respect and insecurity in relationships can apply to many people, particularly young women:
When someone shows you how little you mean to them and you keep coming back for more, before you know it you start to mean less to yourself. You are not made up of compartments! You are one whole person! What gets said to you gets said to all of you, ditto what gets done. Being treated like shit is not an amusing game or a transgressive intellectual experiment. It’s something you accept, condone, and learn to believe you deserve. This is so simple. But I tried so hard to make it complicated.
Often, though, the same factor that makes Dunham’s stories outrageous and funny makes them somewhat inaccessible. I felt overwhelmed and exhausted at times while reading about her quirky childhood growing up in Manhattan surrounded by the artistic elite.
This isn’t to say that just because an essay isn’t relevant to your personal life, it isn’t successful or worth reading. I most enjoyed the parts of the book in which she criticized the misogyny of Hollywood and detailed her frustrating experiences with many of the condescending directors she encountered. I know even less than most about Hollywood social and professional dynamics, but I enjoyed her depiction of the cutthroat scene and laughed about the excitement she feels about being able to publish a tell-all when everyone she wants to bash is dead. Now that… that’s relatable.
All in all I enjoyed the book. Dunham’s voice is truly — and I normally hate using this word because it’s overused, and usually without understanding of its definition — unique. Just because some of the themes that she or her publisher or the reviews on the back of the book paint as universal don’t seem very universal to me, doesn’t mean that she’s not a wildly talented person whose work is driving some much-needed change.
Not That Kind of Girl isn’t a must-read, but it’s fun and often insightful, and sometimes that’s just what you need.