Your body is inherently beautiful, sexy and valuable, no matter the shape or size. If you’ve felt frustrated or hurt by eating or weight jokes amid the pandemic, all of us at Girl Boner Central wanted you to know you’re not alone and send you some worthy TLC. If you’re think the jokes are no big deal or you have a friend or loved one who struggles with poor body image or disordered eating, this week’s Girl Boner Radio episode is for you, too.
Side note: While I recorded this before buzz about Adele’s weight loss hit social media, all of this applies there, too. Praising or otherwise judging weight loss fuels the same problems.
I’m going to do something a little bit different today. Okay, let’s be real. Everything is a bit different lately — for so many of us. One small example you may have noticed: I’m recording from home, versus in the studio. Under a heavy blanket, at the moment.
The things we’re talking about online have shifted during lockdown, too. As soon as the quarantines started, comments and memes involving food and weight sprouted up. “This is me before quarantine, this is me after” a popular one says, with a graphic showing a typical Barbie doll as the “before” and a plump Barbie as the “after.” I’m guessing at least a few of you are wondering, what’s the big deal? You’re just poking fun at yourself, right? For many people, though, I’d argue all of us, on some level, it’s more complicated than that.
Even with the best of intentions, these messages cause harm—especially to large-bodied people, folks with eating disorders, and kids, who we know readily absorb them, which raises their risk for of a whole host of problems from childhood on: poor body image, chronic dieting, low self-esteem, high blood pressure and so much more.
If you’ve followed my work for a while, you know I went through an eating disorder. I consider myself fully past it and haven’t felt hurt by those comments. I have felt frustrated with the remarks and protective of people who are especially vulnerable to them.
So as an act of solidarity with anyone struggling with disordered eating or related challenges — I see you, I believe in you, you’re so rad — I’m going to read a story from my Girl Boner book, about a time I had sex while anorexic. A cheery little number, as you can imagine. Then you’ll hear from a registered dietitian who specializes in eating disorders and, from Dr. Megan, a fun way to feel more pleasure in your body. We’ll finish with a powerful excerpt from an essay about fat-shaming, read by the author herself.
So the story from my book is called The Day My Girl Boner Died.
It’s difficult to pin down exactly when my Girl Boner vanished, but I remember when I noticed. I was in my late teens and working as a model in New York City. While I hadn’t yet been diagnosed, I’d begun developing the primary symptoms of anorexia: a dangerously slight body I perceived as too large, a fixation on food and weight control, and an intense fear of weight gain. My then boyfriend Aiden and I were maintaining a long-distance relationship, and I’d flown back to Minneapolis for a visit.
A Halloween party. Cat Woman. Grapes. Gossipy whispers. Almost sex.
That about sums it up. Aiden had invited me to a costume bash at a co-worker’s house, and I’d dressed as Cat Woman. Rather than embrace the fierce, sensual disposition of the feline superhero as I’ve done since, I felt an odd mix of exposed and invisible. I sensed people’s staring, criticizing eyes, yet felt like an outsider who wasn’t fully there, like George in It’s a Wonderful Life—only nothing wonderful unfolded. I desperately wanted to enjoy myself, but just . . . couldn’t. My social butterflies seemed to have migrated far south.
As the food-filled festivities ensued, I hid inside my black getup, pretend- ing not to notice the increasing cocktail of partiers’ murmurs while my own cup held only water.
“Will she eat anything?” one person whispered. “Look! She’s eating grapes!” said another, as though placing fruit in my mouth was breaking news.
I still don’t know if those voices were real or imagined. Anorexia has a way of distorting comments, glances, the whole world. But they were very real to me. At some point, while sitting on a sofa clutching a grape I’d grappled over eating, its temperature shifting from cool to warm, my head grew heavy, then began to bob, heavy like a bowling ball. The next thing I knew, I’d fallen asleep—something I had never been particularly skilled at when I tried.
More remarks disrupted my involuntary nap a few times. Mumbled criticism, concern and snarky laughter. I was the boring girl who’d fallen asleep.
