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Well, This Is Exhausting

Essays

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About The Book

From Bustle columnist and Twitter sensation Sophia Benoit, this “charming and often laugh-out-loud funny” (Vogue) memoir-in-essays explores the ins and outs of modern womanhood—from finding feminism, the power of pop culture, and how to navigate life’s constant double standards—perfect for fans of Shrill and PEN15.

Like so many women, Sophia spent her formative years struggling to do the “right” thing—to make others comfortable, to take minimal and calculated risks, to live up to society’s expectations—only to realize that there was so little payoff to this tiresome balancing act. Tired of trying so hard, Sophia finally let go of the crushing pressure to be perfect.

She navigates the highs and lows of the dating world (high: being a beta tester for Bumble; low: hastily shaving her legs before a hotel hookup and getting blood all over the sheets), and walks the line between being a “chill” girl and making sure her boyfriend’s nonchalance about altitude sickness doesn’t get him killed. She learns what it means to be a feminist, how to embrace her own voice, and when to listen to women who have been through more and have been doing the work longer.

With topics ranging from how to be the life of the party (even when you have crippling anxiety), to an ill-fated consultation with a dietician who deemed Sophia’s overindulgence in ketchup a serious health risk, to a masterful argument for why no one should judge you for having an encyclopedic knowledge of reality TV, Well, This Is Exhausting is not only “one of the funniest books you’ll read this year, but it’s also one of the most important” (Shondaland).

Excerpt

Bless You, Brendan Fraser Bless You, Brendan Fraser
Like most people, I experienced my sexual awakening during the horse scene of the award-nominated film George of the Jungle (1997). If you don’t know the scene, let me explain: Leslie Mann takes Brendan Fraser—whose body is BANGIN’ HOT and whose long hair is LUSTROUS—to her ritzy engagement party to another man, Thomas Haden Church. George/Brendan is wearing an impeccably tailored (for the ’90s) suit, which is already enough to get anyone’s engine (vagina) going, but then he leaves the party to go hang out outside with animals (relatable as hell). He climbs into a pen with some horses that are on the property, because rich people always have horses, and he starts running around with them like he’s in a horny perfume ad. Naturally, all the hot single women at the party come watch this sexy display. A couple of men scoff and ask, “What is it with chicks and horses?” which is a valid, if sexist, observation. I maintain this is the first time in cinema that women’s sexuality was fully understood. It can be no coincidence that Sex and the City premiered the following year, building off what GotJ had already laid down.

I was only about four or five when I first saw this movie, and yes, that does feel young for me to have my sexual awakening, but it’s never too early to get horny. After I saw this magnificent film, I was destined to be thirsty forevermore. Actually, I don’t know how much it has to do with Brendan Fraser; I was just a horny kid. Strictly speaking, when GotJ came out, I was already getting in trouble for masturbating during nap time at preschool, even though I had no idea what I was doing. I was just humping things constantly, which is a fairly normal thing for kids to do, it turns out. I didn’t know that, though. It’s not like you can tell a four-year-old that it’s normal to want to hump things but that they can’t because of society’s complex, horrid relationship with sex. I eventually got the message that I wasn’t supposed to be jerking off in public, even though no one really explained it to me. What I did glean from the adults around me was that there was supposed to be shame around whatever it was that I did before bed every night; I often tried to quit. I would go weeks or months, proud of myself for having given up my nightly ritual, only to relapse. This was not long after Dr. Joycelyn Elders, the first Black surgeon general of the United States, was asked to resign after saying that masturbation was “part of human sexuality.” In 1994, by Bill Clinton. The famously sexually appropriate president.

