This Is Just My Face: Try Not To Stare by Gabourey Sidibe

Sometimes you get a celebrity memoir that you can tell is ghostwritten and focus-grouped to death, and it’s as boring as shit.

This is not that.

Gabourey Sidibe is an American actress, whose first acting role in Precious in 2009 catapulted her into the public eye. She’s a Black woman who is fat, with an African name, and she’s in a business where all of those things work against her. She’s got the personality and the attitude to take all of that on, and she does so. In this book, she goes to some brutally honest places to show how Gabourey became Gabourey.

She’s very honest and open about her struggles with depression and disordered eating, how intensive therapy worked for her, and the unconventional dynamics of her family.  The story of how she got the role of Precious is almost last – she wants you to understand who she was before that audition, and how she became that person. It’s a story that involved growing up struggling in New York City, dealing with her father going back to Senegal and marrying other people before getting divorced from her mother, and working as a phone sex operator.

You can tell these are all Gabourey’s words because she writes like she talks, and her voice is identical to her Twitter and Instagram feeds. She projects a confidence in herself, and at the same time, admits that sometimes this is a front. There’s a fascinating bit where she ponders why she stayed with a boyfriend she didn’t like, and what that said about her self-esteem. She also has a habit towards long rambling paragraphs and parenthetical asides that makes for a fun read.

There are also a few times where she talks about how she was getting a lot of attention for Precious, but before it had been picked up by a studio with money, so she was attending film festivals but didn’t have the money for stylists or clothes (so she ended up standing between Paula Patton and Mariah Carey in Payless shoes), which seems profoundly unfair. She’s got enough distance from that experience that it’s now funny.

She also talks about how a rumor that started that she died from an asthma attack affected her and her family. She’s not dead, but even though she called her mom to say “Hey, people think I died, isn’t that hilarious?” she still got worried calls from her family weeks later.

There were a lot of sections that really got me where I lived. I’m not Black, and I can only acknowledge that I will never experience life that way, but when she talks about her experiences with dating, or worrying about her weight (and then being like “fuck you I shouldn’t have to feel bad about my size!”), those are things I identified with a lot.

I also really liked the conclusions she came to at the end, specifically that the act of writing the book was its own form of therapy. She recognizes that the Gabourey at the end of writing the book wasn’t quite the same woman who started it, and that by writing out her complicated history with her father, for example, she was able to come to terms with a lot of things. I think that writing-as-therapy is something that most of us know, but it’s rarely talked about in such blunt terms. Also of note: Gabourey is now promoting a film she directed, The Tale of Four, which premiered at the Nantucket Film Festival.

This is a really interesting memoir by someone who I didn’t know much about. She’s got a complicated life story, and a great attitude as she sashays her way through her life. She’s funny, and touching. And, as ever, the inner lives of Black women are still not something that receives nearly enough attention.

Also the stories about being a phone sex operator are HILARIOUS. I’d tell you to read it just for those.

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