By the time Aiden jostled me awake—“it’s time to go home”—most of the attendees had left. While I can’t tell you the make or model of his car, I recall vividly the stench of stale, fatty french fries in the air. One sat on the floor, beckoning me. I was so damn hungry.
We headed to his place, where we’d no doubt engage in sexy play. I’d been away for months, after all, and we had both been longing for closeness. But I hadn’t yet realized that my longing had more to do with fear, loneliness, and loss of self, and that sex was the last thing my body wanted. Though my emotions said, “Yes, please! Take me away into erotic oblivion,” my body wanted nothing but the food I resisted and sleep. A shock of fear hit me: did I want sex?
Once in his bedroom, Aiden flipped the lights on.
“Off please,” I said, relieved as the dimness returned—the cloak I needed. As he joined me on the bed, the comforting feel of his strong, warm body was fleeting. I moaned to hide the hungry rumble of my stomach as he entered me, going through the motions as though playing a game of lovemaking charades. It felt a lot like modeling, actually—doing my best to appear alluring, se- ductive, and engaged, a natural fit for my artificial circumstances, hiding behind a makeup mask while aiming to please. But before cameras I felt powerful. Here, I felt foolish and impatient, half present and pretending, half contemplating the breakfast I could finally eat tomorrow. Considering the exercise I’d engage in to undo it later.
Did Aiden actually feel connected to me? Could he sense my absence? I never found out. I used the term “almost sex” earlier because I’m not sure it’s lovemaking if only one person is really there. I’d consented, for sure. If any assault were taking place, ED (the eating disorder) was the attacker. Or perhaps I was assaulting me. Or hurting both of us. Perhaps I was his masturbation tool and he was my time passage, a bit of extra calorie-burn and food avoidance who couldn’t possibly fill the void I was becoming. I couldn’t yet wrap my brain around what was truly happening, largely because anorexia is all-consuming. I shunned myself for not “performing” better for him, ignorant to the fact that I, the young woman who had enjoyed sex even amid her historic body shame, could no longer savor something so pleasurable and natural.
When he, perhaps we, were finished, he slept and I laid there, enveloped by a sad sense of blankness. Not once throughout my anorexic days did I feel sex-hungry or orgasmic. The disease stripped me of my femininity, my sexual- ity, and eventually, it seemed, my soul. And no one throughout my treatment programs ever mentioned sexuality, which only more recently struck me as un- fortunate and bizarre.
Thank you for listening to that. It felt a bit like reading from my diary, only writing that took a lot longer. I’m so grateful to be in a far healthier, happier place now, much thanks to embracing my sexuality. I want that same healing and self-embracement for everyone. I wish I could copy/paste my recovery for anyone who wants and needs it. Instead, I’m bringing you dietitian Robyn L. Goldberg. We chatted by Skype about navigating common eating-related challenges of late, her new book and her advice for anyone who’s struggling right now.
I’m really grateful to be speaking with you through this medium. Last time you joined me in the studio, which was so fun. And now we’re adapting to this remote life. How has your life changed?
Well all my clients are virtual now and it’s interesting to be in front fo a computer all day having Zoom sessions all day. I think it’s a really challenging time for everyone. I have many clients who are really struggling because there’s so much focus now on availability of food and if there are safe foods and how will they get food and it’s an ongoing conversation. I think it’s a really activating time if a person is struggling with body image issues and eating disorders because of what’s going on.
Absolutely… What are some of the most common concerns you’re hearing?
I think what’s hard is when a person is rigid with food and they have so much anxiety to go to the grocery store in general or ambivalence about going out or takeout or curbside.
