IF she’s not that kind of girl, then what kind of girl is she?
At 28, Lena Dunham is the kind of girl who allegedly received a $3.7 million advance for telling readers everything she “learned” — the quotes being the most annoying thing about her book, Not That Kind of Girl, the typography on the cover being the most delightful thing about it.
The disappointment is not dissimilar to a reader looking forward to a favourite writer’s new book and being thoroughly put off. (I’m looking at you Ruth Reichl. What were you thinking with Delicious?)
I admire Dunham because she’s challenged many norms on television by baring her soul and body, and for her devil-may-care attitude. I liked Girls up to a point though I am glad I am not in my 20s in this day and age, and I admit that I find many faults in the show: not an accurate racial representation of New York being one example; the self-absorption; the whining; did I already say the self-absorption? It is grating. But for all its faults, I appreciate Dunham’s unapologetic stance on nudity on screen. And for remaining steadfast in face of all the criticism bordering on vitriol she has received.
To give an example, in one episode, her character has sex with Patrick Wilson (a good looking actor for those not in the know). There was much fat-shaming that followed because Dunham’s character supposedly could not, in reality, have had sex with such an attractive person. It appears the only overweight women we can see on screen are the ones we can poke fun of.
So kudos to Dunham for baring herself, a lot. She writes in Not That Kind of Girl that she’s often questioned on how she is brave enough to show her body on screen. “The subtext there 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.”
It was against this backdrop — Dunham’s privilege evoking such visceral rage juxtaposed against her being the darling of the press, certainly of The New York Times — that I was looking for-ward to reading her memoir. So, when it arrived I ripped into it. However, a few pages in and I wanted to rip it.
Dunham bored me, she disappointed me; the shock value with which she initially came onto the scene had lost its appeal. (Not that I dig shock value.) Talking to readers about being naked on TV — there are good days and bad days (having diarrhea) — induced a yawn. The lists posing as chapters: Things I’ve learned from my mother/father, Things that are in my purse, Things I ate, Things you should not say to your girlfriends; Things that should be on Buzzfeed and not in this book but I put in here because how else could I justify the millions in advance I got?
Helen Gurley Brown, who Dunham pays tribute to in her Introduction, was a trailblazer in writing about the self, the experiences that made her tougher, smarter and from whom, she hoped, you the reader would wise up. Dunham says she hoped everything she “learned” would do the same for you. Except that we learn that Dunham’s not really “learned” anything. Hence the air quotes.
But to give credit where it is due, Dunham exhibits a frailty when she writes on many issues that would normally cause discomfort — a la Gurley Brown. We wouldn’t know this but she’s obsessed with death, her uterus and (perhaps) not being able to have kids. When her sister comes out to her, she’s devastated that she did not know (some self-absorption there). She writes about losing her virginity and it being a less than ordinary experience, puncturing many a romantic notion associated with it. Her essay on her sexual assault at university — which has caused many controversies since the publication of the book — is a particularly disturbing read.
This book felt like it was written in a rush. Dunham wanted to write a tell-all, not in a traditional true E-Hollywood style but in a new young feminist slash self-deprecating style. She’s tried to emulate her mentor Nora Ephron, to whom she’s dedicated the book, but she has a long way to go.
Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned”
By Lena Dunham
Fourth Estate, US