“Has anyone ever told you you look a little like Lena Dunham?” the frizzy-haired woman asked me as she picked up the cappuccino I had just finished making.
“No. Who’s that?” I asked while wiping down the foam wand on the espresso machine. I had been working part time at a local coffeeshop to help pay bills as I built the beginnings of my business.
“She’s a really great author and director. She created the HBO series, Girls. You should check her out. A brilliant young female voice.”
“Oh cool, actually, I’m a writer, too.”
“Really? What do you write?”
I gave her a card with my blog’s site on it and she promised to check it out, and I promised to check out Lena Dunham.
It took me three years, but I finally got around to it. I fell in love with the series Girls last year - both ashamed and fascinated to see pieces of my twenty-something self reflected in the honest, messy episodes. This year, I bought Dunham’s memoir, Not That Kind of Girl.
Most of you know that I have taken on a major writing project this year - writing my first book! I figured I should familiarize myself with the other female voices out there writing in the genre of slightly memoir, slightly self-help, or as I like to call it, self-help-via-telling-stories-about-my-own-life.
In addition to Not That Kind of Girl, I bought Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and Yes Please! by Amy Poehler. Loving ALL of them! And they’re definitely doing the job of helping me clarify the message and structure of my book.
I loved Not That Kind of Girl because being in the “self help” industry, I’m surrounded by advice and morals and lists of tips and tools and blah blah blah. It’s to the point where prescriptive books usually just wash right over me. I’m saturated. But Lena Dunham doesn’t try to tell you how to live your life. She just writes the deep, secret things that so many of us do and think but would never say. She made me feel better about being imperfect and maybe even a little psychologically nutso.
She’s got a chapter that is straight out of a food log she kept while trying to lose weight once - complete with strict lists and self-congratulatory pep talks, inevitably ending in a shame-creating bingefest and the end of the food log. Who among us hasn’t been there, I ask you? But to put your personal food log on display in your book?? Crazy! And thank you!
There’s even a chapter about rape, which would usually be a deal-breaker for me. As someone with sexual trauma in my past, I staunchly avoid books, movies, and TV shows with rape scenes. It’s just not worth the trigger. But she writes about it so honestly, so matter-of-factly, that I didn’t even really realize I was reading a chapter about rape until it was mostly over.
Which is how many rapes feel when they’re happening.
I’ve told the story to myself in different variations. . . The day after, every detail was crisp. . . Within weeks, it was a memory I turned away from. . . The latest version is that I remember the parts I can remember. . .
Add that to the chapters about girl humiliation at summer camp, being a short woman trying to be taken intellectually seriously by men, and the unrelenting fight against giving in to the temptation to run away from it all, and this book just about summed up all the parts of my life that I don’t usually take out for walks.
I love Lena for simply telling her story. I love her for not apologizing for any of it, or even trying to make excuses or make sure we “have the whole story” so she doesn’t look bad. I love her for not trying to not look bad. And I love her for not trying to help me or fix me.
Because in the process, she’s helped me quite a bit. She’s helped me feel my humanity - my womanhood - and reminded me that that’s nothing to be ashamed of, no matter how messy it gets at times.
To close, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite passage in the book:
[What I fantasize about is] the obliteration of any sense of expectation: the expectation that my femininity, my body, or my work should conform to any set of rules, any aesthetic other than my own. I’ve often been told you have the play the game to get what you want, give a little of yourself up to get what you desire. But what if that’s all bullshit? What if every time I put a strip of false lashes on and cross my legs on a talk-show stage, I am not getting any closer to creating the change I want to see in the world? What if every pair of Spanx, every morning TV-ready joke, every Instagram shout-out to the person who made my dress only carries me farther away from my goal? And the goal is big: radical self-acceptance for women everywhere, political change so total it shakes the ground, justice and joy for those who have been used and tossed aside. And the goal is small: utter and unbridled selfhood.
What type of wild woman are you?
Hello! I'm Melanie Munir, founder of Professional Wild Woman - a women's empowerment business dedicated to helping women who are tired of feeling either "too much" or "not enough" to connect to their inner wildness so they can create work that allows them the fullest expression of their unique voice. Welcome!