Surprisingly Moving Essays on Personal Strength, Humor, and Embracing Mistakes

Book review: The Girl With the Lower Back Tattooby Amy Schumer

I like Amy Schumer’s comedy, but I’m not enough in love with it that her book was a priority when it came out nearly a year ago. Until I happened upon a review praising it as something much more meaningful than a reiteration of Schumer’s jokes or skits from her show. The review stressed that this book might surprise you with its depth, and for me, it really did.

As she’s risen to fame in the past few years, Amy Schumer has shown herself to be more than the oft-used “sex comic” tag designates her. Following the shooting deaths of two women in Lafayette, Louisiana at a showing of her movie Trainwreck, she partnered with her distant cousin Senator Chuck Schumer to push initiatives for control of gun sales, a massively important issue facing the country.

And she’s a tireless advocate for an issue that’s often relegated to the sidelines as being fluffy or inaccurately pegged as only affecting affluent, young white women – that of body positivity and self-esteem. Schumer’s endured some pretty horrible things online, in addition to sexist and misogynistic slurs and threats, she’s been targeted by numerous Reddit trolling campaigns to drown her TV specials and this book in one star ratings.

A lot of the ire directed at her seems to stem from her being bigger than the average onscreen type and daring to, I don’t know, force us to look at her anyway? Who cares? I mention her weight and she’s forced to mention it because it apparently infuriates so many people. Not only in terms of her being on TV and talking openly about sexuality, including her own, but as she writes here, in her personal life too. In one story, a matchmaker sets her up with a much-older man with hair plugs who tells her that the matchmaker told him she was “no model” but he thinks that lady’s wrong; she’s cute.

She tackles some big issues in her stories: domestic violence and manipulative relationships, including parental ones, date rape, sexism and double standards in the entertainment industry, the aforementioned issues of gun control and self-esteem, and women who are unapologetic about their sex and dating histories.

Much of the material is well-trodden ground subject-wise, but given her way with words and honest, no-holds-barred style, it feels fresh and like a worthwhile contribution to the ongoing discourse on all of these topics.

She’s relatively young for a memoir, but she has an excellent way of tying her personal anecdotes into a much larger concept, making them resonate strongly with those of a similar generation. The format loosely traces her childhood through her career successes, with forays into topics about her relationships with boyfriends and family and her experiences in some of the bigger issues I mentioned. She’s wise for her age, but she’s worked hard and been through her share of trials too, so her experiences and what she’s learned from them are refreshing to hear. They’re helpful.

There are a fair amount of dating and sex stories, which aren’t generally my favorite, but she makes them entertaining, actually funny, and usually with some kind of message. It really was laugh-out-loud funny in parts, but a raunchier sense of humor is required.

Other times, she has witty one-liners that just cracked me up, maybe because her blunt honesty about sometimes embarrassing subjects hits home. Like when she describes hiding snacks from herself because of her inability to control her snacking: “I would ransack my own apartment like the Gestapo.”

She’s also an introvert, which I always find surprising from famous types, and she writes so intelligently about what that means and how she uses what many see as a flaw to her advantage. It’s recommended reading for any introvert:

“I don’t know how introverts survived without the Internet. Or with the Internet. Actually, I don’t know how we survive at all. It feels impossible.”

Several times, she refers to an ex-boyfriend who became abusive. The piece where she actually details that relationship is horrifying, not only for what she experienced, but for how common it actually is. If you haven’t been through a relationship like this yourself, you definitely have listened to the confessions of a friend who has, and probably been as shocked as Schumer herself was that it was actually happening.

I’d cry and go for a walk and we’d start over. But come on, I was smart and funny and a loudmouth who spoke her mind. I definitely wasn’t in an abusive relationship, right? That only happens to girls who don’t believe in themselves. Right?

There’s a lot here that resonates. She addresses ugly, painful topics, and manages to do it without the shame that can accompany discussing them.

The message throughout is one of self-acceptance, whatever that entails for someone personally. She has a warts-and-all openness about herself and her life and mistakes, and a funny, entertaining storyteller’s voice to boot, which makes this a total delight to read, and to learn something from.

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.

Smart, dirty, funny, proudly feminist essays that inspire, reaffirm, and resonate more than I think even Schumer herself imagined they would.

The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo
by Amy Schumer
published August 16, 2016 by Gallery Books

I’ve included affiliate links from Book Depository. It means I get a small commission if you buy via these links. I’m never paid to promote or review any title.

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