The Day My #GirlBoner Died: Sexlessness, Anorexia and a Call for Stories

“It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.”  ― Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

Start straight for business

It’s difficult to pin down exactly when my Girl Boner vanished, but I do recall when I noticed. I was in my late teens and had left my Minnesota hometown to work as a model in Manhattan. While I hadn’t yet been diagnosed, I’d recently developed the primary symptoms of anorexia: a dangerously slight body I perceived as too large, a hyper-fixation on food and weight control and an intense fear of added pounds. My high school boyfriend “Max” 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’s virtually all I remember. Max had invited me to a costume bash at a coworker’s house, and I’d dressed as Cat Woman. Rather than embrace the sensual, powerful disposition of the feline superhero as I’ve done in healthy years since, I felt equally invisible and exposed. As the food-filled festivities ensued, I hid within the all-black getup, sensing others’ stares and murmurs as though observing critics ripping apart a one-woman show. “Will she eat anything?” one person whispered. Another snickered. “Look! She’s eating grapes.” I still don’t know if those voices were real or imagined. Anorexia has a peculiar 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, I fell asleep—something I’d never been particularly skilled at when I tried. As I slept, I occasionally perceived more mumbled criticism, concern and snarky laughter. I was the boring girl who’d fallen asleep.

By the time Max jostled me awake, the party was wrapping up and most of the attendees had left. While I couldn’t tell you the make or model of his car, I vividly recall the stench of stale, fatty French fries in the air. We headed to his place, both anticipating having sex. I had been away for months, after all, and we’d both been longing for closeness. What I hadn’t realized was 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 food I was resisting and sleep.

In the dimness of the room I’d demanded, the comforting feel of his strong, warm body was fleeting. I moaned to cover the sound of my stomach rumbling 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 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 afraid.

I used the term “almost sex” earlier because I’m not sure it’s lovemaking if only one person is really there. I suppose I was his masturbation tool and he was my time passage, a bit of extra calorie-burn and food avoidance who could never fill the kind of 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, completely ignorant to the fact that I, the young woman who’d loved sex even amid her historic body shame, could no longer want for something as natural as air. When he, perhaps we, were finished, he slept and I laid there overcome by a sad sense of blankness. But at least I hadn’t eaten (said E.D.).

Anorexia starves the soul, body and appetite, and not merely of food. Bit by bit, it steals a woman’s femininity and her hunger for life, withholding her not merely from filling out physically, but living as largely as she deserves. On a smaller but no less significant scale, dieting, health-food and fitness obsessions and poor body image can cause the same.

Since recovering from my eating disorder and regaining my Girl Boner (and all its glory!), I’ve been struck by the fact that most elite models, who many women strive to emulate with hopes of appearing sexier, meet the diagnostic criteria for anorexia. In other words, they don’t possess the sexiness they sell—they can’t. I’ve also learned that body image, self-care and sexuality are inseparable. When one part of the triangle suffers, they all do.

Immeasurably grateful for my own recovery, I’ve made it my life’s mission to help fix these broken triangles. When we embrace and nurture our bodies, emotional selves and sexuality, we feel capable, free, unstoppable and alive. And you know what? We are.

A Call for Stories

If you agree and would like to help make a difference, here’s a way you can! I’m working on a special project related to these issues. If you or someone you know has worked in the fashion/entertainment industry and grappled with poor body image, an eating disorder, obsessive weight control and/or related sexual challenges and would be willing to discuss these experiences with me, let me know in the comments below or via email (augustmclaughlin at gmail dot com) with “Interview” in the subject line. Anyone who participates can optionally remain anonymous and will be contributing to something truly beautiful.

Fashion experience or not, do you relate to my story? How has your body image influenced your sexuality? Whatever your thoughts, I’d love to hear them! 

 

Leave a comment

29 Comments

  1. Your ability to bring me on scene with you, to show so poignantly that specific night and your raw emotion is a gift, August. I’m constantly amazed by the range of your talents, your energy, and the SOARING success you made of recovery.

    I have no names to provide for your project, but anxiously await the fruit of your labor.

    One sentence struck me. The one about desire for sex having more to do with fear, loneliness and loss of self. My situation wasn’t the same, but the sentiments were oh-so similar in my relationships. I saw sex as a way to validate that I was needed/wanted, and had some value to someone.

    My Girl Boner power didn’t flip the switch until you entered the picture to assure us it was okay to masturbate, to take pride in our bodies, and to love ourselves for the person we are.

    And, through example, to strive to be more, do more, achieve more…because the only limits on my potential for success are those I impose on myself.

    P.S. I visited The Geeksters yesterday because of another computer problem and cajoled them into downloading what I need to follow your podcasts. WOOT!

    Reply
    • Those are day-making words, Gloria! I’m so touched that this post and all-things-Girl Boner have struck you. I really believe we can all learn from stories of this nature, whether we’ve had the same specific issues or not — thanks for affirming that! :)

      Huge kudos to YOU! It’s one thing to bring light to a topic and an entirely different, and more challenging feat to recognize and address the need for change in your own life. GB-land would not be as sparkly without you! Hope you enjoy the podcasts!

