Amy Schumer’s goofily titled book, The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, dropped in bookstores late last week. Of course, I had to pick it up. Schumer’s humor is like tickling: It makes me belly laugh, but it also makes me a little uncomfortable.
Perhaps it’s because I find Schumer’s comedy part intriguing, part confusing, but I decided to read this book and see if it offers background that could explain her tenuous balancing act. I found elucidation to this end. I also found it to be surprisingly on-point about many issues young women face. Unfortunately, Schumer’s proverbs are told in no chaste terms and couched in some non-recommendable scenarios—although that really comes as no surprise here. Still, I found the book to be far more refreshing and resonating than anything else I’ve seen by Schumer. Along the way I also found several insights about life in general and a few corrections I think we would all do well to heed.
01. It’s better to be humble than ‘perfect.’
Early in the book Schumer admits she's not sharing a memoir or offering any life advice in writing this book. "I haven't figured anything out, so I have no wisdom to offer you," she says. A+ for honesty? "But what I can help with," she adds, "is showing you my mistakes and my pain and my laughter." That comes through, for sure; The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo is a girlfriend-type unloading of the range of things she's experienced, both the serious and the humorous.
Schumer even quotes her childhood diary, a creative touch, and adds current-day annotations. We learn along the way that when she was a teen, she "wanted to embody all the impossible combinations: I wanted to be both beautiful and kind, smart and selfless." Sad to hear she thinks those ideals are impossible combos, since, nobody's perfect, but I'm pretty sure she's capable of all of those qualities.
02. Schumer’s comedy is quite different from reality (and she knows that).
"Until I'm in a committed relationship, I'm on my guard hard," Schumer stated early in the book. Despite all the sexually explicit references she makes in her show Inside Amy Schumer and in provocatively photographed cover stories, Schumer reveals in her book that to some extent this is for show. Contrary to reflecting a lifestyle she herself embodies or likes, Schumer writes, "I group together all my wildest, worst sexual memories" in my stand-up. That's right—the casual sex and no-strings-attached hookups as seen in Trainwreck do not exactly portray Schumer's personal choices.
As she puts it in The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, "Sometimes I try to convince myself that I can have emotionless sex," but it's just not how it is.
03. Men and women have some key differences.
At the end of the day, Schumer describes herself as "still a fairly self-protective chick," and the thought of a stranger getting it on with her, she says, "doesn't get my pulse going." She attributes this in part due to sex differences; "for women it's a rare occurrence to see a dude and think, Dayuummmm!" Women just aren't as interested in anonymous sex as men, and that's not a bad thing.
04. Our culture often expects women to be ‘unpaid geishas.’
As an introvert, Schumer experiences unique challenges in her career. "When you're a performer—especially a female one—everyone assumes you enjoy being 'on' all the time. That couldn't be further from the truth for me or any of the people I am close to."
"Women are always expected to be the gracious hostess, quick with an anecdote and a sprinkling of laughter at others' stories. We are always the ones who have to smooth over all the awkward moments in life with soul-crushing pleasantries. We are basically unpaid geishas."
"When we do not fulfill this expectation" though, Schumer warns, people assume we might be depressed or just rude. Sure, to some extent women and men will always be different when it comes to communication—and delightfulness—but she makes an interesting point about unfair judgment women get for not being "100 percent on." It's good to be gracious, but cut yourself some slack, too.
05. Struggle is good and can give you perspective in life.
While Schumer has found success in her comedy and now lives a comfortable existence, she is grateful she didn't always have this comfort. "Even though I know what it feels like to have a surplus of money, I haven't forgotten what it feels like to truly need it." She remembers times when her father's business took a turn for the worse. Reflecting on those less advantaged times, she says now, "I'm glad I struggled." Later she remarks how, in addition to wanting to hold onto this quality about herself, she also looks for it in those she chooses to associate with. "I don't even want to know someone who isn't barely hanging on by a thread." Hyperbole aside, it's nice to know she finds grace in struggle.
06. One of the best things in life is to be generous with others.
Perhaps it's due to this remembrance of being without that Schumer finds such enjoyment in giving generously to her family and those in need. "More than being fun, giving is important!" she exclaims. Overall, she's "happier being generous" she states. This philosophy definitely translates to her motivation in comedy as well. "I love making people laugh and feel better," she wrote elsewhere in the book.
07. Some things are better left private.
Some of my favorite parts of Schumer's book are when she says to us what should be obvious: "Believe it or not, I don't tell you guys everything."
In our age when baring all or making sexually explicit references are confused with practicing authenticity, Schumer cuts through the crap, writing, "Believe it or not, I do have a complex inner life just like you." And more than that, she doesn't share it with everyone: "I enjoy being alone. I need it. And I've never been happier than I was when I finally figured this out about myself."
And about social media..."What a person posts on Instagram should be humanizing and accurate," Schumer writes. Granted, in Schumer's context she was referring to not showing perfect pictures of oneself and not being ashamed to be caught eating (gasp!) a sandwich. Still, great words to live by.
08. Family is everything.
Schumer may have incohesive moments in her comedy or life, but one thing that stands firm is her value of family. As she put it quite succinctly, "I know what's important to me, and that is my family."
Schumer's sister Kim is her clear best friend and first comedy sidekick in life. Her sister-in-law Cayce DuMont helped work on the book with her. Amy's niece is prized beyond telling. And her dad, whose life has been strained by the debilitating illness of MS, remains very close to Schumer's heart. Not unlike the father's story line in Trainwreck, in real life Schumer is trying to give her father the best care he can get, and she remains fiercely loyal to him.
09. We have to accept growing up.
"The saddest realization I've had in my life is that my parents are people. Sad, human people. I aged a decade in that moment." Schumer suffered along seeing her dad suffer from his illness, with all the humiliation human frailty it brought with it. We are bound to encounter these things some day, but it appears she had to a littler sooner than most.
To this end Schumer lists the milestones of maturing including: "you become a woman the first time you stand up for yourself when they get your order wrong at a diner," and "the first time someone you love dies."
Elsewhere in the book she recounts how age and insight have led her to place meaning beyond what she may have previously: "When you get older and wiser, you get your confidence from within, not from the person you are having sex with." Now those are true words of wisdom, even if the second part of the sentence could be replaced with almost anything.
10. We have to recharge to avoid burnout.
What's true for introverts here is true for anyone in some respect; everyone has something that drains them and requires something else to recharge.
Schumer says she meditates frequently, and elsewhere indicates she makes time for therapy and self-care. Extroverts might recharge by meeting the girls for happy hour. Whatever one's preference to recharge, she's right that it's essential to avoid running out of energy.
For all its positive lessons, sensitive readers should be warned—at the end of the day, it's still Schumer, and she's as unvarnished in prose as she is in her stand-up. But I did appreciate that she seemed far more reflective and nuanced in writing and less serving what the media's selling. All I know is that I feel much closer to understanding the real Amy Schumer having read it.
Photo Credit: HBO