Gurley Talk

Rereading 'Sex and the Single Girl'

Granted, Brown was writing in a time when ideals of beauty were standardized and anything but inclusive. But 40 years later, the us-versus-them dichotomy has a curious effect: The book is an astonishingly liberating read. Instead of the current, personality-annihilating zeitgeist that we can all be millionaires (or at least millionaires' wives) Brown frees us to be ourselves, warts and all. Yes, she suggests covering those warts—along with bleaching, buying a wig, and plastic surgery ("Oh, my foes and oh, my friends—the results!"). Yes, she exhorts us again and again to work on ourselves ("like a son of a bitch," in fact) but—to change the emphasis—she exhorts us again and again to work on ourselves. Rather than slavishly devote herself to an ideal, or follow one set of—ahem—"Rules" in order to catch a man, Brown, writing in the supposedly more conformist time, encourages the single girl to be more expressly individualistic. No wonder she took sex as her subject: The most individualistic thing about oneself is one's sexuality.

The Single Girl can't help it: Helen Gurley Brown.
photo: Sylvia Plachy
The Single Girl can't help it: Helen Gurley Brown.

So read Sex and the Single Girl for the hilarious set pieces on dating Don Juans and Married Men, or for the bizarrely specific advice on money ("Don't retire, retread") or for Brown's one-line dismissal of churchgoing ("Friends tell me it offers spiritual benefits, but few men") but cherish it for another reason: the encouragement to be yourself.

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