By Olivia Heersink
I expected Amy Schumer to be clever and funny. I like her in-your-face style of humor and I like that she wants women to talk about sex. I can identify with that. But it’s more than that. Sex is funny, but it’s also power, and it’s been used against women for too long.
This book, The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, like her movie Trainwreck, was better than I anticipated, and took me places I didn’t expect. Schumer reminds us she’s not just that woman who talks dirty. In fact, that’s not who she is at all.
Sure, she begins the book with a note to her vagina. But then she goes on to tell us about the one one-night stand she’s had. Yes, one (although she points out later that her definition here is a bit narrow). And she may be a comedian, but she’s also an introvert. So maybe not what you were expecting.
Like recent memoirs by Mindy Kaling or Amy Poehler you get a range of topics and narrative styles, like lists and diary entries from her teenage years, annotated with modern day comments on how foolish she was. These are not as jokey as you think; in fact, Schumer is genuinely saddened by how driven she was in her earlier years to impress a boy or to look good.
Schumer surprises when she gets serious, and she goes there a lot. From her father’s multiple sclerosis, to her first sexual experience, to an abusive relationship, she goes there, and it never feels gratuitous because she always explains why it’s important to her. I was most struck by the chapter where she talks about her relationship with her mother. She also talks about social issues like gun violence and how magazines portray women. So if you’re expecting humor, you may be disappointed.
Schumer writes in her novel that “Most of the time these days, I feel beautiful and strong. I walk proudly down the streets of Manhattan… The people I love love me. I’m a great sister and friend. I make the funniest people in the country laugh. My vagina has had an impressive guest list – truly an inspiring roster of men. I have fought my way through harsh criticism and death threats, and I am alive. I am fearless. Most of the time. But I can still be reduced to that lonely, vulnerable college freshman pretty quickly,” which most, if not all, I think can relate to in regards to self-esteem and self-love. It’s a process, but Amy Schumer helps us get there.
Schumer may not win any prizes for her writing style; it’s clunky at times but always real and heartfelt. If you want to know a lot about her comedy career, it’s in here. Similar to Kaling’s books, you will see how hard she worked and how dedicated she’s been, and how much she values her colleagues. It’s a nice inside look at the business, although I think the weakness here is that it may be impossible to write about the comedy business to an outsider. Schumer can describe what it feels like to get up on stage and tell jokes, but I’ll never understand it. At least, she doesn’t get me there.
With that said, it’s a well-paced book. It goes from dark to light and back in a way that kept me constantly engaged, and yet builds towards one common theme: if you think you can characterize Schumer, or anyone, in a few words (like “Trainwreck”), you’re wrong. She’s not that girl, and neither am I, and neither are you. We can like sex, we can drink too much, we can fall on our faces and get back up again, we can love our siblings, we can excel at what we do, we can be powerful role models, we can be victims, we can be introverts, and we can make people laugh. We can take the worst the world can throw at us, and keep going.
I didn’t expect to identify so strongly with Schumer. In so many ways we’re complete opposites. She loves to make people laugh, while being on a stage and being laughed at is one of my greatest fears. But she talks about taking what you’re afraid of, and not letting it control you, and that makes sense to me. She talks about owning your worst experiences and having no regrets, and that also makes sense to me. I think there’s a lot I can learn from Schumer, and maybe a lot that other women can learn as well.
“Beautiful, ugly, funny, boring, smart or not, vulnerability is my ultimate strength. There’s nothing anyone can say about me that’s more permanent, damaging, or hideous than the statement I have forever tattooed upon myself. I’m proud of this ability to laugh at myself – even if everyone can see my tears, just like they can see my dumb, senseless, wack, lame lower back tattoo.”