When I was about thirteen, my mom sat me down for the number one most mortifying conversation of my life and informed me that what I had been doing every night since I was a child was masturbating and that that’s what sex felt like. I, of course, was fucking pissed. That’s it? That’s what sex is like? What a total scam! Here I thought I had another cool thing to experience on the horizon, but nope! I’d already been doing it since preschool. Seeing my disappointment at this, my mother assured me that sex would be so much better because it was with another person, and I rolled my eyes and was like, Yeah, fucking right, Mom. There’s no way anyone knows how to do this better than I do. And for the most part, I have been right about that. Sex has rarely been better—or at least more reliable or easier—than masturbating, in my personal experience. Another total scam.

I didn’t grow up in a household that shunned sexuality. There used to be a magazine rack at my dad’s house that held dozens of magazines; I believe my dad and stepmom had it custom-made since my dad subscribed to so many. There was one magazine that was on the rack that I loved. It had Tyra Banks on the cover, topless, with her long hair covering her boobs. The cover said, “Tyra, please pull back your hair.” I would often sneak into the living room when no one was around to look at it. I remember a pinup calendar in my dad’s basement office that featured a naked woman wrapped in cellophane for December (she’s an object—get it?). I remember December because that calendar stayed up on the wall in the basement for years after my father moved his office up to the attic. Only once did I work up the courage to take the calendar off the wall and peek at the other months before setting it back to December.

My mother, for her part, was even less of a prude. In a hyperrational move typical of her, my mom never minded sex scenes in movies, as long as there wasn’t violence; at age ten I saw my first R-rated movie, Love Actually, where we see quite a bit of Martin Freeman and Joanna Page (at least there are no guns). When my older sister Lena and I asked what sex was when I was about six, Mom calmly explained (in an age-appropriate way) about bodies and babies. She never found sex repulsive or embarrassing. She wasn’t crossing weird boundaries with Lena and me or anything; she was just clear that safe sex isn’t a big deal.

No one in my house was selling the lie that sex ought to be shameful, but I still got the message anyway. You can’t live in America and not get the message that sex is wrong. I got it from the way movies were screened for children and what we were allowed to talk about at recess, and most of all, I think, I understood sex is shameful because of the general silence and discomfort around the topic. Children have a keen sense of what is Not to Be Discussed.

On top of the normal American puritanical shit, I had another reason to feel disgust with my sexual appetite: I was fat. And in my filled-with-internalized-fatphobia-mind, fat people—especially fat teens—were not allowed to be sexual. When I saw Hairspray in theaters with a group of my size 0 friends, I remember burning with resentment that Carly Wooldridge loved the movie. She wasn’t fat! A movie starring an overweight and horny teenage girl?! This movie was mine. I bought the soundtrack immediately simply to express to everyone that I liked the movie more than Carly did; unfortunately, she already owned the CD and no one else was keeping score. She was obsessed with Zac Efron, and I with the idea that a fat teenager could be attractive to someone as hot as Zac Efron. The relationship between Tracy and Link in the movie was the ultimate fantasy for me. Unfortunately, in real life, perhaps because I didn’t end segregation on my local TV station or have an amazing singing voice—not that either of those things would have likely impressed the guys at my school—I was destined to be alone. This was a particularly heartbreaking prospect since I was constantly in love with and wildly horny for everyone around me.

My father similarly grew up a fat kid and as such placed an oversize importance on people being attracted to him. I don’t think he’s been single-single—like not dating anyone—since he lost weight at nineteen. His best friend Jim once commented, “I don’t think he’d be like this if he’d just been asked to one Sadie Hawkins dance.” And I think Jim’s right, both about my father and about me. The longer I went without getting sexual attention, the more I got into watching and reading about it, and the media I was consuming only reinforced the belief that I needed to be thinner in order for someone to ever want me. There is something about youth, at least as we see youth in media, that promises sexual experiences, even if they be rushed and unsatisfying, and when you don’t get those experiences, you feel like a FREAK.

