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Lena Dunham got $3.7m to write her memoir. There's just one important part of her life she left out.

By MIA FREEDMAN

A few chapters into reading Lena Dunham‘s hugely hyped book, Not That Kind Of Girl during my recent holidays, I breathlessly texted the Mamamia team:

A debate quickly escalated via text and even though nobody else had read the book – just an excerpt – opinion was already divided. This is how it goes with Lena Dunham, and any other famous, out-spoken woman who pushes boundaries. But particularly Lena Dunham.

She’s polarising. And as someone who is also often described as polarising, I understand a fraction of how odd that can be and I empathise.

So I don’t want to make the mistake of projecting a bunch of stuff onto Lena Dunham’s book that has nothing to do with her. She is ground-breaking and amazing. She should not have to carry the burden of every hope and expectation of every woman and minority group in the Western world.

Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself and you’re probably lost and some of you may be wondering who Lena Dunham is. I’ll rewind.

Dunham is the 28 year old creator of the hit US series Girls, now in its 3rd season. She writes, produces, directs and stars in the show which is a comedy-drama hybrid (heavier on comedy) about the life of four friends in their twenties who live in New York and are trying to get their shit together.

This is a huge deal. For a young woman – hell, ANY WOMAN – to have that level of control and power in an industry that has always been run by men? Magnificent.

But when you break ground you instantly become a lightning rod for criticism and debate and so it goes. Dunham’s parents are both artists and she grew up in a fairly wealthy household – designer Zac Posen used to be her childhood babysitter.

She has often been accused of being privileged (although how that is her fault or anything that she could change is never made clear by those who hurl the word as a criticism) and there has also been loud pushback from those who feel upset that there is no African American character among the four lead actors in Girls (despite the fact there were no African American characters on Seinfeld, Friends or Sex & The City either and their creators weren’t slammed).

Perhaps the most visible way Lena Dunham has changed the game is with her body. It doesn’t conform to the literally narrow standards of What’s Hot that every other actress in Every other film or tv show must abide by.

The vast majority of women may look much more like Lena Dunham than Sofia Vergara but it’s skinner bodies that form the wallpaper of pop culture.

Not only is Dunham larger than a size 0, she ‘FLAUNTS’ (the media’s choice of word, not mine) her perfectly lovely body in Girls during sex scenes and in swimming costumes and underwear. That makes a lot of people uncomfortable.

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I think it’s fantastic.

“she ‘FLAUNTS’ (the media’s choice of word, not mine) her perfectly lovely body” (and the critics can go jump)

So, the book.

I’ve been waiting a long time to read it. Ever since it was announced that Dunham had signed a $3.7m deal to write a memoir, I’ve been looking forward to inhaling it. I even pre-bought it on ibooks a few weeks before it was released at the end of September and dove in
as soon as it came out.

At first I loved this book – hence the text. Dunham is a lovely writer. The fact that she’s searingly honest, candid and self-deprecating is not a surprise to anyone who has watched Girls or heard her speak in an interview. Every women who is publicly honest about her inner thoughts and her personal experiences gives a gift to other women. A gift of reassurance.

And there are a lot of gifts in this book. There are stories about bad sex, about mental illness, anxiety and OCD, about love and relationships, friendship and struggling to work out who you want to be and what you want to do with your life, your brain and your body. Dunham is a generous author. She goes there.

For fans of Girls, there’s excellent sport to be had in “Match The Anecdote From Lena’s Real Life To That Scene In Girls Where The Same Thing Happened”.

But towards the end of the book, I sent another text. It went like this:

That’s the short version of the end of this review. The longer one is this: When you buy a memoir from Lena Dunham, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect her to talk about the phenomenon she has created with her show. Especially when there is a whole section of the book (one of five) called “Work” (the others are called Love & Sex; Body; Friendship; The Big Picture).

But there’s nothing about Girls and almost nothing about work. I felt ripped off. Not literally. I was happy to pay my $11.99. A lot of work has gone into this book and I want to support it. Much of it is excellent. But I felt like I’d invested a lot of time wading through some frankly self-indulgent chapters (like an entire chapter that went forever that was a pure transcript of her teenage food diary and had me silently screaming WHERE WAS YOUR EDITOR after the first entry – there were about 30 more) just to get to the part about her career.

“Maybe her book wasn’t meant for me.”

Apart from a revealing chapter called “I Didn’t Fuck Them. But They Yelled at Me” where she refers to some of the appalling conversations and encounters she had with male executives in the entertainment industry before she got the green light to make Girls, and a few references to being on set when she had bad anxiety, the Girls part of her life is omitted entirely.

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More silent screaming.  The business woman in me understands that she’s saving this for another book. Another $3.7 million deal. And why shouldn’t she? Because the story of Girls is surely the most interesting part of her life – at least to me. I’m not really interested in her memories of being 5 and 9 and 12 and 16.

But then maybe her book wasn’t meant for me. Maybe it’s a book for teenage girls and much younger women and they can all relate to that more than Dunham’s experiences as a kick-arse force in pop culture and entertainment, someone who has turned body image and the patriarchy on which the TV industry is based, on its goddamn head.

But I wanted to read about how she manages all that. What it’s like to be writing, acting, producing and directing all at the same time, while being 28 and the subject of so much polarising media and social media commentary.

But there’s none of that. None. Of. That.

And when it became apparent that the work section was merely an examination of her college choices and a menial job at a high end babywear store and didn’t progress into her adult life and Girls, I stopped reading.

I nearly made it to the end but the taste I was left with wasn’t a positve one.

A week later, I’ve reflected on this and landed here: Lena Dunham doesn’t have to be everything for every woman and neither does her book.

Young girls may well find it useful. Women not so much.

I am still a huge admirer and I will continue to watch the show and follow her career. I’m disappointed with her first book but I’m looking forward to the next one.

 

Lena also helps out the sisterhood with some friendly advice in a series of charming clips called ‘Ask Lena’

In this piece, Dunham says you don’t have to be modest to be a feminist: “The fact is, your political pursuits are the thing that’s allowing you to show your body.”

In this clip, Dunham talks to a plus size college student about self-confidence and the importance of being proud of your life and taking care of yourself.

And in this piece, Dunham talks about howto be happy at the success of others – or how to avoid feeling bitter when your friends soar to great heights. She says that their success might be paid forward to you, but you need to maintain your own standards: “A rising tide lifts all boats”

Want more from Mamamia? We’ve just launched a new podcast called Mamamia Out Loud.

Hosted by Kate Leaver with Mia Freedman and Rosie Waterland, it’s a smart, funny, candid chat about sexting, clean-eating, The Bachelor, Lena Dunham, George and Amal Clooney, and (inexplicably) vintage Polly Pockets.

Download the very first episode — The Bachelor Aftermath Episode. You can get it on iTunes here. Or download the audio file directly here.

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