Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past year (with the pandemic and all, we don’t blame you), you’ve probably heard of the self-help book that’s been taking the millennial world by storm: Florence Given’s Women Don’t Owe You Pretty. Yep, the one with the groovy retro typeface and pink and red colouring.
I first came across this book on a book review social media page in early 2020, and whilst I knew it was non-fiction, I didn’t know much more than that. As the year went on, I saw the iconic cover pop up everywhere on my Instagram feed: people I knew were reading it, talking about and taking pictures of it.
By the end of the year, I had it bookmarked on Amazon and was ready to gift it to myself for Christmas. As it turned out, I couldn’t wait and I ended up grabbing a copy from my local Dymocks bookstore.
The day I got the book, I posted a picture of the pretty little cover on my Instagram story, and a few people (who have read it) mentioned that there is a bit of controversy happening. So let’s address that straight off the bat.
21-year-old Given is a cis-gender, able-bodied, white-passing female. She acknowledges this privilege (she calls it her “pretty privilege”) many times throughout the book and even credits the success of her career down to this privilege. She also acknowledges fellow feminist and author, Chidera Eggerue, as a major inspiration both personally and for the book. Eggerue wrote What a Time to Be Alone (2018); and How to Get Over a Boy (2020), which as you might have gathered, has a lot of the same themes of self-love, body positivity and self-awakening that Given’s book discusses.
Eggerue has accused Given of copyright. There has been legal action. Said legal action found no plagiarism. Problematically, being a woman of colour, Eggerue argues that the success of Given’s book (plagiarised themes and all) has been due to the fact she is a white woman.
I will leave you to do your own research and make up your own mind on this one, but I will say that Given does directly reference Eggerue multiple times throughout her book for Eggerue’s ideas.
So what is it actually about?
WDOYP falls under the self-help category, and so it’s written in an easily digestible format where Given to-and-fro’s between sharing personal anecdotes and experience, life advice, mantras and referenced studies.
There are 21 chapters, and each is delivered with a strong take-home message, whether that’s “REFUSE TO FIND COMFORT IN OTHER WOMEN’S ‘FLAWS’” (Ch 1); or “STOP PUTTING PEOPLE ON A PEDESTAL” (Ch 12).
The main themes covered are self-love/self-worth and how to find it, sexuality (consent, queerness, the male gaze), and trauma and healing. For those who don’t have a previous foray into feminism, I would argue that this book is the perfect starting point.
Given explains concepts like heteronormativity, the male gaze and the gender construct in plain English, citing examples from her own teenagehood. In every chapter, she also encourages the reader to take action, whether that’s in the form of acknowledging one’s privilege, dumping a toxic friend or manipulative boyfriend.
Each chapter also comes with beautiful illustrations by Given herself, all in her signature retro style. These just made the reading process all the more exciting, particularly when I was reading in public and I got to an illustration of a topless lady smoking a cigarette, with the accompanying words: “LIFE IS TOO SHORT TO NOT LOVE THE SHIT OUT OF YOURSELF”. Simply iconic.
Is it worth the hype? My thoughts…
For me personally, because I majored in Gender Studies at university, the chapters on queerness, the gender binary and diversity were mostly revisiting concepts I already knew a bit about. We were taught about the tropes of the spinster lady – to which Given says f*ck that, being single is LIBERATING – alongside the constructed notions of gender and marriage, and their inherent flaws. Given gives a good entry-level overview, and I think her interspersing of her own personal awakening into feminism and her own teenage experiences really make the book relatable and easy to consume.
As for the self-love material, it was very comforting to be told I am worthy and that it is time to fall in love with myself. As someone that’s just come out of a five-year relationship, I am navigating single life and knowing myself as an adult for the first time; and so it was wholly reaffirming to be told these things.
For those who have been messed around by toxic partners, friends or f*ckboys, Given also preaches that you are entirely deserving of more. She draws a lot on her own experiences where she was used and abused by former friends and lovers, and how she now protects her energy by refusing to dole out emotional labour (in the form of giving advice for free etc).
The chapters fly back and forth between the themes, so comprehensively it feels like you’ve really come full circle after reading. I found it to be an effortless read, one that was equal parts comforting and had me vigorously head-nodding in agreement.
The two things that stood out to me the most were this:
- A quote by X which Given references: “Stop breaking yourself down into bite-sized pieces. Stay whole and let them choke.”
I loved this so much I immediately wrote it out word for word and sent it to my friend. It applies to anything — meeting a new friend or date who just doesn’t fully ‘get’ or appreciate you; a work situation where your worth or capability isn’t fully recognised; or literally any situation where you’re explaining something, and people just don’t get it. The onus isn’t on you to be their teacher and break it down for them. Let them f*cking choke!
It is more important now than ever to quite literally ‘protect your energy’. If you’re giving someone or something your all and it just isn’t being reciprocated, it’s time to learn to walk away from anything that no longer serves you.
- The final page. Given asks the reader to picture all the previous versions of themselves — a time where you experienced trauma or heartbreak; a time where you overcame adversity; a time where you were young and naive. She then asks you to picture that all these previous selves are standing there, smiling at your current self, proud of how far you’ve come.
That last page brought me to tears. In fact, I’m getting a bit weepy just writing about it now. It is a beautiful thought to reflect on how far you’ve come, and remind yourself of all the hardships and struggles you’ve come out all the more strong for.
Overall, WDOYP is the hug from your woke big sister that you didn’t know you needed. Given didn’t actually tell me anything I didn’t already know (heck, I am learning to freakin’ LOVE myself), but it was lovely to be told that I am worthy of EVERYTHING, nonetheless.
You can find Florence Given’s book, Women Don’t Owe You Pretty on Booktopia, or at any good bookstore.