This is especially true for women. There is no shortage of messages, both explicit and implicit, screaming at you that the most sexually desirable thing you can be is a teenage girl (so fucked-up). This just made me even more hurt and angry that as a teenage girl I wasn’t sexually desirable to anyone around me. It wasn’t just my perception, either. It’s not like that problematic but highly catchy One Direction song where I just didn’t know that I was beautiful, thus making myself desirable to men. No, media and fellow ninth graders were very clear on the issue of fat women: not hot. Funny, sure. Slobbish? Yeah. But not hot.I

In recent years, there have been two rom-coms made about hot guys falling for overweight women, but only AFTER THEY GOT HIT IN THE HEAD AND ENDED UP AT THE HOSPITAL. Meanwhile, there are hundreds of movies about a schlubby guy somewhere between fourteen and fifty-four years old trying to hook up with someone way out of his league, and in none of them did the protagonist even have to go to urgent care. The messaging is clear: if you’re a girl who isn’t under 135 pounds, you would have to have a traumatic brain injury to think you could get with an attractive guy. If you ever want to have sex, ladies, your job is to be hot. (And by hot, we mean thin.) And, boy, did I ever want to have sex! Even if it was the same as jerking off.

My sister Lena, who is three years older and hundreds of times bolder than I am, started buying Cosmopolitan magazine when she was fourteen. I immediately started stealing them from her room, which rightfully drove her nuts, and often led to blowout screaming matches. My mom would try desperately to mitigate these fights by saying, “Lena! It’s not like she’s going to read the words off the page!” Which is true, but to be fair, stealing them was fucked-up of me. The thing was: Cosmo is horny, and once I found that out, there was no way I wasn’t going to steal it. Cosmo was the only “person” willing to talk to me about sex; everyone else avoided the topic with me aggressively. It’s wild to me that the horniest mainstream magazine for women is mostly just sex tips on how to make sex feel better for men, when men get to watch and read all kinds of porn directed right at them. Because we are required to be virginal and pure and adventurous sexual objects who exist solely for the pleasure of men. That’s why our sex advice is about making him come. So while I loved Cosmo, she also let me down. Where was the porn for me?

Do you realize just how few depictions there are in popular culture of young horny women? Or even adult horny women? Fleabag felt like a revelation because it depicted a woman wrestling with her sexual desire in a deeper way than the broad strokes of horniness they gave Samantha in Sex in the City. Women who are nuanced, competent individuals who want to have sex that makes them feel good and who aren’t the butt of a joke? There are like four movies total that have characters like this, and they’re all indie movies that didn’t do well commercially but should have. Pretty much every other movie on earth is about a horny dude, with the possible exception of the Harry Potter films, because there’s no sex at all in them, which is boring as fuck. (How did y’all make it through SEVEN books about teenagers where no one fucks and sucks? I truly cannot fathom this.) There is a truth universally acknowledged that men are constantly thinking about sex, and not just thinking about it, but seeking it out. Well, guess what, society? Ladies are horny, too!

But that’s not something we’re supposed to talk about. When I was younger and somehow both much smarter (I got As in AP calc, bitch!!) and much dumber (I wasn’t a feminist yet) than I am now, I spent a lot of my time around guys joking about female masturbation owing to the simple fact that no one else was talking about it, and it therefore got me attention. None of my female friends and I talked about it with each other, other than perhaps a onetime timid exchange of “Do you…?” / “Yeah? Me too.” But I loved talking about it to guys because they were so shocked and, at least in my mind, excited to hear that women indeed did want to have sexual experiences. Looking back, I think I mostly just made everyone super-duper uncomfortable, but I thought that was a key part of jokes, because I watched too much Chelsea Lately at the time. I promise I’m better now.II

Honestly, though, masturbation jokes and the reaction they got reinforced the idea that as someone who was both fat and a woman my enjoyment of sex—my simple desire to have sex with another person—was a type of transgression. Something to tell jokes about, if I wanted to talk about it at all. Something profane. The jokes were my way of trying to normalize my own voracious sexual appetite. This was before the days of Twitter and “Spit on me, Rachel Weisz,” or “Hit me with a bus, Michael B. Jordan.” I didn’t know other women were also desperately horny. Even Cosmo often framed sex as something nice to do with a partner rather than an all-consuming preoccupation.

