First off I have to confess, I've never seen Lena Dunham's show, Girls. I've had lots of friends recommend it to me, but I just haven't gotten around to watching it. To be honest, I sort of feel like I probably already watch enough TV. (Did that sound snobby? Guys, I love TV. I just mean that I probably watch too much already.) So, when I found out Dunham had a book coming out, and everyone kept saying it was a similar vibe to her show, I was stoked to check it out.
Typically at some point while reading a book, if I really like it, I'll flip to the back cover to read more about the author. I like to think of back cover author bios as an old school alternative to just googling an author. Anyway, Dunham and I are the same age. Cool. She has her own show, a best selling book, eight Emmy nominations, and has won two Golden Globes. So, whoa. She's sort of killing it. Go, Lena!
Of course the big thing that happened this month, concerning her book anyway, was all the controversy around some of the stories and comments she made about her and her sister's childhood. You can read more about that here, as well as Dunham's apology here.
I had already read most of the book before the controversy started lighting up the Internet. From my perspective, when I read those passages, here's what I thought: So, quite a few of my friends have children who are at an age where they are discovering certain things. And the stories they tell can range from cute to super awkward. Basically, their kids are discovering sexuality. They may note that their body is different from their opposite gender sibling at bath time. Or they may touch themselves inappropriately in public—they just don't know it's inappropriate yet. We aren't born knowing about sexuality, personal boundaries, or what is and is not OK to show or touch in public. These are things our parents (or other guardians) teach us as we grow up. Hopefully in a gentle, non-shaming way, as so often I think sex is shamed in our society. But that's a whole different discussion.
So when I read the more controversial passages about Dunham's behavior as a seven-year-old, yeah, they were a little weird to me, as I didn't really do anything like that growing up. But I still read it as just something awkward a child did before she really understood boundaries. When reading, I'd actually assumed this was going to be a setup for her mother (or father) teaching her about those boundaries, but that part didn't happen in the book. I'm not saying it never happened nor am I trying to turn this into a critique on Dunham's parents, as she acknowledges these are fictionalized accounts based on her memory. And we're going off the memory of a seven-year-old. Either way, I have to admit I was a little surprised by the controversy. I personally feel a little uncomfortable giving lifelong accusatory titles to someone for things they did when they were a child with a small understanding of boundaries. But I also don't have anything that could even be construed as childhood abuse in my background. If I did, perhaps I would've viewed this story differently. I don't know. What did you think when you read this passage?
Aside from that part of the book, I'd have to admit that overall I didn't really relate with Dunham's life very much. I think she's a talented writer and storyteller. She makes very interesting and poignant observations about her life experiences and those around her throughout the book. But, I ultimately just didn't relate to her life very much, so it wasn't as funny or affirming as it might have been if I did. It's strange because I think she covers a lot of areas that are pretty universal: relationships and sex, body image, finding a career path after school, and fearing death. I mean, we all think about these things, right? I do. So I really enjoyed being allowed into another person's life and perspective even if I didn't relate. But maybe you related to her life a lot, and you think I'm just talking crazy here?
I guess that's a good place to start the discussion. Here's a few things I'd love to know your thoughts on from the book:
1. The controversy. Please feel free to express your opinion, but also I don't think this is the only thing to comment on about this book. Just throwing that out there.
2. Relationships & sex.
3. Body image and self-esteem in general.
4. Finding a career path or just direction you want to follow in life (it's SO hard, right?!)
5. Fearing death.
Dunham touches on all of these things in her book, so I'd love to hear what you thought about her perspective and stories or any other thoughts you have about these topics. xo. Emma
Credits // Author and Photography: Emma Chapman. Photos edited with A Beautiful Mess actions.
1. The controversy, from memory all she really wanted from her sister was a sign a love or care, and only in a sisterly way. The thing with the pebbles in her sister, well the sister did that, and okay a little strange to adults as to why Lena would look there but as pointed out. Children discovering their bodies and sexuality can do things off kilter. also thank god she did so the pebbles could be removed!!
2.Relationships and sex: I thought she cried wolf a bit much for someone who tried very hard to get laid, and then complained it wasn’t up to standard or a bit rougher than expected. And Whilst in no way am i condoning the ill treatment of women through sex, I do feel that Lena’s issues with self-esteem and confidence probably played a big part in her inability to make better choices in relationships and sexual partners.
5. I oddly related a little to her issues with death, the what would happen, the people you leave behind etc. But not to the extent that she obsesses over it. A part of her OCD i would imagine.
