One of the many inspiring things about Lena Dunham, the actress, writer, producer, and director of the Emmy Award-winning show Girls? Though she wasn’t always quite as popular as she is now, she doesn’t regret a moment of her awkward adolescent years. Emily Greener, co-founder of I Am That Girl, an organization devoted to empowering young girls, caught up with the producer behind the new documentary Suited (premiering June 20 at 9 p.m. on HBO) to talk about the benefits of being a loner, the futility of trying to make everyone like you, and the reason why she’s cool being contrite.
What was it like being you growing up?
As a kid, I went to a school that really valued creativity and difference, so I was all set up to feel included, but I didn’t. It’s interesting because we often have this stereotype that it’s the goth kid left out in the sea of cheerleaders. But even if you’re around people who are similar to you, it’s possible to feel very lonely. I had—and still have—obsessive-compulsive disorder, so I always felt like I had to work hard to try to meet my peers on their level. I often ended up just retreating into my bedroom to write bad poetry.
Do you think there was an upside to not always being the most popular kid in school?
I think I learned what I really loved doing by not having a ton of friends. I spent a whole semester in college just knitting and watching old VHS tapes, and I consider it one of the happiest times in my life because I had a chance to connect to my passions and who I really am. I’m not advocating being a loner, but I am advocating getting comfortable spending time alone. I have some friends who have plans every minute, and when they don’t, they feel lost and confused. When someone cancels on me, I feel like I’ve found $1,000 in my pocket.
How did the experience of having OCD affect you in school?
In high school there was a minute when I got kind of obsessed with what popularity meant—what the science of it was: what you had to do and wear and say to achieve it. I got my own phone line in seventh grade, and I remember literally sitting in my room rolling calls, thinking I’ve got to call every single girl tonight and have a really good conversation with her for 20 minutes and make sure that I’m in. Then there was this moment when I realized that no matter what you do, you can’t control other people’s perceptions of you.
It’s hard not to care what other people think.
Even when you’re an adult, people’s opinions can still hurt. In school it’s a friend talking behind your back. In Hollywood it might be someone you thought liked you but who’s writing a snarky tweet or saying something in the press that’s a little bit directed at you. You’re always up against that high school mentality.
Speaking of other people’s opinions, how do you deal with haters?
Comments like “you’re fat” get to me, but at this point they’re just so old—they’ve stopped having the same effect. What bothers me more is when I feel like I’ve made a mistake, like I’ve said something insensitive to survivors of sexual abuse or
gun violence. I have no problem apologizing publicly. I don’t see why people have such a hard time admitting that they were wrong. That’s part of being alive. I love to apologize.
Watch the video above to see the trailer for Suited, about a Brooklyn-based suit company that caters to the LGBTQ community. Learn more about I Am That Girl and its mission to change the way young girls treat themselves and each other at iamthatgirl.com.