To Lena Dunham, the Personal is Political

It’s easier to explain Lena Dunham’s new book, Not That Kind of Girl, by explaining what it’s not: It’s not a self-help book, nor an attempt to quell Dunham’s critics. It’s not drowning in narcissism, nor the author’s affinity for nudity. Rather, the reader is introduced to Lena: a self-aware, unashamed and extremely funny woman.

Like a trusted confidante, Dunham shares intimate stories with the reader, stories that are brave, sensitive and nuanced. Throughout the book, she will not allow her stories to be trivialized, insisting that they matter right from the beginning.

At the end of the book’s introduction, she writes:

There is nothing gutsier to me than a person announcing that their story deserves to be told, especially if that person is a woman. As hard as we have worked and as far as we have come, there are still so many forces conspiring to tell women that our concerns are petty, our opinions aren’t needed, that we lack the gravitas necessary for our stories to matter.

With that, she situates her memoir within the feminist understanding that the personal is political.

Dunham dives right into difficult topics, navigating through themes such as sex, mental health, dieting and the male-dominated television industry. In a conversational tone reminiscent of Mindy Kaling or Nora Ephron (to whom the book is dedicated), she approaches each subject with candor, granting fresh perspectives to familiar subjects. (For instance, her first experience with sex is likened to shoving a loofah into a mason jar.)

As a feminist and reproductive rights activist, Dunham addresses feminist concepts in a nuanced manner. In the chapter “Sex Scenes, Nude Scenes, and Publically Sharing Your Body,” Lena addresses the media’s “destructive” messages about sex—how they suggest that “Our bedsheets aren’t right. Our moves aren’t right. Our bodies aren’t right.” Since only 13 percent of television directors are women, Dunham’s strong, sex-positive stance is important: She’s helping to reconceptualize the act, one episode of Girls at a time.

In Not That Kind of Girl, Dunham also addresses her vulnerabilities. Coming from a 28-year-old jack-of-all-trades, these reflections humanize her and make her a relatable narrator. She talks of crippling anxiety, her obsession with death, labeling her rape and diagnosing her obsessive-compulsive disorder. These taboo subjects are handled with grace and laced with her characteristic wit. In a list titled “18 Unlikely Things I’ve Said Flirtatiously,” she mentions her HPV as part of an unsuccessful pick-up line, followed immediately by a Star Wars reference. In this way, she doesn’t allow us to linger on heavy subjects. Just like her more uplifting moments, these details are part of Dunham’s life. They deserve no more or less attention than the other facets of her being. It’s as if she’s subtly asking why one aspect of her life is more newsworthy than another, why certain stories must be filtered from conversation, and why very real events are deemed indecent for the public view.

The charm of Not That Kind of Girl comes from the author’s relationship with the reader. Over the course of the book, Dunham has sculpted a relationship that feels honest, vulnerable and important. We’re granted access to stories reserved for the best-friend tier. (Granted, she admits to “liv[ing] in a world that is almost compulsively free of secrets.”) We see Dunham’s faulty logic, her sometimes-inappropriate judgments, and her steadfast compassion for her loved ones. By the end of the memoir, we can joke about her seemingly irrefutable attraction to rude boys, know her therapists names in ascending order, and—most importantly—have a real sense of the infamous Girls creator and millennial hotshot.

At the close of the book, Lena feels like a friend: the familiar over-sharer who laces every story with both humor and self-deprecation. Her thoughts meander and her lists often resemble more of a bullet-pointed digression. And that’s OK. One of the strengths of Not That Kind of Girl is precisely this: the narrative breaks from an austere format that would compartmentalize her life. Rather, Lena’s stories build upon each other, with strands seeping across chapter boundaries. Not That Kind of Girl presents an honest view into the author’s interior monologue—one that feels raw, real and unedited—like a record from a late-night slumber party. But rather than shut the bedroom door, Lena is sharing her stories for all to read.

Photo courtesy of Random House.



Brianna Kovan is a reader and writer from the Midwest. She graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in English.