Overall, I did not like the book though. I felt that Lena was way to narcissistic and very much like the horrible character she portrays on her show. It was a times an easy read, but I did find it also very easy to put down and forget about for periods of time. I hate to say it but I think that she is a classic example of my generation – ie the selfie generation, a time where we are seemingly encouraged to think that we are all special snowflakes and all the most important person in the room at all times ( an extreme example)
Loveeee the show – and I really love Lena.
I’m a senior student currently at college, and while no – I can’t relate with certain sex scenes that Lena had mentioned – I think a lot of girls can, as horrendous as that sounds. Reading about them is a little bit more intense sometimes then just chatting about the situation – the details aren’t so…intense most of the time.
However, I think these things are relevant to a lot of girls my age – so reading those parts made me feel like less of a weirdo. Sometimes you wonder why certain things only happen to you, I thought it was great that Lena was so honest about what happened to her.
Things about her career, or her schoolwork, or her body image…I think they are very relatable to many people. I even tweeted about how I felt like Lena had vocalized everything I had always been too embarrassed to say.
So while I couldn’t relate to a lottt of things – I mean let’s be honest – I don’t know if I necessarily judged the book on whether or not it was most relatable to me. I think it was just interesting to hear. But maybe that’s just me – I like hearing about people’s lives! 🙂
I completely agree with your comments as well. I’m so glad I was lagged on reading this because I read the book as “stuff young kids probably do” and I didn’t even take it in a controversial way, but reading your links I see how it could be misconstrued and blown out of proportion. I know she’s a little out there and odd but I didn’t take it offensively at all.
2. As far as the relationships and sex go, it felt very similar to watching the relationships on Girls. Everyone has had different relationships and life experiences at this point and sometimes you think you may have been in the worst situation or thought you were “crazy” so for me, her experiences were worse and actually made me feel a little bit better about my history. I also liked hearing about her and Jack, well what little she shared. They seem so happy and it’s comforting to see when I’ve been attempting to date for the last 3 years and sometimes it feels like I will never meet someone.
3. One of my favorite things about Lena is her comfort with her body. I know it gets a lot of attention because she’s not “actress figured” or whatever you want to call it. I think her confidence in turn gives me confidence. I lived in LA for 11 years and it made me think I would never look “good enough” seeing how guys responded to women at bars and everyone was always trying to be better than what they already were. I’ve since recently moved back to Washington state and I feel SO much more comfortable in my own skin.
Overall I did relate to Lena and some of her stories. I appreciate her slightly over dramatic and brutal honesty, because at times I feel like I have a similar personality. However, she’s much braver to say anything that’s on her mind than I am.
When we read the book and think about if we can relate to Lena’s stories or not I think we also have to keep in mind that Lena – as a boom author – of course didn’t just print all her diary entries in the book. I believe she picked certain memories she has of her childhood and created exaggerated stories around these memories. After all to make them funny or whatever effect enough to be entertaining for people to read. I don’t think we should have to weigh her words too much. She is a writer, a storyteller and that’s her art, and if I look at it from that perspective I think it’s refreshing.
To be fair, the “voice of a generation” quote if from her show and it’s incomplete and without context. She’s talking to her parents and says “I could be the voice of my generation…or A voice…of A generation” Her character says it about herself but is high on opiates at the time and after she says it her parents look at her like she’s nuts. You really *aren’t* suppose to take it as Lena talking about herself. It’s in the first episode and is a great look for the audience at how the character sees herself and her writing compared to how those around her see it. But they took that quote for the trailer, so a lot of people run with it when criticizing her work. When really it’s actually a moment of comedy in the show.
Hopefully the full quote and context helps (:
I did read the book, and it was more than just disturbing. It wasn’t just the things she did to her sister at age 7, she also described bribing her sister to kiss her, to “lay” on her, and masturbating while laying in bed with her sister- at 17. Not 7. She, herself, likened her behavior to a predator in the book.
Now I’m not saying Dunham abused her sister. But the actions she describes would cause more than a little concern. I would definitely hope that if a school teacher or counselor found out about her hyper-sexualized behavior that someone would be alerted to the situation. It’s not “ooky” or “weird”- it’s… well alarming.
That said, the other thing that disturbed me was her claim to have been raped. She claims it was in college by a guy she named “Barry.” She described him as having a huge mustache, wearing purple cowboy boots, worked for the campus radio station on a show called “Real Talk With Jimbo”, and having a voice as deep as Barry White’s. This person… would stand out. To say the least.
