‘Not That Kind of Girl’: Lena Dunham Offends and Delights

Guest Post by Dana Sukontarak

After reading ‘Not That Kind of Girl,’ the collection of personal essays she released in September, I was more or less in the same space regarding my feelings toward Lena Dunham. The book was essentially the literary counterpart to her hit HBO series GIRLS, which explores the tremulous experiences of twenty-somethings trying to reconcile the comforts and ease of their childhood with the pains and brutality of growing up and trying to find some slice of success. In NTKOG, Dunham takes a less general approach, and directly divulges her personal tales of everything from bad diets and body image to self-destructive relationships and gray-area sexual encounters. It should come as no surprise that Dunham is an open book. Much like her GIRLS character, Hannah Horvath, Dunham is arguably spoiled, misguided, self-centered, and aggressively annoying. She is not a child molester, as one severe reach-a-saurus put it in a recent article—one that not only decimates the principles of journalism but also taints the way someone who hasn’t read the book will digest the material, if they even decide that they want to read it at all.

In the book, Dunham describes looking into her one-year-old sister’s vagina, her curiosity about the female anatomy overpowering her. Dunham herself is seven (which the article originally, and erroneously, stated as seventeen), and immediately runs to her mom. It turns out her little sister had stuffed a handful of pebbles into her vagina—it’s an unconventional story, but don’t we all have a couple of those in our arsenal? The article also misuses quotes from Dunham’s book to paint a very grim picture: “…anything a sexual predator might do to woo a small suburban girl I was trying.” This is what we call a metaphor.

NTKOGIn reality, Dunham is obviously very troubled. But she seems to have a pretty solid grasp on the extent of that trouble. She is clearly intelligent and witty, though she tends to opt for paunchy puns over political correctness. That said, it is damn near impossible to form a valid opinion about Dunham—whether about her molester status, or her creative influence, or the Venn diagram of her reality and her artistic repertoire—without first reading her book in its entirety. Because this twisted exposition of one of Dunham’s childhood memories has cast a shadow over other discussions she prompts with this book, I think it’s only fair to provide a holistic interpretation of what really can be found in these 262 pages.

Reading Dunham’s memoirs confirmed one thing for me—if you’re looking for a sweet, healthy, levelheaded female role model, Dunham’s not that kind of girl. Rather, she’s the kind of girl who treats herself like a science experiment, fucking all the unsavory losers she can and eating baby spoonfuls of cottage cheese for dinner so that you don’t have to. You can simply read about her experiences of being used and abused by misogynist, artsy types (hello, Adam), and about her horribly awkward childhood recollections (telling an adult at a party that when she misbehaves, her father “sticks a fork in [her] vagina”), and about all the weird, unsettling things she did while at Oberlin (apparently the ideal college experience for someone raised by a couple of sexual, open-minded semi-beatniks living in Brooklyn).

NTKOG pulls the reader into the existence of a privileged, prosciutto-eating kid who was raised to speak her mind (sometimes beyond social norms) and was once, according to her, obsessed with her own beauty. It’s strange, yet completely understandable, how this translated into the woman Dunham is today—ambitious, often self-deprecating (under the guise of good old-fashioned humor and the virtues of not taking one’s self so seriously), and absolutely fine with being nude on TV (despite critics who have viciously chastised her Baby Cupid-esque body, as well as her directorial decisions to often display it completely exposed on her show). She definitely delights the reader in small ways—describing her little sister’s style as that of a “Hawaiian criminal,” for example.

Although flippant about some very grave issues, Dunham does provide some very poignant moments of clarity and advice, including this segment about self-worth: “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 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.”

For me, the most powerful—and awkward—chapter of the book comes in the first section (of five total), ‘Love and Sex.’ It is simply titled “Barry,” and recounts a drunken college experience in which she is kinda raped (getting fucked in a half-conscious stupor while egging him on as sort of a way to “own” a situation she didn’t want to admit she had no control over), and laughs off friends who vocally identify this as rape. Dunham appears to have a shifting understanding of this situation over time, though she doesn’t quite spell it out. She leaves a lot of space for readers to create conjectures—sometimes that means people will label her as a child molester, but mostly it means people will see that Dunham is still learning and growing (and even failing) despite reaching this level of success in her life and her career.

If read as a “how-to” book, NTKOG is a bomb waiting to detonate all over your life. However, if taken simply as a collection of perhaps-embellished stories from the warped mind of a quirky egoist, designed to prevent you from the same downfalls, the book is something like a gem. If nothing else, Dunham will make you feel good about not being “that” girl—the pristine, poised one, the one that’s got it all together. She knows that, mostly, girls her age are (sorta) just like her: looking to live, love, learn, and feel.