One thing I bring up is to give themself some slack, to try to be kinder to themself. If you’re craving, let’s say potatoes and you go to the grocery store and there’s not a potato in sight, or there’s not an organic sweet potato in sight, to be open—which is easier said than done, I realize—to “oh, there happens to be some rice available.” It can be very pressing to ask someone to be openminded. Like my last client said she would only eat green apples. I said, “Pretend that we didn’t have these other produce options available now. Could you try a different fruit?” And today she’s like, “Robyn, I had grapefruit several times and I had raspberries several times…”
People are hanging onto their rules for dear life, because of what’s happening with this pandemic. When a person has a challenges around food and body, it seems like this is what we can control. So the anxiety has heightened on so many levels.
That brings up so many wonderful points, one being that people who have not struggled with disordered eating in the past might start feeling like that’s the one thing they can control. Then we’re also seeing so many different messages—memes with these jokes that say “me before quarantine, me after quarantine.” And it’s really painful for people who’ve gone through eating disorders or who have larger bodies, to see themselves reflected.
Or the one with the masks. I’ve had three people send me this one with the masks, “to prevent you putting food in your mouth.” And it’s offensive. I know it’s meant to be funny, but if someone was a stress eater or an anxiety eater before, it’s definitely skyrocketed. Or maybe this has been their new way of coping. It’s unfortunate that diet culture has jumped on this band wagon, to make memes and other statements about food that there is not the science to back up.
So for people who don’t know better, they think the jokes are funny, what would you recommend to them? Because the chance that of them being around someone who might be struggling is pretty high.
I think really to be able to keep your own comments about your body, your food choices within yourself…because people are on-edge. They’re very uncomfortable… And also, being able to not even have as a general conversation piece, as innocent as it can be. I would bring up other conversations — perhaps it’s exploring a hobby or interest that you used to partake in and got so busy with life that it hasn’t been happening…
I’ve been really struck by the ways people talk about comfort eating, as thought it’s a bad thing. What are your thoughts on eating to soothe ourselves?
People are seeking comfort on so many levels now, and we’re not necessarily able to hug a friend or give someone a high five. Areas that we have taken for granted — and this has been an important time from a self-exploration standpoint, in regards to when life can return back to normal or this might be our new normal — to be able to look at, sometimes we take comfort in food. Whether it’s the food choice or the amount we’re eating, that’s okay. I know for me, the other day I enjoyed three-quarters of a pint of salted caramel ice cream. That’s what I wanted and it sounded great to me. And I think to be able to give yourself permission to seek comfort, even if it’s the form of eating or food. It’s normal. People who have a normal relationship to food do this.
Absolutely. Sometimes you’re craving something because your body wants to feel better. There’s nothing wrong with that… So your book released, which is so exciting, because last time we spoke it was in-process. Remind people about the book and what they can get from it.
Yes, so my book is called The Eating Disorder Trap: A Guide for Clinicians and Loved Ones. And it’s a book that’s written in a simplistic manner for anybody—you don’t have to be a clinician in the eating disorder field. It could be a friend, a family member, a physician, a coach. Anyone… This is really a wraparound book that addresses the psychological, the medical, the nutritional and when you have a team, and then the compassionate side. There are 34 illustrations that encompass non-gender conforming individuals, non-gender incorporated vocabulary, all ages, shapes and sizes. I share something lighthearted before I dive into what the particular subject matter is. It includes expert contributors in the field: 4 well-known eating disorder physicians, two well-known eating disorder therapists, and it’s great because I wanted a resource that anybody could pick up and relate to and not have just another book about eating disorders… I always said if I ever wrote a book, I would want it to be a standout publication.
It really is and I’m so grateful for the care you put in… I’ve so far read an early draft and I was so struck by how much love and care and inclusivity – it’s so powerful and it’s such a readable book. The content can feel really intense and I thought you made it very approachable.
What tips would you leave for anyone struggling with disordered eating right now, to provide them some of that compassion, to instill a sense of hope in these darker times?
Well I think for individuals to know there are so many online resources, many free ones for meal and snack support, therapeutic support. There’s a lot of support out there. And to know that it’s never too late in your process to ask for help. And it’s great to see many of the success stories that I’ve worked with and I’ve seen and I’ve known, individuals who’ve come back later and they’re thriving in their fields or my field or became a physician.. It’s remarkable. And to know that if I want help, I can explore what resources are there and be creative. If you’re open and you surrender to it, it’s there.