Not surprisingly, the media immediately did a search and found a guy named Barry who graduated a year before her and was of the political persuasion she described. The thing is, he’s married, has kids, a career, and flat-out denies ever having met Lena Dunham, much less raped her. He does not have a voice like Barry White, and people who knew him during college describe him as clean shaven. He did not work at the radio station, and he did not own purple cowboy boots. This hasn’t stopped people from calling him a rapist, threatening him on FB (he removed his page) and harassing him and his family. When a news outlet interviewed him and wrote an article about his situation, Dunham didn’t come out to try to clear this guy. Instead she went to twitter and got really vague. She didn’t say anything about people going after this guy, instead she insinuated that people were trying to silence her somehow. It doesn’t make sense.
The thing is, after interviewing people from the college, they discovered there never was a radio show called “Real Talk With Jimbo,” and no one who was there at that time ever remembers a guy who sported a huge mustache, wore purple cowboy boots, and had a deep voice like Barry White- with or without the actual name of Barry.
I’ve heard people say well, she’s a comedian, so she “exaggerates,” or that she’s just trying to “make her life seem more exciting.” Really? “exciting?” Rape is “exciting” now? I have a really good friend who actually was raped in her parking lot, and “exciting” was not the term I’d use. Terrifying, yes. Gross and dirty, definitely. Not. Exciting.
This whole thing makes me so sad. I really hope Dunham didn’t do this on purpose to get people to talk about her more and draw more attention to herself. She has to understand how hard it is for women who are raped to heal. Someone treating rape like a way to make her life seem more interesting than it is is NOT something admirable.
i haven’t read this book, but have read about the controversy surrounding it. i think it is very brave of you, first of all to address all that controversy. and to do it in such a loving way (loving because you are assuming the best of Lena and not judging her). Sexuality is such a deep, beautiful, complex part of life!
I am about the same age as Dunham as well, and I really connected with this book. There were some aspects of the book (and Dunham’s life) that I definitely couldn’t relate to: I didn’t grow up in an artsy, psychiatrist-on-call family in Manhattan, for example.
I could, however, relate to the way the author writes about body-image. Her food diary chapter made me laugh and was painfully familiar. Even more familiar was the way she wrote about feeling like she didn’t fit in, like her summer camp story about failing to have the perfect camp sisterhood, and ending the summer wishing that she could have been different. Or in the beginning of the book when she talks about never really feeling like she has found ‘her people’. I’ve spent most of my life feeling the same way, and those passages really resonated with me.
I found the pieces on relationships and sex really engaging. I think that society could use a lot more honest conversation about sex. That sex is considered something private and shameful (except under the most socially appropriate circumstances) is problematic in many ways.
Lena Dunham is often referenced as a prominent feminist in our generation, and yet she writes about experiences that are far from empowering. Like her, I have had sexual or romantic experiences that I walked away from wondering, ‘why did I just consent to doing something that I didn’t feel comfortable with or actually enjoy’? I know that’s awful, but I don’t think it’s uncommon. For me, it was comforting to read those stories, just as I appreciate the weird and inappropriate relationships portrayed on Girls. They made me feel less weak and less alone. Normalizing negative experiences can be problematic, but even more problematic is feeling isolated and ashamed by them.
I understand why people react negatively to Lena Dunham being labelled the voice of our generation, and I respect that opinion. She is, as many of the previous commenters have pointed out, kind of a mess. But at the same time, I think in that way she does represent our generation, or at least some of us (can one person really represent a whole generation?). We’re kind of a mess, and we’re still trying doing our best to figure out what it means to be an empowered, sexually liberated, strong, ambitious young woman in 2014. And wondering where ‘our people’ are. I appreciate that she has the courage to be open and vulnerable about being a flawed woman who is trying her best to figure things out.
Hi Emma and fellow book club attendees, My name is Eden, I am a 19-year-old college student from Minnesota, here is my opinion 🙂
I pre-ordered this book and read it within the first week that I got it. I wanted to read this book because Lena is a successful young woman and I wanted to know her story. My background with Lena’s work is limited. I bought the the first season of Girls on itunes and I enjoyed the character development but I could not really connect to the plot so I didn’t continue to watch it. I wanted to read this book to get a better understanding of women who are figure-heads of our culture.
I expected this book to be a lot more funny than it actually was, in my opinion. Instead of funny I found it to be incredibly raw. I respect how insanely honest Lena was in the way she described her life. There were a lot of parts that I couldn’t relate to, but those that I could felt like Lena could read my soul. There was one passage about her sister that especially struck me because it accurately describes how I often feel about my sister:
“she had always felt opaque to me, a beautiful unibrowed [k, my sister doesn’t have a unibrow but still] mystery just beyond our family’s grasp. I had been telling my parents, sister, grandma- anyone who would listen, really- about my desires form an early age. I live in a world that is almost completely free of secrets.”
