Samantha Irby Keeps It Real
To say that blogger Samantha Irby “tells it like it is” would be a gross understatement. Literally. The 33-year-old Chicago native, who published her first book, Meaty, earlier this month isn’t shy when it comes to sharing what’s on her mind or going on in her body.
Irby, who pens the popular blog bitchesgottaeat, has developed a cult following documenting her struggles with Crohn’s disease, failed romances and other topics that will have every woman shouting, “OMG, me too!”
One of Irby’s fans accosted me on the train as I was reading Meaty and proceeded to tell me how much she loves the blogger. Admittedly, after reading a few chapters, I became a fangirl myself…so much so that I tracked Irby down at a recent reading:
Whether she’s writing about her latest inflammatory bowel disease attack or documenting a sexual escapade gone awry (sometimes simultaneously), you’ll most likely be able to relate to Irby’s tell-all book. Her raw honesty and scathing sense of humor will make you laugh out loud…at least, I did.
In a phone interview with Irby, she tells JET what it was like growing up as an “Oreo,” why women should love themselves and more.
JET: What is the story behind the name Meaty?
Samantha Irby: Meaty is my favorite euphemism for fat. Lots of people have a hard time calling themselves fat or saying fat. Meaty is the best euphemism, according to me. I like meaty.
JET: I like it! What is the inspiration behind the book?
SI: The book is a collection of essays. Some of them are funny, some of them are serious. There are some topics that I write abut in my blog and some things I don’t. I write about Crohn’s disease, stories from when I was a kid, romance, dating and fears about that. I write a lot more about my body than I typically do. It goes a little deeper than the blog. I have people who rabidly read my stuff and I wanted to give them something a little more in depth and I wanted to write it in a different way, so there are some narrative pieces in the book that I don’t do in the blog.
JET: So how was blogging different from writing a book for you?
SI: With the blog, I get feedback right away from people. I wrote all of the stories for the book last year and just had to sit and wait to see what people think about it, which is excruciating. It’s weird, but it’s cool.
JET: How would you describe your style of writing?
SI: Everybody writes about universal themes. I think my style of being super honest and super open about things that scare me or things I’m feeling is really relateable to a lot of different people. One of the things I didn’t want to do when I started my blog is pretend my life is perfect or that I’m perfect. I feel like in that way, I’ve managed to put words to what a lot of us women feel.
There’s something for everyone to relate to and if you don’t directly relate to it, you’ll at least be amused or moved by it. A lot of people never had diarrhea in a diaper in public. But I write about it in a way that makes you laugh and makes you understand people like me. I just think my style is really relateable and funny, even the uncomfortable stuff. We all need a laugh. I’m really into hearing what women are going through and being like man, we’re all in this together.
JET: Just based on the title of your chapter “Milk and Oreos,” I was able to relate to you. Growing up, kids would call me an Oreo because I was “Black on the outside and White on the inside” and spoke proper English. What was that experience like for you?
SI: As a kid, your knee-jerk reaction is to be stung. Why are they taking issue with the way I talk? There’s nothing about that I can change. From a young age, it’s just growing up with a feeling that the core part of who you are is wrong. It was a big hurdle for me. Racial identity is so crazy. We’re not taught how to deflect that…
Trying to talk about race when you sound like a Valley Girl is tough. Not everyone is trying to hear about it from me. When I first started addressing it, I got so many emails from “super hardcore Black people” saying you don’t count. It’s like we’re not “Black enough,” but we’re certainly not White. Race is so tricky, especially when you’re like me. A lot of people think I can’t relate to that person because she’s Black or she’s Asian. So I’m really trying to break down that wall as well.
JET: What do you want people to take away from your book?
SI: I want all of us to have this conversation together without sugarcoating it. With Facebook and Instagram, it’s so easy to pretend your life is something it isn’t, craft your own narrative and decide what people get to know about you. But for me, it’s really important to be like I’ve been wearing the same pants for four days.
For women, I just want us to be entertained and happy…laughing and feeling a kindred spirit. In general, men and can laugh and enjoy it, too. I would hope that it makes men more compassionate and thoughtful and appreciative of what women are going through. I just want men to have a better understanding of what complicated and complex nuances woman are.
JET: What is your advice for women who want to be less self-conscious and more comfortable in their own skin, like you?
SI: There are a lot of fashion blogs for curvy women. One thing I do every day is get on Tumblr and scroll through images of beautiful plus-size women. I look at them every day and think about how beautiful they are. I’d never talk about any of them the way I internally criticize myself. I’m really trying to reinforce however I look is okay. I try not to give too much attention to negative voices. I don’t think it would hurt anyone else to look at images of beautiful women of all shapes and sizes.
The other thing is I’m really proud of my brain. I understand I am a smart and capable person. That, for me, is the biggest reinforcement. I don’t often look at the mirror and think “you’re hot stuff.” My consolation is I’m funny. I’m a person who made this [blog] and people are interested in it. So I counteract all the negative voices with positive ones. I try to make the positive voices louder than the negative ones and that keeps me from walking out in the middle of traffic.
One of these days, we’ll live in a place where those physical things don’t matter and we can just carry around a list of our accomplishments and IQs. Until then, just make your positive voices shut down your negative voices. I struggle with it every day.
JET: After reading your blog and excerpts from your book, I have to say, you’re like my new best friend in my head! I imagine a lot of your fans feel the same way.
SI: Girl, we already are. I say the sh*t that you think, you think the sh*t that I say. Last week, I met a girl in Starbucks who started crying because she was such a huge fan of the blog. I put my real self out there and trusting that people will accept me and receive me and it’ll in turn help them. That’s the goal, to make 1,000 new best friends. It’s all about lifting you up!