After I published my post last week in which I joked about someone sending me a copy of Brunette Ambition, my dear friend Kathleen DID! It was like that moment in Julie & Julia when a reader sends Julie some hot sauce, only better because it was a book from an old friend. Thanks, Kathleen! ❤
As hinted at elsewhere, I have a long-running love of lifestyle books. For some (probably very bougie) reason, I think they’re fun. I’ve read Kate Spade’s book, the one about being lovely like Audrey Hepburn, and one year I bought my mother Amy Sedaris’s satire of the genre for Mother’s Day. Anyway, with all the flack around Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop, I was a little nervous for Lea Michele when I saw that she was publishing a book that mixed autobiography with beauty and lifestyle tips. In actually reading the book, I was pleasantly surprised by how grounded and helpful it is. In my late-twenties I found it a charming read and a book I will keep on-hand for the recipes and hair/makeup how-to’s. If I were a younger woman, however, I think I would have really latched on to some of the advice offered. It’s pretty smart, if a little basic (by which I mean, it’s the advice I’d give younger me. :P).
Maybe I’m biased, however, as the biggest thing I learned from Brunette Ambition is that Lea Michele and I are remarkably similar in the most mundane ways. (Meaning we’re both ambitious homebodies who love to sleep and grocery shop and always read the menu online before going out.) To a lot of her advice, my response was basically, “Yes, me too!”
At any rate, here are some highlights:
- Lea Michele loves the word “incredibly.” She uses it so many times that I briefly tried to count them. I may have noticed this because I have to edit my writing for excessive use of the word really. I really love adverbs too, Lea. I really, really do.
- Her anecdotes about Barbara Streisand are just lovely. I appreciated that she started the book with a bit of a love letter to her icon and an explanation about how and why actresses like Streisand and Natalie Wood meant so much to her. Throughout the book I found it refreshing how much emphasis was put on the way other people (such as Audra Mcdonald) taught, mentored, and inspired her. Also, each chapter starts with an epigraph from Streisand, which is just kind of adorable.
- Ambition: It’s in the title, so obviously it would be addressed in the book. What I find refreshing here is that Lea doesn’t apologize for her ambition or downplay her success or how hard she’s worked. She’s humble and gives credit to others where credit is due, but she owns her success. Further, when she talks about balance, she’s talking about taking care of yourself. So much of the discussion about ambition and balance for women gets diverted to “having it all” in a way that doesn’t really reach women who don’t have or don’t want families. The message here about ambition seems really well suited to young women and reinforces the idea that we don’t need to be sorry for pushing for our success.
- Food: the recipes look delicious, simple, and healthy. I will be eating all of them. Lea also has the same attitude toward vegetarianism as me and I’m so excited to try her veggie burger recipe. A good veg burger is hard to come by.
- The book seems pretty accessible. Sure, she shops at Whole Foods, which is out of a lot of budgets, but for the most part her recipes, beauty tips, and exercises can be done at home without lots of money. In fact, her whole section on self-pampering involves spa stuff you make at home out of (usually) easy-to-get ingredients. Unlike some lifestyle texts, the point here actually seems to be distilling what she’s learned from the pros to young women in a way they can use.
- Her fashion advice is basic and affordable: spend more on fewer items that will last, not more on more. Shop seasonally and for what you need, not as a sport. And so on. The point here is style, not consumerism.
- Lea clearly thinks she’s hot stuff. This is in the highlights category because I think it’s kind of great to see a pretty young woman embrace her attractiveness without being a jerk about it. It doesn’t come off as conceited, just confident and self-possessed. I also think it’s important how she is modeling taking care of herself as an issue of energy and her ability to do her job and feel good rather than the focus on looking good on TV. For example, she candidly writes about how she watched the first season of Glee and noticed that you could tell that she gained 5-6 pounds. She discusses this weight gain, however, in terms of a need to take better care of herself during the intense work schedule. In the photos, how she talks about clothes, exercise, and food, and in her response to people who said she should alter her appearance, the focus is always on taking care of herself, not catering to her image.
- Beauty: In that same vein, several times in the book Lea discusses how the way she looks impacted her career. From not getting a job because she “looked too ethnic” to getting cast because she was “the most Jewish looking” girl on Broadway at the time, she offers plenty of concrete examples of how people were shitty about her appearance. It’s kind of a common occurrence for pretty, successful actresses to pretend like they’re not gorgeous (I’m looking at you, Jennifer Lawrence), but for Lea Michele, the narrative isn’t “Me? I’m not hot! *wink*” Instead, the point of these anecdotes is to demonstrate how the industry is changing and to reinforce that not changing her appearance and staying true to herself were keys to her success.
- Her airplane skincare tips are kind of funny, but, as someone who flies a lot, I’m stealing them.
- She mentions that she and her hair and makeup team on Glee have a tradition of taking pictures of her passed out on the floor in costume after big dance numbers. That should have been an appendix to the book.
- I was surprised by how little of the book focused on relationships. She does mention some breakups and that she dated Matthew Morrison for a “Broadway beat” (what!?!), but mostly the relationships she focuses on are professional and friendships. Obviously her best friendship with Jonathan Groff was always going to be part of the project, but there’s also a significant chapter on friendships and how her girlfriends in L.A. have helped her. It makes me wonder if there wasn’t more on dating that got cut after Cory passed last year.
I’m not so sure about:
- Her assertion that short girls need to show more skin. As a tall girl, I’d never thought about this. Maybe it’s true. Short friends, if you don’t show some skin does your body look weird?
- There’s a lot of moments in which she gestures to how her lessons from Broadway could be helpful in other jobs. I think she’s probably right, but I wish there had been at least one time where she worked through an example in that way more focusedly.
- The talk of living one’s dreams is tempered considerably by how she admits to her own luck, but it’s still corny sometimes.