Dana

 

Dana is 25 and living just outside of the nation’s capital in Hyattsville, Md. She is a Journalism graduate of the University of Maryland College Park. Some of her favorite things include snail mail, vacations, and great literature.

The Last Scene In The Latest Episode Of “Girls”: When Virtues Become Vices

Part of the beauty and also confusion associated with “Girls” is just how disjointed every episode can be. First someone’s doing coke and then someone’s engrossed in a singing duet and then someone’s crying over a blanket. Or, at least that’s how the latest episode went.

A friend of mine asked me on Sunday night if I had watched the most recent episode and I told her no; I usually wait to watch the episodes on demand during the middle of the week. You know, a little piece of televised bubblegum to save for hump day.  But, her question and subsequent solicitation of my thoughts once I saw the episode intrigued me. So, I pushed my televised bubblegum to Monday night.

I was expecting something grand out of “Girls” Season 3, Episode 10 entitled “Role Play.” Simply because my friend had texted me about it and this is a friend whose opinion and exclamatory statements about “Girls” I highly respect. However, I spent most of the episode confused by all of the random shit happening until the very last scene with Hannah and Adam post coitus.

After a prolonged and excruciatingly awkward role playing scene between Hannah and Adam, the two end up in a dispute about everything and nothing including their sex life, Adam’s newfound passion for his Broadway gig and just how melodramatic Hannah Horvath can be. Adam says something about needing to focus and not having to deal with all this drama.

“What drama?” Hannah asks. “This is just me.”

“Exactly,” Adam replies.

Adam’s “exactly” line may have been one of those moments where I said, “Oh, shit,” out loud. That happens sometimes when I watch TV.

This scene resonated with me for a lot of reasons, as I’m sure it did for many viewers. I know firsthand that arguments about really astronomical things like goals and ambition can erupt from the slightest thing, even in a post coitus session when you would think you’re head is too far up in the clouds to think straight. Another thing I appreciated about the scene was that Adam actually leaves Hannah there crying. I hate, hate, HATE those TV shows that have the guy come running back in like the fucking white knight after the girl starts crying. That. Shit. Does. Not. Happen.

But, more than anything, I loved this scene because of those few lines of dialogue I just mentioned where Hannah says, “What drama? This is just me.” And, Adam replies with “Exactly.” I think sometimes the very things that draw us to people and help us fall in love with them can also become the things that drive us crazy. We love someone’s free spiritedness until it starts to seem like irresponsibility. We love how put-together a person is until it suddenly seems too boring and not spontaneous enough. We love all of the color a person provides to our lives until it begins to spill all over the place and seem more dramatic than exciting. In the words of Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “It is said that any virtue when taken to an extreme can become a vice.”

I know for some of the guys I have at first been completely smitten by because they were sensitive or artistic suddenly turned into them being too emotional or esoteric when the newness wore off. As I told a friend a few nights ago, in any relationship or friendship, there is a “fall from grace” period. There comes a time, sometimes sooner and sometimes later, where we realize that everyone is flawed, even the people who once made us swoon. We then have to decide if we can take on the bad just as much as we can take on the good.

Xoxo,

Tyece

Lena Dunham Looks Good In A Bikini And So Do The Rest Of Us

Wildflowers Unscripted Writing Challenge Day 18: My body

I realize this is the third blog post I’ve written with Lena Dunham’s name in the title so excuse me while I fangirl out for a bit.

You don’t have to be an avid viewer of “Girls” to know that Lena Dunham shows her bare body on the show quite a bit. If you are an avid viewer, however, you know that in the latest episode, Dunham spent about 90% of it clad in a bright green bikini and not much else. People have a lot to say about this woman’s body. But bodies are not political statements. They are very personal storehouses. And, that’s all I want to say before I dive in to talking about my own body.

There are certain inevitable truths we have to accept in life. One of the truths I have had to accept after 24 years on this planet is that my ass will never reach the appropriate level of curvature to qualify as a great ass. I know. It’s a difficult fact to stomach. But, I think I have finally reached the final stage of grief and accepted my very narrow ass.

That doesn’t stop me from spending every night dancing in front of the mirror in my underwear. I shower at night and as I get ready to do that, I blast music. Sometimes it’s J. Cole. Other times it’s Taylor Swift. Maybe it’s Mobb Deep or Adele. It doesn’t really matter. But, it’s one of my favorite parts of the day. Me in the mirror with my god awful dance moves and my narrow ass just dancing away.

I don’t think you can talk about your body without making light of it. Because I don’t think you can take your body that damn seriously. We exist in a world that already does enough to police how we fucking use our bodies, who we decide to let touch them and how we choose to adorn them. The world already takes our bodies way too seriously. It’s a sin for us to do the same.

