Amy Schumer’s Deepest Confessions, From Family to Abuse, in ‘The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo’
Schumer has been labeled a sex comic, feminist icon, and walking think piece. But in her candid, thoughtful new book, she paints herself as something entirely new: a human being.
“It really weirds people out,” she said. “We’ve had tough lives. So we really needed each other. Maybe after my book or something that will make more sense to people.”
Here’s the book.
The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo, the much-anticipated (not to mention lucrative) book of autobiographical essays written by Schumer, hit shelves Tuesday.
And here’s that realization she was waiting for.
In line with its genius name, The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo tackles the arduous task of explaining how Amy Schumer of Long Island became Amy Schumer of Vogue’s cover and internet think pieces, packed with the characteristic self-effacing humor and unfiltered raunch you crave.
Detailing her one and only one-night stand—oh yes, be ready to have your preconceived notions about Schumer be dutifully thwarted—she recalls meeting her future bed partner while looking like Bruce Vilanch, instructing readers to “just picture a barn owl wearing a blond wig” should they not know who that is. And her first chapter? It’s an open letter to her vagina.
Amy Schumer is a so-called sex comic, a feminist icon, a cultural lightning rod, a TV star, a walking hot take, an activist, and one of our most visible celebrities. But for all the labels and broad generalizations we thrust on her, Schumer paints herself in Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo as something we often refuse to see her as: a human.
She wasn’t kidding about that tough life. The chapter titled “Dad,” for example, begins with the line, “When I was fourteen my dad shit himself at an amusement park.” Her father suffers from multiple sclerosis, and their complicated relationship plays like a moving score through much of the book. As that first line suggests, she spares no detail—fecal, emotional, or otherwise.
Her parents’ divorce takes up requisite pages, as does their fall from jetting-off-to-the-Bahamas status to losing it all: “I don’t remember how it felt to lose everything, but I do remember men coming to take my dad’s car when I was ten,” she writes.
But the two stories predestined to make the most headlines—and knowing that probably made Schumer all the more insistent to include them with such painful specificity in the book—will be her recounting of being sexually assaulted as a teenager and of the physical abuse she received from her long-term boyfriend when she was in her twenties.
“People will have opinions about this chapter,” she writes, after she details her encounter with her then-high school boyfriend, whom she lost her virginity to while she was hazily passed out after several beers and a long night.
He penetrated her while she was sleeping. She knew right away she had been violated, yet she felt compelled to comfort him about the whole experience. (He felt bad, as if that made it OK.)
“Some might say it wasn’t a big deal,” she continues. “Or that it was all my fault since I was drinking, he was my boyfriend, and I was lying right there next to him.”
She approaches the latter portion of this essay from the perspective of a PSA, complete with statistics about sexual assault, a plea for more honest discussions about consent, and an acknowledgment of what her sharing her story could do for other women who have been in the situation. “This happens so frequently that clearly we need to talk about it,” she writes.
It’s a similar tone a hundred pages later when the chapter that is teased ominously throughout the book, titled “The Worst Night of My Life,” arrives.
Her relationship with Dan ran hot, with equal parts fucking and fighting but maybe a more severe-than-normal cloud of psychological warfare. “It was everything you could want, if what you want is Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem’s relationship in Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” she writes. “And if you didn’t see that movie, I was the Whitney to his Bobby.”
She recounts how he would emotionally manipulate her self-esteem, pointing out her body’s problem areas and even pissing on her feet while she stood naked in the shower. Still, he’d get jealous when other guys showed her attention and do things like grab onto her wrists so hard they bruised—always apologizing after for such “accidents.”
“I think somewhere in the relationship, I started to confuse his anger and aggression for passion and love,” she writes, as foreplay for the story’s harrowing climax: a night in which he threw her onto a parked car and chased her into a gang’s house, calming down enough for them to go home before blowing up again once they got there, threatening her with a butcher’s knife.
Again she provides domestic abuse statistics. And again she reveals why she’s sharing: “I’m telling this story because I’m a strong-ass woman, not someone most people picture when they think ‘abused woman.’”
