Book: Everything’s Trash, But It’s Okay by Phoebe Robinson
Age/Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir, Humour
Content Notes: Body Image Talk, Racial and Gender Inequality
Like my other review this month, this book was given to me for my birthday. My husband saw it and thought it looked like something I’d enjoy. He knows me pretty well, that one.
Everything’s Trash But It’s Okay is a collection of essays by comedian Phoebe Robinson. I hadn’t heard of Robinson before (cue my usual “I really need to check out more comedy” lament), but the first thing I saw on her IMDB page was called “I Love Dick” which got an instant laugh. Then I saw this was her second book, the first being You Can’t Touch My Hair, and Other Things I Still Have to Explain and I figured I’d probably be interested in things she has to say.
The foreword by Ilana Glazer prepares the reader for Robinson’s personality and writing style. You know to expect all sorts of “abbrevs” even when talking about serious issues like race and gender.
Robinson opens by explaining some ways that the world currently is and isn’t a giant dumpster fire. Things that aren’t trash: Beyonce at Coachella, flying without seat neighbors, Pamplemousse LaCroix. Things that are trash: Brexit, ebola, celebrity deaths. She then shares a story of when she did a trash thing, looking up David Bowie’s penis size days after he passed. This mix of serious issues and everyday silliness continues throughout the book. Robinson’s point in the introduction is that the world, like individual people, can simultaneously be trash and pretty darn awesome. We can recognize the bad while still appreciating the good.
This book is a collection of individual essays that have been edited to flow as a cohesive piece. Each chapter stands pretty well on it’s own, but they do reference each other occasionally. Robinson shares her journey to comedic and authorial success, and all the trash she experienced along the way. Some of the pieces are formatted as lists, sharing non-trash moments in her life, as well as ways that being a woman is “ridic.”
In “I Was a Size 12 Once, For Like Twenty-Seven Minutes,” Robinson talks about her experiences with her body image, influenced by her work with stylists for photo shoots. Robinson has been below a size 12 for most of her life, but as her body has changed, she has come to realize that she has internalized a lot of fat-phobia. She shares statistics about employers’ views of heavy women, and how beauty standards are set by the straight male gaze. One thing I enjoy about this entire collection is that Robinson points out how society often presents heterosexuality as the default, but she doesn’t play into it. She doesn’t complain about how men sexually objectify women, she complains about how straight men do so. When she talks about how much she likes the peen, she always throws in a caveat about how readers’ preferences may vary. She doesn’t have a default audience – she’s never talking only to women, or only to straight people, or only to people of a specific race – her book is for anyone, and the language backs that up. Many authors claim their work is universal, but it posits their life experience as default. Robinson shares her life experiences, but in no way positions them as universal.
The second essay, “Feminism, I was Rooting for You, We Were All Rooting For You,” uses Tyra Banks’s infamous scolding of America’s Next Top Model contestant Tiffany Richardson as an impetous to express disappointment in parts of the modern feminist movement. Robinson offers insightful critiques of how mainstream feminism often excludes people and lists some harmful trends dressed up as feminism. I loved this section, not only because it echoed a lot of stuff I’ve been reading and agreeing with, but because I felt this was simultaneously a kind-yet-firm call out. Robinson doesn’t judge people who make mistakes, but she does ask them to do better, which I think is exactly how we should be working toward equality.
A recurring topic in Everything’s Trash But It’s Okay is Robinson’s infatuation with U2, and specifically, Bono. She’s always admired his music and philanthropy, and after defending his honor on her podcast, has ended up meeting him a couple times. I’m not particularly interested in U2, but watching Robinson fangirl over Bono was a lot of fun. Even though she finds him super attractive, she expresses this in ways that respect his marriage and humanity, rather than objectifying him.
Overall, I think this book has a lot of similarities to Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? but I liked it a ton more. Both of the books follow the sometimes outrageous happenings in the life of an aspiring female comedian, both share the settings of LA and New York, and both include essays alongside listicle-style pieces. But where I felt Kaling’s jokes were often made at the expense of people with different lifestyles or priorities than her, I found Robinson’s jokes to be more… positive. Like, she makes fun of things people do, but she does so in an empathetic way. It probably helps that she often makes fun of herself, but does so in a way that isn’t self-deprecating. Her humor really drives home the idea that sure, we all do trash things sometimes, but it’s okay. We can have fun anyway and we can strive to be better people.
As someone new to Robinson’s work, I thought this was a great introduction. It made me want to check out her new movie on Netflix, as well as her first book. Her use of made-up slang and abbreviations is a lot of fun, and is accessible even if that’s not really your style. Some of her euphemisms made me roll my eyes, but I kinda feel like they’re meant to. She’s a comedian who uses light-hearted language to bring levity to serious issues. The point is to inject a certain amount of silliness, and it works.
Everything’s Trash But It’s Okay is the perfect light bathtub read, offering laughs as well as social commentary. Whether you’re a Phoebe Robinson fan or a newbie like me, her personal style of humor is accessible and fun, with plenty of annotations to explain abbreviations and slang that you may be unfamiliar with (because Robinson made it up, likely the second before she wrote it down). The tone is conversational, and Robinson doesn’t act like her opinion on things is the end-all-be-all. If the trash going on in the world has you down, this book just might pick you up.