If I were to write a memoir I hope I would be able to be as honest as eloquently as Lena was.
As someone who was the victim of this kind of sexual abuse as a child, I’m horrified that anyone thinks this is okay. I’m horrified that anyone can say this is normal or ok or being taken out of context or blown out of proportion.
This behaviour is sexual abuse. How dare anyone normalize it?! Our children should be protected. We live in a world of rampant sexual abuse and yet we are allowing celebrities to OK it?
I have 3 children, and yes curiosity is normal, but the kind of behaviour she is describing is absolutely 100% NOT normal and not okay. It’s disgusting. It’s disturbing. It’s sick. I’m sick to my stomach thinking of her repeatedly molesting poor sister. I’m appalled that her parents weren’t monitoring their children properly. And just because a child is so small that they don’t realise they were molested doesn’t mean they weren’t molested. The stupidity of anyone okaying her behaviour is astounding to me.
I don’t tend to relate to or admire Lena Dunham in a lot of ways (and I think her show is also super problematic most of the time–like, hello, do people of color exist in this weird world she’s created?), but the one thing that I am 100% on board with is the way she “handles” her body both on the show and off of it. Her refusal to be ashamed of her normal human woman body and the freedom with which she gets naked and “lets it all hang out” on the show is honestly, I think, the most valuable part of it. Like you, I’m a pudgy girl, so her free and open expression of sexuality (and acceptance/declaration of her body AS sexual) is something that I really, really value.
I seriously cannot fathom how people think this is not an issue. Like you said, if it were a man, everyone would be outraged! Personally it makes me feel sick to my stomach to even think about. I tried to read it and just couldn’t.
First of all, my comment had absolutely NOTHING to do with body size, shape, or appearance… I don’t enjoy seeing casual sex and blatant nudity on tv no matter how attractive the people are. And not because I am ashamed of it or ashamed of my body or insecure of how I look or anything like that. You are right – sex does happen in real life, but usually it happens between only 2 people with no one else watching… not on display for millions to see.
I was so excited that you guys chose this book for the Book Club last month, being that I had just began reading it a few days earlier!
I will say that I am a bit relieved that I was able to read through the chapter in the book that struck the big “controversy” before it actually hit. Mainly because it allowed me to form my own opinion of it without letting the media taint it for me. When I did read that section of the book, I recall laughing, being a bit uncomfortable and ultimately chalking it up to “well, that’s Lena” and also as you mentioned in your review, many young kids go through those awkward moments of discovering themselves and their bodies, and not quite knowing how to go about it in any way other than very awkwardly. But I do find that I wasn’t anymore shocked by that section of the book than I normally am by her writing, or by Girls. That is who Lena is, that is why she is so good at what she does. While I can see how it could be misconstrued by someone that isn’t used to reading (or watching) her material, that she was being inappropriate and even a bit insensitive, she obviously recognized that when she ultimately released her apology, as she meant no harm. I personally do not think that it should sway anyone’s opinion of the book in and of itself. Because this book (for me), was a great insight into her life and her mind, and coming from someone that swoons over biographies, I always appreciate when artists I love allow us to take a look into their personal lives in this way.
I would also like to say that I know everyone has their own opinions about Lena and her body, and the fact that she appears to have no fear when letting it all hangout on the show. I personally find it empowering that a woman that isn’t “model thin” feels comfortable enough with her body to do so. I also really appreciated that she spoke about her battle with her weight and self-image in this book. It shows that no one “doesn’t care” about how they look, and that everyone has their battles with their own image. But she was able to fight through it enough that she feels ok to own the way she looks naked. And that is a very big deal, especially these days. Every women needs a role model like Lena to look up to every once in a while. I think it is important for us all to have each others backs on that subject.
Thanks again for such a great book selection, I am really looking forward to reading “Yes Please”!
I agree with everything you’ve said, especially your second point.
It’s so easy for people to look at someone else’s relationship and say ‘how can she be with him, have some respect for yourself’. I don’t think we can criticize someone for making poor relationship choices at that stage in life. I was in a relationship like that once and I kind of did behave a little crazy when he ignored me. I thought so little of myself that I put up with being treated really badly because I didn’t know anything else. I did learn from that that I deserve better and that I would never let anybody treat me like that again. And yes, I consented to sex that I didn’t want. I would say no and he would spend two hours trying to get me to say yes, and I eventually did. It was technically consent… but yeah.