While I was embarrassed by my seemingly insatiable desire for sex, there was one thing that went even beyond that shame: my interest in love. Up until at least college I could more easily watch TV in the same room as other people when someone was getting railed than I could when two people were declaring their love for one another. (Honestly, I still often find it squirm-worthy.) Masturbating and having sex were things I could, and did, joke about. They were cool but transgressive, I felt. Love was not. In no way was love cool. I was under the impression that it was feminine and, therefore, icky. While someone might put up with a thinner, hotter person wanting love from them, as a fat woman it felt like way too much to ask for. I convinced myself for many, many years that I actually found romantic love gross and overrated.

That did not stop me from desperately consuming every single book, movie, and television show I could find about the topic. I have seen almost every single mainstream rom-com made since 1980, and many from before then. I read dozens of romance novels a year, usually within a day, and I have since I was about fourteen. Yes, I wanted to **** Brendan Fraser’s ****, but I also thought that I could really end up marrying Heath Ledger someday, if I simply lost weight, and only if he agreed to give up smoking. In real life, I maintained a crush on at least one person virtually nonstop from age five (Michael Bernard) on. Clearly, on some level, I was still into the idea of love, even if I acted disgusted and above it. This was self-preservation. I suspected love was not coming for me.

In sixth grade, I stupidly let one of my friends tell Ben Cannon that I liked him. I think I mostly liked him out of a sense of protection or pity for him, because a friend of mine, Annie Manwaring, was obsessed with him to the point of being creepy—she saved a Kleenex he threw at her once—and I thought he deserved better, which perhaps morphed into me liking him. Or maybe Annie just talked about him so much that I became preoccupied, too. Either way, when Ben found out that I liked/was scared for him, he looked up across the room of Mr. McGee’s sixth-grade science class and let out a simple yet effective “Ew.” I turned bright red and my whole body got hot. Like on-fire hot. Like a sunburn, but everywhere. It felt like I was being incinerated. What the fuck had I even been thinking letting someone tell him that I liked him? Never. Fucking. Again.

But then seventh grade came along and I liked Dominic Coultrip, who was always super nice to me—of course I liked him. Unless I was in a group project, no guy ever talked to me.III Guys talked to my friends, I joked around awkwardly on the periphery, the guys laughed and then returned their attention to my friends, girls who emitted polite giggles and fit into denim skirts. One day in computer lab Dominic Coultrip found out that I liked him—Serial, please do a podcast to find out who told him. I carefully avoided him for the rest of the day until he approached me in Mrs. Goeke’s science class (WHY IS IT ALWAYS SCIENCE CLASS?) and told me super, super kindly that he didn’t like me at all but that I was very funny, which was so much worse than Ben’s response, because while I agreed with Ben’s assessment of me, I did not agree with Dominic’s. I assured Dominic that I didn’t actually like him—that someone had given him bad information—a lie, which he very generously let me tell.

After that, I stopped telling friends about my crushes. What was the next person going to do when they found out I liked them, vomit? I’d barely survived disgust and condescending kindness. I didn’t need any further confirmation that I was an ugly piece-of-shit hag whom no one would ever be horny for, the very thing I wanted most. At that time, I truly believed the zenith of human experience was someone being attracted to you.IV This belief caused me absolutely zero problems at all.

Just kidding.