      Reply
  2. Again, August, your compelling story shows us how all-consuming and deadly E.D. is. Every time you write about E.D., I know that somewhere a woman says, “that’s me. That’s how I feel.” Then, the healing begins, a long road, as you know, but at least there is a sliver of hope. Thank you, always, for sharing your remarkable story. You give the rest of us a way to understand but most important, to be better.
    Karen

    Reply
  3. Your story was inspirational. I have a story though I’m not sure it would be appropriate because it is male-oriented. Yep, men have body image issues and though they’ll laugh them off and keep on doing whatever they’re doing until they drop or gain the image they think they see. Can I relate a story, with a happy ending?

    Reply
    • Share away! I’m featuring men’s body image struggles, too, which are becoming continually more common. The project I mentioned is specific to the fashion industry, but I’m always eager to hear and share inspiring stories. Congrats on the happy ending!

      Reply
  4. Now and then I begin to think your mind is a little too one-tracked. Then you’ll post something like this that reminds me why you write what you do. I’m sure many women need to hear your uplifting messages and that they derive great benefit from them. You also broaden my view of inner attitudes which affect women – not that I think I’ll ever truly understand women. You are complex people, but I imagine women say the same thing about men, even though we are much simpler to understand.

    Reply
    • Thanks, David! I always appreciate your honest insight and encouragement. I hope that one day messages of sexual empowerment for women won’t be so lacking. If that happens in my lifetime, I’ll focus more on other topics! :)

      Reply
    • Dear David… didn’t you hear that: if God had wanted that men understand women, we’d be born with a User Manual. LOL

      Reply
  5. Hi August! Do you want stories of EDs and sexual identity from only those who have worked in the fashion or entertainment industry? I haven’t been in either of those but would love to contribute if I can. :)

    Reply
    • Hi Kelsey! I’m looking for stories involving or related to the fashion/entertainment industries for this particularly project. If you’d be willing to share thoughts on how media/entertainment have influenced you regarding EDs and sexual identity, I’d love to talk to you. :) Thanks for your interest!

      Reply
      • krunr20

         /  April 2, 2014

        I’d love to help however I can! Hmm, also what about thinspo and/or fitspo? I’ve definitely “dabbled” in that too, which I’m not proud to admit at all. Talk about stuff that tricks you into thinking that’s sexy and in reality it’s crushing it. Just thinking “aloud”

      • Great! And I LOVE your thoughts. I’ll drop you a note soon with more details on this project. :)

      • krunr20

         /  April 2, 2014

        Sounds good my dear!

  6. Dear August,
    this post reminds me very much of myself – in many ways (but probably for another reason).
    I am working in a position where some people think “looks” are most important… thank God there are others, like my boss, who appreciate my brains, and not my butt instead.

    The feeling of “carefully” being watched, the whispers, the critics, the bad words, the rumors I know this all!
    I know how other people can distort your own vision of body image… So far this had been done to me since I’m a child – and it’s never really healed.
    There are days I’m suffering, days the slightest whisper hurts.
    There are other days, I get along much better… but fact is: I would rather be like I “should be” than the way I am – and this will stay with me for the rest of my life.
    The inconsiderateness and impertinence of some people judging me before even knowing my name is cruel and sometimes leaves me speechless.
    If you do like to talk about this, a woman who has experienced all this without being able to take the blame and still fights for her right to be herself, then I’m prepared to talk to you.

    Thanks for sharing your post, August!

    Reply
    • When I was deep in the body image issue I was so convinced that other people saw my distorted body like I did that I would demand of them to tell me the truth.
      “But you look fine. Yes, perhaps a bit bloated, but it’s not bad.”
      “Are you serious?! I look pregnant!”
      Granted, I did. About three times. Usually I was just a little bit bloated and the pain was what made me so self-conscious.
      So our minds can really get twisted.

      Reply
    • Wow, Raani. I really feel for you! I hope you will talk to me, if needed. Those people have no idea what they’re missing out on by judging people so harshly against such a wonky ruler.

      Reply
  7. A great post August, I can’t give any insights into anorexia. I do know that by being a little bigger than normal or the wrong BMI leaves you open to scorn. My weight has fluctuated throughout my whole life, I’ve been Olympic fit and Moby Dick fat. Now I’m losing weight again. It’s crazy but I do know that depression can play a huge part in the process. Life quite often makes me wonder.
    Cheers
    Laurie.

    Reply
    • Depression absolutely does tie in to weight issues, Laurie, and I’m sure many relate to your fluctuations. GRRR, regarding BMI scores. :) So many people are told they need to change, when no such changes are needed.

      As a side note, I’ve always found that focusing on what we gain, rather than anything we need to lose (be in added pounds or another negative) helps tremendously. Interestingly, the issues that affect underweight and overweight are often identical.

      Life really is wild sometimes, right?

