I first became aware of Lena Dunham after watching her award-winning TV series, Girls, and became instantly fascinated. There is such power in her work, in both her realistic portrayal of often-flawed, less than perfect bodies and lives, and because the show unapologetically puts ‘women’s issues’ at the centre of the characters everyday lives.
If you’re a fan of Girls and are hoping this book will provide you with greater insight into the creation of the TV show, its actors or its reception, you may be disappointed. Focusing on Lena’s childhood and personal life, you may be able to see how certain storylines made their way into the show, but the true value of this book is Lena’s ability to use her voice to share the story that is missing in existing representations of girls and women.
While I know I’m late to the party, Lena’s own words on creativity have inspired me to share what I think are some of the most important lessons of her memoir, Not that kind of girl (2014).
The 6 surprising lessons I learned:
- There is power in revealing your authentic self
While Not that kind of girl has been criticised for being selfishly inward-gazing, I believe this is, in fact, part of its charm. Just like her TV show, Not that kind of girl offers a refreshing, alternative perspective, with Lena’s blunt, unpolished writing style and evident vulnerability one of the reasons the book is so relatable and funny.
It is Lena’s ability to look inward and reveal her innermost thoughts, feelings and actions just as they are, both good and bad, awkward, uncomfortable and embarrassing as they may be, that makes her so relatable. Everyone can benefit from learning this lesson, whether you’re a writer, artist, public figure or someone who doesn’t typically think of themselves as creative at all.
- It’s ok to be different
Another thing that makes Lena so relatable to many of her readers is her constant struggle with feeling like an outsider, at odds with those around her and often even with herself. By using this platform to share her experience of what it’s really like to be a girl growing up and feeling different from those around her, Not that kind of girl allows readers with similar struggles to connect and realise they’re not alone. And let’s face it, most girls growing up feel like they’re never going to fit in … or is that just me?
- There will always be people who tell you you can’t, or shouldn’t. Prove them wrong.
Lena talks about how she struggled with whether she had the right to tell her story, and indeed many have argued she doesn’t, as a privileged white female, or have criticised her approach. But authentic women’s stories, especially ones with a feminist message, are still in the minority, which makes Not that kind of girl, and the fact that Lena shared her story so openly, a victory for women everywhere.
There is nothing gutsier to me than a person announcing that their story is one that deserves to be told, especially if that person is a woman. – Lena Dunham.
- It’s ok not to have a clear sense of purpose or direction after graduation
As someone who works within the higher education field and who has struggled with this sense of purposelessness in the past, it is reassuring to hear that someone so successful also went through a period when they weren’t sure what to do with their lives.
Beyond helping readers feel reassured that theirs isn’t a unique experience of failure, however, Lena also provides an example of inspiration when she says, “Ambition is a funny thing: it creeps in when you least expect it and keeps you moving, even when you think you want to stay put.”
- It’s ok to talk about mental health openly
The topic of mental health is becoming more openly discussed, but there can still sometimes be a stigma associated with mental health issues. This makes it all the more powerful that Lena shares her struggles with mental health from such an early age. Lena’s account of what it’s like to live with a mental health condition will hopefully help others feel more comfortable about discussing their own conditions, and serve as proof that it’s possible to establish a successful career while living with a mental health condition.
- The line between consent and rape can seem blurry (but it shouldn’t be)
While most of the sexual encounters Lena writes about in Not that kind of girl are humorous for their irreverent portrayal, thrown into this mix is a story that almost innocently crosses the line.In this story, Lena talks about the sense of discomfort she felt when an instance of consenting sex progressed to a place she wasn’t comfortable with, and the confusion she felt about how to classify, describe and label the experience, both for herself and the friend she told.
There is a common misconception that rape is limited to forced penetration, so it is easy to understand the sense of confusion Lena felt when she was put in a situation that made her uncomfortable but didn’t seem to fit the ‘rape’ mould.I think this is perhaps the most important lesson from Not that kind of girl, although it’s almost easy to miss it because Lena moves on from it so quickly. It’s important that all girls and women understand that if you’re uncomfortable with a sexual situation and say so but are coerced into doing something you don’t want to, that’s rape, regardless of whether you started out consenting to another sexual situation.
Lena builds upon the established platform of Girls and her public persona to share these 6 important lessons with the readers who most need them: the awkward girls, the shy girls, the girls who feel lost or like they’re floating through life with uncertainty, and the girls who feel disempowered, or are unsure of their worth.
Whether or not you agree with her politics, how often she talks about vaginas or whether she is the ‘voice of her generation’, it’s clear to me that Not that kind of girl is a book intended to help empower other girls and women to share their own voices.
Available as hard copy, eBook and audio book, if you haven’t already read this #1 New York Times bestseller, you need to.