About The Author

Photograph by Kelsey June Jensen

Sophia Benoit is a writer and comedian who grew up in Missouri and was correctly voted “Most Likely to Never Come Back.” She writes sex and relationship advice for Bustle and GQ and has had bylines in AllureRefinery29The CutThe Guardian, and more. Sophia does not have an MFA from anywhere, and probably isn’t going back to grad school, much to the chagrin of her father. She lives in Los Angeles with her boyfriend Dave, but usually only spouses make it into author bios, so forget about him.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Gallery Books (June 28, 2022)
  • Length: 352 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982151942

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Raves and Reviews

"Benoit’s engaging writing style invites laughter while she sparks serious contemplation on a variety of topics… Readers suffering from a short attention span can easily read one essay at a time […] but will most likely return quickly for more.”
Booklist, starred review

“Hilarious and biting… It's a classic millennial tale, but in Benoit's hands, this story of coming into one's full and honest self feels fresh and new. Perhaps it's her ability to balance self-deprecating humor with a white-hot rage against the cis-het white patriarchy, or to combine razor-sharp jabs at terrible ex-boyfriends with smart and reflective thoughts about what it feels like to live in a woman's body in the 21st century. Whatever the secret may be, Well, This Is Exhausting is exhilarating to read.”
—Shelf Awareness

“Charming and often laugh-out-loud funny.”
Vogue

“For anyone who’s grappling lingering impostor syndrome, looks like they have it all figured out but are still foundering in some unseen area of life, or has tried to be a flawless feminist in the new millennium.”
Bustle

“Not only is it one of the funniest books you’ll read this year, but it’s also one of the most important...It is, in a word, delightful.”
Shondaland

“Tired of talk about burnout? Well sometimes the best way to get through something is just to talk about it—endlessly. GQ columnist Sophia Benoit shares her experiences with burnout, starting with her adolescence and having to grow up fast in taking care of her younger siblings, trying to balance life between her divorced parents' homes, part-time jobs, and school on top of it all. As Benoit illuminates, trying to do everything to please your parents is a condition we carry into adulthood, manifesting itself in a variety of ways, from imposter syndrome to fear of missing out by trying to do too much.”
Fortune

“Humorist, Twitter star and GQ columnist Sophia Benoit tracks her journey from classic good girl to feminist as she examines how to be ‘good’ these days. (I mean, do any of us really know?!) Weaving in anxiety, dating, reality TV and more, these essays pack a memoir-istic punch.”
GMA.com

“A riotous collection … Heartening and hilarious, this is prime summer reading material.”
—Publishers Weekly

“Benoit’s writing style is like a witty, long-form tweet—familiar, pithy, and off-the-cuff... Benoit brings her A game in her first book, a new addition to the recent spate of brutally honest memoirs. Recommended for fans of Samantha Irby."
Library Journal

“Sharply observed.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Sophia Benoit is that rare combo of wisecracking friend and tough older sister.”
—Booktrib

“Sophia Benoit is smart, funny, and extremely good at short form writing. The translation from short form to longer form [...] is sometimes exhilarating, sometimes transformative, and criminally interesting."
Medium, The Pour Over 

“Frank, insightful, and incisive … I’ve known for years that Sophia Benoit is funny. Well, This is Exhausting shows that she is also wise, insightful, and has a Terry Pratchett-esque talent for footnotes.”
—Mara Wilson, author of Where Am I Now?: True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame

“Well, This Is Exhausting is a delightfully conversational, funny essay collection that digs right into the heart of what it is to be a woman coming to terms with her personhood. Benoit explores what it means to be a ‘good girl’ by diving into parental divorce, body issues, crushes, sex, love, standing up for yourself, hostile workplaces, and the tired line between ‘chill’ and ‘too much,’ peppering her advice with humor, poise, pop-culture references and a couple one-liners that had me literally laughing out loud. Readers might find themselves hoping they're secretly Benoit's sister, and therefore the direct recipient of some of her best life advice.”
—Rebecca Fishbein, author of Good Things Happen to People You Hate 

“Sophia Benoit is hilarious and sharp in this vibrant collection of essays about what it means to be a woman in a world that won't stop telling us we're doing it wrong … [G]ive yourself a break with this funny, honest, and relatable book.”
—Sara Schaefer, author of Grand

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