Hi. This is a monthly column where I'll be writing about something I've been unhealthily obsessed with. It is basically a written accompaniment to this meme. But with more music. Thanks.
Isn’t it weird how, after dark, when you can’t get to sleep, suddenly all the fucked up shit you’ve ever done rises to surface. When I say ‘fucked up’, I don’t mean murder or anything like that *looks shifty, hides balaclava*. I just mean the messy stuff you’d rather forget: that time you got trashed and made out with someone inappropriate in front of all your coworkers. That time you took £300 out via Wonga and spent it on a pinball machine even though you are thousands of pounds in debt. That time you snuck into your flatmates room and stole her Adderall because you were bored. I don’t know! Maybe you’re super well adjusted and your slate is clean and you sleep like a milkfed baby. Or perhaps you are also awake at 2AM, your brain having transformed into a metaphorical washing machine.
I have a few things like the aforementioned in my closet – some of which are quite funny, and others which I find uncomfortable even thinking about. Over the years, I’ve often found myself internalising the idea that I am a ‘messy’ woman who needs to constantly check herself, while others around me are ‘clean.’ This is because we are brought up to believe that women shouldn’t be too loud – it’s considered embarrassing. We shouldn’t sleep with too many people, and we especially shouldn’t talk about it. We should know the right time to leave the party. Mental distress is fine, so long as it’s palatable (are you sad and skinny, or fat and psychotic? It makes a difference). Except, of course, all of this is bullshit. Life is long and complicated and we are trying to make sense of it. People don’t always behave like perfectly curated Instagram feeds – why would we?
Last week, Lily Allen released a memoir called My Thoughts Exactly. Even if you haven’t read it yet, you’ve probably peeped the headlines. She admits to cheating on her husband with Liam Gallagher in a toilet cubicle. She says she hired sex workers during tour because she was lonely and desperate. She speaks about how she didn’t orgasm until her early 20s (although now she wanks all the time, and recommends a bunch of sex toys). She details a brief psychotic episode that lead her to smash up her ex-husbands flat. She writes about her relationship to drugs and alcohol (addictive) and her relationship to men (co-dependent). She speaks about all of these things in a way that is neither proud nor apologetic, but instead warm and candid and real.
Some sections are very funny, like when she apologises to Cheryl Tweedy for their Twitter feud (“Sorry, Cheryl. I was angry because I hadn’t come yet”). Other moments are genuinely upsetting (her description of sexual assault in the music industry, as well the loss of her first born, are harrowing). I found myself feeling a lot of emotions while reading this book (which is clear and easy to absorb, by the way, like a particularly bingeable Netflix series), but one emotion I didn’t expect to feel – and ended up feeling the most – was relief. Oh my God, I found myself thinking, I’m not the only person who has dealt with their shit like this. I’m not the only one who has felt like a total mess. In airing her ‘dirty laundry’ without shame, that laundry suddenly didn’t look so dirty anymore – and then neither did my own.
The memoir isn’t completely without flaws. As Hannah Jane Parkinson points out in The Guardian, there are moments in which Allen misunderstands exactly how structural privilege works (“Sure, I had media connections through my parents and an entrée into the Groucho fucking Club, but I managed to get a career in spite of that and my education – not because of them”). Had she not been white and middle class, would she have been given the platform to tell this story at all? How helpful, really, is this book for anybody who exists outside of the specific bubble she is describing? This is her life in her words, but it’s worth acknowledging these questions when considering the book’s limitations. Just because something is valuable does not make it radical.
Still, it’s important that women stay loud in a world that continually wishes to silence them. I spent so much of my younger years giving myself a hard time for behaviour that didn’t feel “in line” with what I’d been taught was acceptable. It would have been cool to have read something like My Thoughts Exactly when I was teenager. This isn't a book that says it’s fine to escape yourself with drugs and alcohol, or sex, or isolation – it’s not, we need to look after ourselves – but it dismantles the shame and self-loathing that can fester when the issues that affect us are pushed into the shadows. Because the moment you lift that veil, the quicker you realise that maybe you’re not as alone as you thought.
This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.