What Kind of Girl is Lena Dunham?

Lena Dunham’s first book, Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned” hit the shelves on September 30th. Dunham rose to the spotlight with the success of her HBO series, Girls, which she writes, directs, and acts in. Her creativity and brilliance has earned her eight Emmy nominations and two Golden Globe Awards.

I have never seen Girls. Before reading her book, I knew little about Dunham other than that she was one of the admirable few to reveal tattoos on the red carpet and call herself a feminist (before it was cool). However, immediately drawn to the 1970’s-style, pink-and-black themed cover art, I threw her book into my mother’s shopping cart during a fall break Target trip. Cracking open the crisp pages in the shampoo aisle, I rejoiced to find original humor, relatable stories about adolescence and womanhood, and insight into the creative genius that is Lena Dunham. (Not to mention brilliant illustrations by Joana Avillez.)

Highlights:

The target audience is college-age women. The book begins: “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 . . . I cover up this hatred with a kind of aggressive self-acceptance. I dye my hair a fluorescent shade of yellow…”

She’ll make you laugh out loud. My personal favorites include her list-style essays including “18 Unlikely Things I’ve Said Flirtatiously” and “Emails I Would Send If I Were One Ounce Crazier/Angrier/Braver”

No womanly struggle is left untouched. Much in line with her willingness to bare her naked body on Girls, Dunham reveals her personal battles with OCD, eating disorders, sexual assault in college, and misogyny in Hollywood. Without homilizing, she relates her experiences in such a way that gently invites readers to take comfort in the knowledge of shared experience, and to find hope through her ultimate success.

“Girls and Jerks,” which explores Dunham’s instinctual attraction to jerks despite a loving, attentive, and respectful father (psychiatrists everywhere are scratching their heads) brings much-needed honesty and humor to this unfortunately relatable phenomenon.

It’s perfect for leisure reading. You can pick this book up and put it down dozens of times without having to worry about forgetting the plot in the interim. Replace your daily perusal of Jezebel, Cosmo, or Buzzfeed with one or two of Lena’s essays, and you’ll be through the book in no time.

One area of personal discontent:

Dunham goes into such detail about her OCD/eating disorders that it often becomes boring... even crossing into the territory of irritating. For example, she includes a lengthy food journal from her days of disordered eating that is not only is this tedious to read, but also seems like it should come with a trigger warning for those who have struggled with similar issues in the past. Her insistence on plunging readers into her various mental states can be unpleasant and unenlightening at times. (I didn’t find much to relate to or laugh at in her hypochondriacal essay “My Top 10 Health Concerns.”)

Note: TruthRevolt, a radical right-wing publication, recently accused Dunham of sexually abusing her younger sister, Grace, based on an essay from this book. It’s a brief moment in which seven-year-old Lena “investigates” one-year-old Grace’s vagina while playing outside to find that she has stuffed pebbles in there and runs to report this to her mother. Various people, websites, etc. are jumping to either indict or defend Dunham on this account. My own view? Lena was seven. Seven is a pre-sexual age of exploring one’s body, doing weird things, and learning how to relate/communicate with siblings. When I first read it (pre-news scandal), I thought it was a bizarre story, yet I appreciated it for exactly that reason. Dunham doesn’t shy away from odd or embarrassing, and this is precisely what makes her book unique and refreshing.

If you enjoyed Bossypants by Tina Fey, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling, or anything by David Sedaris, I highly recommend Lena’s unique addition to the shelf of comedic memoirs.

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