I don’t think I can relate to anything else though, but everybody’s lives are different and I think Lena just highlights how much the human experience varies. So many people went into this book expecting to be able to relate, which is not something we do with other books. I couldn’t associate with Tina Fey’s life, but how she felt about her experiences resonated with me.
“Our kids need strong female role models that are classy, elegant ladies who are successful and smart and driven. Not people who are famous for being naked on tv a lot”
Dunham is the first “average looking” (and by that I mean not a traditional bikini model type) woman who has the courage to show her body without shame. Her placement of nudity on the show is not there for shock, it is not there for kicks, it is there because people get naked in real life. As a pudgy girl myself, this representation has honestly made such a positive impact on me. There are too many women turning the lights off when they go to bed with their partner out of self-shame, too many women saying “If I just lose five more pounds maybe he’ll notice me.” She is showing nothing but reality; That women don’t have to look a certain way – that you shouldn’t be ashamed of your body or feel the need to hide it because it doesn’t “fit the mold.”
The implication from your post is that class and elegance = modesty, keeping your body covered up, and going about your business quietly. I’m sick of people assuming that you can’t be driven, successful, smart, AND sexual, uninhibited, and body positive. You can be all of the above, and Dunham is.
I have never been a Lena Dunham fan- mainly for what I view as her elitist viewpoint on feminism. But I wanted to add a bit of perspective as to why the controversy surrounding the story about her sister exists and why I take serious issue with her even more now: The stories she recounts in the book go past the age of seven. Inf act the final story she tells takes place when Lena is 17! Children are incredibly curious about their bodies and sexuality and had the stories merely been about a 7 year-old Lena experimenting I wouldn’t have taken issue at all with it. But it doesn’t. It continues on until Lena is old enough to not only understand at least some aspect of her own sexuality but old enough to understand that she was in fact taking advantage and some would even say yes- abusing her 12 year old sister. If the stories had been written by a man speaking of this behavior at the age of 17 I highly doubt they would have been given the pass that Lena seems to have gotten within the feminist community. Overall I feel that Miss Dunham is someone who is incredibly careless in her writing and seems to like to play either that she is unaware of why something would be controversial or play the role of victim. I find both of these tiresome in the extreme. You cannot dub yourself “the voice of a generation”, make explosive comments, and and then cower when you are called out about things. Which is essentially what she has done with this controversy as well as others from the past that she has had regarding race and the sexualization of young women in the media
Yay! The discussion is finally live! I have been dying to hear what others think. You summed it up really well, and I’m happy to hear that you didn’t really connect with Lena either. I was afraid that I was so uncool for not being able to relate to her. I am a huge fan of GIRLS, but not of this book. I bought it solely because I do think Lena’s accomplishments at such a young age are astounding. I was hoping for funny and got nada.
I bet Amy Poehler’s book will be better next month!
Just finished the book a couple weeks ago, and am on season 2 of girls. I find that the book and events and characters on the show are very similar. I enjoy the show to a degree although I cannot relate to any of it. The book I too lost interest in half way through and finished it because everyone is talking about this Lena Dunham girl and I figured well this book should tell me why everybody loves her. But after I read it, I didn’t understand the fascination with Lena Dunham still. Sure she gets naked on camera and is real with her body. But that is definitely not anything new. To be honest, I was embarrassed after I read that book- thinking that other girls may be looking up to her. I’m 28 also. I kind of understand what she is trying to do with that book. but, my sister and I and my brother never did that kind of stuff that she did when we were 7. I think her thoughts on sex are a bit skewed. Probably because of some of those experiences she had growing up. I think it’s great that she was honest and everything. I was just so relieved when I finished the book, and I felt like I needed a shower afterwards. I won’t be recommending this book to any of my friends…. It kind of made me want to stop watching the show as well. But, I might as well finish it up so I can get another shower after Season 3…. I’m not necessarily disappointed in the book but I definitely disliked it. I didn’t really feel like she had a significant style of writing. Agreeing with the comments above, she is NOT the voice of our generation. I wonder what her family/friends/colleagues/lovers/teachers/etc who were featured in the book think about it.
Well I have only watched Lena’s show “Girls” and I really enjoyed it, mostly for the story and some of the characters but definitely not for Lena’s character or for her opinions and views about life. I think she is trying too hard to be provokative in order to get you to notice her. I don’t mind the honesty or the profanity, but the way she presents herself (or her character if you like) and her (character’s) ideas are just too much, I think. I haven’t read her book and don’t really intend to, only because I believe that she will annoy me again with the way she will talk about everything, although I’m pretty sure that her stories will be at least interesting, like the stories in her show. It’s good to read everyone’s opinion though, especially people who read it and elaborate on the issues Emma suggested.