Learn more about Robyn at askaboutfood.com, and her book at theeatingdisordertrap.com. Rather than answer a listener’s question this week, I asked our resident sex and relationship therapist, Dr. Megan Fleming, to share a way to experience more pleasure in our bodies.
A simple way to feel more pleasure in our bodies is to practice and prioritize pleasure every single day. And so by that I mean when you wake up in the morning—perhaps you want to prioritize it before you even get out of bed. Perhaps you want to leave a small chocolate there or your favorite sex toy within reach, really thinking about any given day, what does your body need? What is it longing for? What kind of pleasure does it want to play with?
And it’s your opportunity to expand your repetoire. Because arousal and pleasure are both in our minds and our bodies. So explore different kinds of touch, as well as sensations. You can think about temperature, as well as sex toys that you might like. And try new technology—vibration versus the pulsation, such as the Womanizer versus the Satisfier. So really recognizing that we know what we know, we don’t know what we don’t know. So practice and prioritize every day what feels good in your body and/or if your mind is looking for those turn-ons, everything from your fantasies and peak sexual experiences to checking out some erotic literature.
And knowing that whatever turns us on in our mind’s eye doesn’t necessarily mean we want to do it in real life. And also, some fantasy can be a little politically incorrect. And yet, if it’s your turn-on, I want you to explore it. Because the more we know about what gives us pleasure both mentally and physically, the more we can communicate that to our partner. So each day I want you to really think about what time you’re going to carve out, when that’s going to be—non-negotiable—and also to think about the environment. You might want to take a hot shower before, thinking about the lighting of the room, lighting candles, aromatherapy, music. Really creating a pleasure container for your exploration and discovery. As always, I’d love to hear how that goes.
And for anyone who’s interested in delving a little bit deeper into pleasure, I hope you’re going to join my 9-day pleasure challenge. Every day in your inbox you’re going to receive a pleasure prompt—in a sense, a pleasure practice—so that each day you’re going to try something on that doesn’t take a lot of time or cost a lot of money. I can assure you, because I’ve been doing this a while, those who do this consistently or two or three of those nine days, they find the value and the value and the recognition, it doesn’t take a lot of time. And I think that is so key, especially now. Most of us say we don’t have any. I really encourage you to try this challenge because I know that you will be more than pleasantly surprised. Register and join at greatlifegreatsex.com/pleasure. I can’t wait to see you there.
I love that idea. Thank you, Dr. Megan. Please do check out her free 9-day pleasure challenge and download a free gift at greatlifegreatsex.com/pleasure.
So I was already preparing this episode when I came upon a powerful essay by Chaya Milchtein called Are You Worried About Getting Fat Like Me?… I’m so grateful she agreed to join me here for you all.
Through her brand, Mechanic Shop Femme, Chaya teaches virtual automotive classes—like, “how the heck do I buy a used car” and “the whys and whens of car maintenance.”
She also writes for various outlets, such as the Twin Cities publication rewire.org and Shondaland. She told me that all of her work has a through line: to uplift women’s voices in the automotive industry and share automotive knowledge with regular everyday drivers. She won’t teach you how to fix your own car, she said, but she will teach you what it needs and why—so that when you take your car in, you’re confident about repairs and saying no when something seems off.
Chaya also empowers people about their bodies. She told me she’s very become open about her fatness and about her struggles with her body and clothing.
And even in her carefully curated social media circles, where people accept her, she noticed fat-shaming related to the pandemic. Some people seemed more worried about gaining weight while staying home than virtually anything else. Others have used memes about impending weight gain—those “before and afters” — to make light of a “funny” part of quarantine life. Here’s what’s really not funny: Numerous large-scale studies have show that fat-shaming comments fuel depression, eating disorders, low self-esteem, extreme stress and more.