Accepting our bodies is an ongoing, uphill, non-stop kind of battle. At least for women. Some days you wake up and you’re bloated. Some days it feels like nothing fits. Some days you feel hot and some days you feel, well, not. There’s hardly ever any consistency in our feelings about our bodies. We want rounder butts, flatter stomachs, slimmer thighs, bigger boobs. And, while the science of Spanx and the redemption of an ASOS bodycon dress can help us along the way, the skin we are in is pretty much there to stay. It may change. It may stretch. It may shrink. But, it is still there.

A beautiful body is one that is completely accepted by its inhabitant. That’s why Lena Dunham looks good in a bikini; the mere fact that she’s not afraid to put it on is enough. It’s nice when other people like our bodies or when they want to cuddle up next to them in the middle of the night. But those things don’t really count for shit if we don’t love that same body. I know; I sound like a walking ad for a Kotex commercial.  But, trust me on this one. It’s your skin. Those are your limbs. It’s your place laced with your scars and coated in your memories. It is your body. Believe in it or doubt it. Appreciate it or analyze it.  Let people do whatever they want with it, say whatever they want about it or choose to own it and all of the rhetoric about it. This is your body. It’s not going anywhere. Love it or hate it. But loving it makes this life so much easier.

Xoxo,

Tyece

Girls Season 3 Premiere: Yup, Lena Dunham Is Still A Genius

Note: If you don’t watch “Girls” the text below will essentially read as Mandarin to you.

My allegiance to Lena Dunham’s “Girls” is really no secret. How else could I justify the extra $10 dollars a month I pay for HBO? I’ve been a fan of the show for about a year now and, just like Scandal, my fandom has at times wavered. I thought the second season of the show took a dark and twisted turn, leaving me cringing more than laughing.

So, I was both relieved and a bit perplexed when I watched the Season 3 premiere and the show regained its signature wit and spunk. What the hell happened? At the end of Season 2, Hannah had chopped the front of her hair off and was obsessively puncturing her ears with Q-tips as part of one of OCD rituals. Shit was not pretty. Now, this season opened with Hannah healthy and happy, back together with her sociopath of a boyfriend, Adam. I didn’t quite get it. Until I did.

For a show built upon the uncertainty and shambles of twentysomething life, the stark change of Hannah’s emotional and mental landscape hits it spot on. That is what twentysomething life is: an unpredictable mess characterized by unforeseeable lows and highs that jump out from behind a curtain. It is never learning how to ride the tide because it can and will change at a moment’s notice. The very things you thought you would never do end up happening. The very people you never considered before are the ones for whom you fall. The very career path you thought you’d denounce ends up bringing you sickening amounts of joy.

Or, something like that.

Because I’m not great at writing reviews, I thought I’d pull some of my favorite quotes from the premiere and pontificate a bit:

Marnie: I go into the city every day at a job where I’m respected. I have friends. I’m getting an apartment. I’ve already fixed everything.”

Oh, Marnie. Sweet, pathetic Marnie. I love that line because it’s the lie so many of us tell ourselves every damn day. We look at these arbitrary markers of success or happiness and let them somehow overshadow the fact that we’re nursing shattered hearts or silently hating our lives. We take this prescription of what a good life is supposed to look like and use it as a remedy to all of our brokenness. And, it never ever works.

Jessa: “I figured my shit out already when I was five years old.”

Jessa is that person who you can’t ever really get close to because she’s just way too cool for school. You love her and she probably doesn’t love you back. You want her to be your best friend and she could just take you or leave you. She’s so over it. We all know a Jessa. Hell, we’ve probably dated a Jessa. Those people who have had to walk through the pits of hell, probably early on in life, and therefore minimize every problem you have as a result. You admire their no-nonsense take on the world, but sometimes, you just can’t talk to them without feeling like a useless ball of air. I have the capacity to be a Jessa in that regard and I have to fight against it often because, I don’t know, people appreciate kindness and consideration and that kind of shit.

Also Jessa: “You can’t make things that mean nothing mean something.”

Enough said. Yet somehow we always try to do that. And it always fails.

Adam: “Just because I…could tell you her middle name or knew what record she liked, that doesn’t mean anything, that’s not a connection. Anyone can have that. Really knowing someone is something else. It’s a completely different thing, and when it happens, you won’t be able to miss it, you will be aware, and you won’t hurt or be afraid.”

Adam’s line is a testament to the magic of Lena Dunham’s writing. Just when all you want to do is write Adam off as a certifiable lunatic, he goes and says something that shuts down the entire episode. Those few lines sliced me to the bone, all too reminiscent of recent experiences I’ve had in my life where I’ve completely misjudged “connections.”

Bottom line from the season premiere: say what you want, but Lena Dunham still gets it. Homegirl is still getting paid. Because she is still a genius.

Xoxo,

Tyece