Half a century before Lena Dunham was baring her normal-girl body, cellulite and all, to HBO viewers on “Girls,” there was Helen Gurley Brown. Her 1962 book “Sex and the Single Girl” was an advice tome for single, urban girls written from the confessional point of view of an average girl who ended up — through force of will and a lot of hard work — with an enviable career, body, and marriage. It was honest and funny and racy; a revolutionary message at the time and a bestseller.
Dunham’s new book “Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s Learned” is, given her enormous popularity, bound to be widely read, but will it be as widely embraced as Gurley Brown’s? The subject matter is familiar enough, and not so far afield from what Gurley Brown wrote about in the ‘60s. In essays, lists, and diary entries, the director-actor-writer writes about virtually identical topics, albeit with a distinctly Dunham sheen: going naked on camera, her complicated history with food, and finding the perfect boyfriend.
In the introduction, she talks about buying the late Gurley Brown's book Having It All at a thrift store for sixty-five cents. She gently mocks her prescription for below 1000 calorie diets and being ready for sex at all times. “But despite her demented theories, which jibe not even a little bit with my distinctly feminist upbringing, I appreciate the way Helen shares her own embarrassing, acne-ridden history in an attempt to say Look, happiness and satisfaction can happen to anyone.” The message is clear: their interests may be similar, but their personal brands couldn’t be more at odds. Gurley Brown is all about restriction and a perfect façade, while Dunham takes an outwardly girl-positive, warts-and-all approach to her life and art.
But are they really so different? We read Not That Kind of Girl alongside Sex and the Single Girl to see if Lena and Helen have a little more in common than one might think. Can you guess who is behind each quote?