Here’s some of what she shared with me about the piece, her motivation for writing it, how it felt to write it and how people have responded:
I felt like it wasn’t that people were intentionally trying to hurt me or demonize me or in any way impact my life. Instead, they were worried about themselves and not realizing the impact that their words could have on other people. Now I don’t have an eating disorder. And I don’t have any kind of food trauma or things that could become a major problem for me if I see these types of posts, but other people do. And it’s not just about me I happen to be fat. And people see this about me, and they’ll still post it. But when I shared my story, I got tons of comments from people who were very slim and very conventionally attractive, who had the same body struggles and the same food struggles and eating disorders had similar experiences, but nobody would even consider that that was a problem.
I mentioned in the piece not just my fatness, but also things like polycystic ovarian syndrome, which causes body hair. And when I was writing it this, one of the things that came up for me was about maybe eight to 10 months ago, I shared an article in a very large liberal Facebook group with over 3 million people in it. And it was a swimsuit look-book where—you’ll find one of those images in the blog post—I wore bikinis and one-piece swimsuits and showcased them so that other people have by size could see what they look like on their body before they go and buy them. Wearing a bikini on the internet a my size is scary enough, but some people had the gall to pick apart the fact that I had facial hair, minor amounts of facial hair, in the comments of that piece. So that’s an incident that came up for me but also a lot of the things that I went through as a child… My parents were plus-sized but there were still comments made by other people, including my parents, on how they felt about my size. Like somehow I was different because I was a child…or something along those lines.
I think I’m lucky enough to have done a lot of the healing that I needed to do in the past. Obviously some things reopen old wounds. But really, when I put this out there and I saw the impact it was having on people, anything I could have possibly gone through or any concern I had about sharing this very personal part about myself kind of melted away… I sat there and I was overwhelmed with this feeling of just pure positive energy from every direction from people who had the opportunity to read this I connected with it.
I’m so glad Chaya felt that surge of positive energy, which she provides for many people, as you’ll hear in this excerpt from her essay:
Well here I am. The fat woman, the person you are afraid of becoming, who has the competence of a world leader? How else could I possibly face all of my so called friends as they demonize my very existence?
My body is strong and powerful. my will to be who I am and change the world in. Exactly the body I was given is unshakable. I stand here like a brick statue on a windy day, unmoved by the daggers of your words, unaffected by the pitiful eyes, I could feel staring up at me from the depths of the computer screen. As you fear becoming me.
I want to tell you, that the world on this side of the screen is not so bad after all. The competence I have in myself is achievable for you to the work I have done to fall in love with by hairy double—no triple—chin and my flabby arms is work you can do, too. I promise you, it’s possible to not look in the mirror and despise what you see back at any size.
As your body changes, you have the ability to hug yourself tighter, show compassion for your feelings, and then kick them as far away as possible. Because you are beautiful. Your body is exactly as it was meant to be. And it was meant to change. In strange and trying times like these, instead of worrying about how you’re going to keep the shape of your body from changing, which it’s adapted to do, focus on how to avoid infection and having a plan for if you get sick. Focus on how to keep your to keep eating food and maintain joyful movement in ways that make you feel energized and strong. Focus on how you’re going to stay in touch with the people in your life who help keep you happy and balanced! That scoop of ice cream you desire to help allay the fear and strain you’re feeling from the pandemic, enjoy it. Now more than ever, you’re a lot more important than the weight on a scale.
I couldn’t agree with Chaya, Dr. Megan or Robyn Goldberg more. Learn more about them and my book at the [below links]. And if you enjoyed the episode I’d so appreciate a rating and review. Thanks so much for listening and have a beautiful, Girl Boner-embracing week.
- Girl Boner: The Good Girl’s Guide to Sexual Empowerment by August McLaughlin
- The Eating Disorder Trap: A Guide for Clinicians and Loved Ones by Robyn L. Goldberg, RDN, CEDRD-S
- Free 9-Day Pleasure Challenge via Dr. Megan Fleming
- Are You Worried About Getting Fat Like Me? by Chaya Milchtein