In truth, most chapters end this way, winding down with a lesson other people can learn from the personal anecdote she just shared. Only occasionally can you hear the Full House piano keys tinkling as the moral comes. But Schumer, adamant not to pen a self-help book, largely avoids transforming her life into fodder for a series of Very Special Episodes.
Not that there isn’t celebration in the book. If possible, the entire thing reads triumphant. Joyous even.
There’s a criticism of Amy Schumer’s outspokenness that assumes there’s some sort of entitlement to it, whether she’s talking about the simple act of what it’s like to live as a woman in our culture, or crusading for gun safety laws.
But it’s much simpler than that. She’s a survivor—of abuse, of her upbringing, of the entertainment industry, and of her own self-destruction—and her advice, her comments, and her comedy stem from that. It’s a position that she’s earned.
Her origin story as a 5-year-old girl playing Gretl in The Sound of Music tees off her chapter recounting her dogged journey to becoming a successful standup and, finally, a zeitgeist-dominating celebrity.
There are tales of her first comedy sets, and how’d she’d take cassette tapes of her filmed performances and study them at Best Buy because she couldn’t afford her own VCRs. She talks about her experience on Last Comic Standing, her big break, and details the work ethic it took to get to where she is now.
It’s the part of the book some people will find most boring. It’s also the part of the book some people will be most interested in. Either way, it’s a reward for both camps that the next chapter is titled, true to aesthetic, “Times It’s Okay For a Man Not to Make a Woman Come During Sex.” It’s a short chapter.
It should come as no surprise that tales from Schumer’s love life are a humor-filled pleasure to read.
For the record, Schumer has had sex with 28 people and never hooked up with a girl, had anal sex, or done cocaine. She meditates twice a day.
“When you hear about them all back-to-back it probably sounds like my vagina is a revolving door at Macy’s at Christmastime,” she writes, admitting that grouping her handful of sexual misadventures back-to-back into one standup set has probably led to the misconception about her promiscuity.
She excels as a storyteller, and, sure, her recounting of a fumbled sexcapade with a well-endowed hockey player is fit for its own HBO special.
But maybe the thing we’ve been missing in all of our praise of Schumer over the years—how she unapologetically talks about sex and gender-specific issues with universal relatability—is that the reason we all, regardless of of gender or sexual orientation, delight in her stories is because of the heart and real emotion that underlies them.
It’s true that her anecdote about refusing to allow this puck-slinger with a water buffalo dick inside her is gut-bustingly perfect. The self-effacing, good-natured humor and simultaneous embarrassment, pride, and disbelief lands at each stage of the story like darts encroaching on a bullseye—even though we know from the first sentence of the chapter where it’s going.
But this skill is revelatory when she wades into deeper topics.
The best of these celebrity-penned autobiographical essay collections read like a diary. This one, literally, has diary excerpts in it. But it was more than that. Sure, her hindsight self-evaluation of her memories colors her stories. But she doesn’t censor out the immediacy of her emotions as they were happening. That’s especially true when she’s discussing her relationship with her parents.
The funny thing to learn, too, while reading this is that as much and as passionately as we analyze and dissect “Amy Schumer,” the publicly personality, she has constantly been doing the same thing to herself... the person.
A highlight of this is the crown jewel of her commentary on what it’s like to be a “lady comic,” a chapter titled “An Exciting Time for Women in Hollywood” that details her frustration with the “Is this a turning point for women in Hollywood?” question and patronizingly sexist rhetoric of her industry accomplishments.
The Trainwreck press tour sounds particularly harrowing. At one point, apparently, a German journalist abrasively asked why she thinks it’s OK to make people uncomfortable while his testicles were literally hanging out of a hole in the crotch of his pants.
Fittingly, exposure is inextricable from Amy Schumer’s power. Sure, some might have argued that, at one point, it was a liability—overexposure—but for the vulnerability, candor, and confidence with which she’s made us laugh. Or cry. Or hate her. Or become her biggest fan.
She recounts in the book a time when she was a kid and a group of guys dared her and some other girls to lift up their shirts and flash them. Schumer was the only one who lifted up her bra, too.
“Anyway, that day on the playground turned out to be prophetic for me,” she writes. “I displayed everything to everyone and learned that there would be a price to pay for doing so.”
And for some of us, a reward.