What makes Lena Dunham so exceptional, her USP, is how very normal she is. She isn’t a freakily beautiful screen siren. She has no X Factor sob story. Although she grew up in a New York loft apartment with artist parents (her mother is the photographer Laurie Simmons, her father the painter Carroll Dunham), “it wasn’t like people were smoking weed and having love-ins in my living room”. Her childhood was “pretty conservative”.
Now she is a plain, chubby, 28-year-old living in Brooklyn with her rescue dog, Lamby, and a steady boyfriend. Yet in an age that glamorises tortured beauties, she has taken her unexceptional body and prosaic twentysomething struggles and created a television series that feels like the first true reflection of young women’s lives. The appeal of Girls — production is under way on the fourth season — is its brutal realism and raw truthfulness. Which is why the show, written, directed and produced by Dunham, has been nominated for 12 Emmy awards and won two Golden Globes.
Off-screen, Dunham appears equally unaffected. She is papped rocking up to work with bad hair, in baggy sweaters and cut-off shorts. She refuses to slim down, instead posting pictures of herself eating pizza on Instagram. And now here she is in her home town — new hairdo, sooty-eyed, wearing all-white — trying not to dump mixed-berry smoothie and huevos rancheros on herself. “I was really excited about my outfit, but now I’m thinking about what a bad idea it is, because I’m eating both purple and red.”
We’re talking because she has now applied her unaffected honesty to a book, Not That Kind of Girl. Part memoir, part millennial guide to life, in the vein of Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman, it’s as funny, filthy and open as the TV show that made her a household name. The book is tell-all, and then some: losing her virginity — “less like a stab wound and more like a headache”; shopping “high off my ass on legal prescription drugs in Hamburg airport”; crash dieting — counting raspberries and drinking laxative tea until she ends up in ER; the boys she has been used by and dumped by; her OCD and teenage estrangement. Then there was the “girl crush” on a pale, waiflike English playwright, Nellie, with whom she gets wildly drunk in London and breathlessly bonds over writing (agreeing it’s a tool to find clarity in a world full of shit). They hold faces “panting like we’re in a snowstorm”, clasp hands and touch faces. “I didn’t think she’d kiss me, but I didn’t think she wouldn’t either” is as close as she comes to a lesbian tryst. Later, when her sister, Grace, comes out to her, she admits she’s devastated not to have realised.
There’s the confession that she has a “full, dissociative meltdown” in the season finale of Girls that resulted in a brutish relationship with a handyman on set. And details of the painful endometriosis that may have left her infertile, although she’s desperate for children. One of the most distressing descriptions in the book — and the hardest for her to write — is of the time she was raped (even if she avoids calling it that). “It’s specific, it’s vulnerable, it involves a real person. It brings back a lot of pain and fear for me.” In the book she describes the assault: “A pale, flaccid penis coming towards my face and the feeling of air and lips in places I didn’t know were exposed.”
How can she manage such brutal honesty? “I need to share these experiences or I will explode with loneliness, and I want to feel connected.” It’s no surprise that she has been in therapy since she was seven, nor that her favourite reading matter is “confessional books by women” — Sylvia Plath, Elizabeth Wurtzel, Norah Ephron and Diana Athill to name a few.
Still, she does have her limits. “I try to put things out in the world that, even if they’re painful, I can still walk down the street and feel I have some essential part of myself hidden away.”
Full interview here: http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/style/living/article1459517.ece