      Reply
      • BMI’s are crazy sometimes. I knew a body builder who couldn’t get into the police because of a high BMI. It doesn’t take muscle mass into account. I’m classed as obese, yes there is some fat there, though my waist is smaller than my chest size. It’s all crazy. Yes, we have to keep our eye on the prize. August, life is one crazy, wild, unbelievable trip and I’m in no hurry to leave it anytime soon.
        Cheers
        Laurie. :-)

  8. I’ve had incredibly bad self-esteem but as I’ve come to accept my body the whole triangle as you describe it has become stronger. I do pole fitness and it is really empowering.

    Reply
  9. Btw, for a long time I didn’t feel very sexual at all. I think it has something to do with my PCOS. My estrogen levels are incredibly low and I really think it’s messing with my sex drive.
    But thanks to blogs like yours I’ve started to discover my sexuality. So thanks.

    Reply
    • Estrogen plays a huge role in sex drive, Gry. I hope you’re able to remedy! It’s a fairly common issue.

      I’m so touched that my posts have helped in your discovery. Sounds like you’re on the right path! (I’m planning to start pole-dancing soon — seems wonderful. :)) Best wishes!

      Reply
      • Do look forward to it! The learning curve is very steep so you’ll soon feel like you can do some tricks! Remember always to try tricks to each side because sometimes what you can’t do on one side feels easy on the other.

  10. Liz

     /  April 3, 2014

    I was never in my life near anorexic; I was actually obese, clinically depressed, and dealing with a bi-polar spouse for 15 years.
    What that unhealthy combination did to my girl boner, however, was much the same as your experience with the anorexia. The voices/comments, real or imagined, the battles with food, appetite, and unhealthy sleep patterns. I was not much interested in initiating or participating in any sexual activity during the last 5 years of our marriage.
    I decided to take my health into my own hands almost two years ago, because my kid’s father was not taking care of himself, and I was worried that the kids would lose us too early.
    Fast forward to today, I lost 80 lbs, the husband (divorce~final in December), regained my health, a much-improved self image and control over my sexuality~my girl boner came back!
    Navigating the waters of the dating scene has been a bit weird, but much improved since I last tread them in my 20s~I really like it now, overall. I’m finding so much less bs.
    Learning to be more confident with my lovemaking, finding out there is so much I really enjoy~these gifts have been priceless!
    I plan to continue taking care of my health so I can continue enjoying my girl boner~it’s fabulous!

    Reply
  11. I’ve never been in the fashion industry (or, until I birthed a daredevil diva of a daughter, never much interested in it at all).

    But as the last-developing girl in my small high school, I felt weird and ungainly. No one told me that being tall and long-limbed was supposedly a good thing to be…

    I thought I was weird-looking, all through school. Some years later, I passed a collage frame in my parents’ house, and caught a glimpse of a gorgeous young girl with her legs curled beneath her, sitting on a picnic table. I stopped to figure out who she was – and it took minutes to realize that it was my 16 year-old self- far from weird looking. I think that’s when I first truly found my Girl Boner.

    Fast forward more years. A fiance died, and I lost weight. Then, a couple of years later, I married my chef, and gained weight. I gained exactly 30 pounds with my 10 pound firstborn, and lost most of it.

    Not quite two years later, I gave birth to our second son, via a grand episiotomy and forceps. He wasn’t breathing, and it took some time to revive him. He was whisked immediately to the NICU. He died there, with us, 12 days later, having spent most of it in a coma.

    I can’t begin to explain what that did to my sense of myself as a woman. I was supposed to shelter my children; instead, my body had betrayed him and me, and he died, Sex hurt – everything hurt, surrounding that scar, for months- far longer than the Cesarean scar.

    I had phantom kicks and labor pains for weeks after Elijah’s death, probably because he was here and gone so fast. The day he died, I had finally managed to pump the 16 ounces of milk the NICU wanted – and they had me pour out that effort, rather than give it to any of the other babies.

    I was devastated by that – by all of it. I never lost the 30 pounds I gained with him – I think I was trying to hold onto all I could of him.

    We got pregnant again as soon as we could, so our daughter is less than a year younger than the brother she’ll never meet. When she was about 3, I began to diet and work out at least 5 times a week – too much for both me and the kids. I couldn’t sustain it, and, for a while, I gave up.

    Largely because of your posts, I am taking a healthier and more balanced approach to my health, these days. I’m gradually increasing playful activity, getting to the gym once or twice a week, walking more – even getting ready to pull out my long-neglected bicycle and start riding it again!

    As I near my 45th birthday, I feel my girl boner re-emerging! And, for the first time in my life, I’m not afraid to talk about it publicly!

    I’m hugging that lost and hurting girl you were, and celebrating the powerful and joyful woman she became, and all the points on the journey between.

    Much love and many more thanks than I can express! =)

    Reply
  12. It is such a strong comment when you tell a story that shows your weakness and vulnerability. I have my own set of stories and I understood just where you were.
    Thanks,
    Scott

    Reply

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