The cover of You’ll Grow Out of It, a new book of essays by comedian Jessi Klein, is stamped with a quintessentially cringey, painfully hilarious childhood photo. Little Jessi shoots a deadpan stare into the camera, a cute girl with an unfortunate haircut and an equally unfortunate pink turtleneck. It’s the kind of picture that you might swipe from your parents’ house and burn, but Klein has instead opted to display her prepubescent awkwardness for the world to see. She is a brave woman.
By her own admission, and despite the promise contained in the book’s title, Klein hasn’t entirely surpassed that long, horrible phase between adolescence and adult life, when everything is weird and confusing. As the head writer and executive producer of Inside Amy Schumer, Klein might have taken the tone of a benevolent mentor, who has attained success and now just knows. Instead, You’ll Grow Out of It features a series of essays that chronicle Klein’s bumbling journey through womanhood. In the opening pages of her memoir, Klein explains that she began life as a tomboy, and later morphed into a “tom man”— a self-appointed designation that she describes as “essentially feral, and beyond shaving my legs above the knee.”
With lively, if not particularly graceful prose, Klein tackles everything from bar-based workouts (“where you are in horrible pain and hate your life”) to infertility. Many of her essays are steeped in reflections on the trappings of femininity: face creams, and lingerie, and wedding dresses, and baths—perhaps especially baths, which are the subject of an entire chapter. “I feel like getting in the bath is a kind of surrender to the idea that [women] can’t really make it on land,” she writes, “that we’ve lost the fight for a bedroom corner or even just our own chair in the living room.”
The frilly things that women are supposed to enjoy bemuse Klein, and often agitate her—not only because she is the sort of person who is inclined to “wear the same six pairs of basic Gap underwear in rotation for years,” but also because the standards placed on women are terribly unfair. In one essay, Klein describes the crushing sense of insecurity she felt while looking perusing a Victoria’s Secret catalogue: “I start thumbing through and, page by decimating page, get the sinking feeling that I should be disqualified from being considered a female.” You’ll Grow Out of It is filled with this kind of withering takedown, which, in just a few words, oscillates between indignation, and sadness, and comedic self-deprecation.
On occasion, we see Klein resist the (constructed) pressures that come with being a “Grown Woman”— a state that, in her eyes, “seemed to involve shrinking rather than growing.” But for the most part, the book is a frenetic swirl of neuroses and insecurities. Klein delves into her romantic desperation, and she is merciless about her own body — in a funny way, yes, but still merciless. She describes her posterior as “kind of a vague trapezoid,” and writes that in the advent to her wedding, every gown she tried on made her “look like a large raccoon that had tipped over a garbage can searching for food, found a wedding dress instead, and then decided to take a nap in it.” Klein offers only two pieces of wisdom to female readers: get an epidural during labor, and, “[w]hen you encounter a man wearing loafers with no socks, run.”
That’s not inherently a problem, of course. You’ll Grow Out of It is not an advice book. But for all her hilarious acuity and insight, Klein occasionally displays a jarring lack of perspective. She bemoans, for example, Hollywood standards that brand any woman over thirty as “a viable great-great-grandmother to Elle Fanning,” and yet she is quick to categorize all adult females as either “poodles” or “wolves” — poodles being women who are effortlessly beautiful, wolves being those who are not.
Overall, though, the messy honesty of You’ll Grow Out of It is an asset. There is something wonderfully refreshing about reading a book by a successful woman who does not pretend to have all the answers. Klein can so piercingly skewer problematic elements of our culture because she is a product of their influence. She is fully aware of the stupidity that she has subjected herself too in the name of looking beautiful or snagging desirable men, but she did it anyways — just like most women. Who among us hasn’t felt deflated when looking at the bronzed, buffed bodies of Victoria’s Secret models? Deep down, aren’t most of us confused little girls with choppy haircuts and bad turtlenecks, just trying to make sense of it all?
You’ll Grow Out of It, by Jessi Klein (Grand Central Publishing) is available from July 12.