What It’s Like To Star In A Sex Scene When You’ve Had An Eating Disorder

Photographed by Patrick Gookin.
This article was originally published on January 26, 2016.

“Ewwwww, my love handle is poking out of my leotard,” I mumble to myself. I am sitting in a very expensive, hip post-production office in Silverlake, CA, working with my brilliant editor Suzanne, and sipping (free) bottled water, sprawled on a red Ikea couch all to myself — the director’s couch. At 30, I am in the final stages of editing my web series The Skinny, which is about to premiere at the Sundance film festival, being produced by my creative idol, Jill Soloway. Our PA, Chris, asks what I would like for lunch, because he is going to pick it up so I can keep being a creative person, which is actually my only job today. I am living my fucking dream, and yet in this moment, my eyes remain fixated on the monitor — my love handle projected in HD stares back at me. In an instant, I’m transported to the scariest place in the world: my brain. A place where self-hate can run so deep it feels intuitive. I grab my stomach in real life, a nervous tick I get when I feel triggered. I start making a plan of attack for Operation Love Handle — Maybe we can photoshop out the love handle? Why don’t we just cut this shot altogether? Why the fuck did I eat bread during production? I should have done a fucking cleanse!!! The camera adds 400 pounds. Of course I want to be real and authentic, but I also want to be fuckable — the fuckable feminist. “I think we should cut out this scene,” I whine to Suzanne. “Are you crazy? It’s great,” Suzanne argues. She’s not one to bullshit a compliment, but still. I order a $12 juice for lunch.

Of course I want to be real and authentic, but I also want to be fuckable — the fuckable feminist.

The Skinny is a dark comedy series about a feminist comedian in L.A. trying to live, love, and get over her bulimia. I was inspired to create the show after a 10-year struggle with bulimia, and my frustration at the lack of authentic eating disorder experiences being portrayed in the media. Writing, directing, producing, and acting in the series was an intense experience, to say the least. I was confronting my deepest demons, literally naked, in a room full of strangers.
Though the show served as a creative catharsis, I also had a job to do. Actually, I had like seven jobs to do — I needed to be a fearless, strong leader, despite the fact that I was fucking terrified. I needed to steer the ship, to “man up,” as they say (or “woman up,” as I say.) There was simply no time for me to have a fat day. Yet as production grew closer and closer, the more that feeling haunted me — that fat feeling. Was I healthy enough to do this? Was I better enough to do this? Was I thin enough to do this? Was America really going to believe I had an eating disorder if I didn’t look the part? I wanted to diet so I could look good for my show about eating disorders… The irony was not lost on me. So I surrounded myself with supportive friends, family, and therapists, ordered a burrito with extra guac, and got my ass to work.

I wanted to diet so I could look good for my show about eating disorders.

The shoot was incredible. I felt creative, inspired, fulfilled, but never fat. I thought to myself, maybe I am all better! Then came the day to film the sex scene. I had no one to blame but myself, really. After all, I was the one who had written a deeply intense, awkward sex scene that I was about to perform with my very talented, very adorable on-screen boyfriend. This wasn’t your “typical” sex scene (check out episode 5!) and although we had rehearsed, storyboarded, and discussed it to death, walking into the bedroom set I felt totally unprepared; even a little unhinged. As I mounted my brave actor, instead of offering him words of encouragement or creating a safe space for intimacy, I looked down at my cellulite sprawled over his six pack and whispered, “Would you actually fuck me in real life?” He smiled, as everyone on the crew rolled their eyes — I had been asking everyone this question all week. I guess my insecurity wasn’t as subtle as I thought.
As we began to film the scene, anxiety flooded my body like hot lava. I was exposing my body, my biggest vulnerability, in a way I’d never experienced before. I felt everything and then I felt nothing, then it hit me — I felt fat.
Photographed by Patrick Gookin.
Driving home from set that night, this fat feeling spread through my body like a tornado on Adderall. No amount of positive affirmations can tame this beast: It destroys everything in its path. I was so confused. Wasn’t I too happy, too confident, too old to be feeling fat? Wasn’t I better!?
But the truth is, this is simply a thing that happens when I have an uncomfortable feeling that I cannot control. My brain mistranslates it to “You’re fat.” Filming a sex scene that turns violent is incredibly complicated, emotionally messy, and hard to understand, but feeling fat? That’s easy for your brain to get. Life is hard. Fat is easy. Later that night, I got a text from one of my producers, Arabella: “Thank you for shooting that sex scene. So many of us have had complicated sex like this — you are not alone.” I broke down in my bathroom, of all places. The room I’d spent so many hours in, hurting my body, trying to control my life and be strong. I realized that for me, being a leader isn’t about “sucking it up,” but rather having the strength to let yourself fall apart.

Life is hard. Fat is easy.

Like a drug addict, my eating disorder will always be a part of who I am. I can’t go on a diet, just like an alcoholic can’t have one beer. One harmless little juice cleanse, and I’m off to the races. I’m gone — nothing else matters. Although I’ve experienced incredible moments of recovery (recently taking a shower with a dude and letting him hold my naked body), triggers are always there — those love handle leotard moments that tell me I’m too big. Too much. Too disgusting. I can’t stop those moments of self-hate, but I’m not going to photoshop the vulnerability out of my life. As much as I want to take control of this moment and sculpt this sex scene into “Jessie has the perfect body,” I can’t, and won’t. I’ve spent years waging a war on my love handles. I can’t control my body anymore. I’ve got to let the scene play out, I’ve got to let it all hang out. I am grateful for my eating disorder because it has allowed me to forge deep and meaningful friendships with other women who struggle, to discover spirituality, and to fight like hell to show up in the world in my body. To laugh, play, cry, fuck — to tell my story. For me, the most radical act I can do as a woman is to feel myself in my body. And, when the violent moments of self-hate pour over me in traffic, or during a Tinder date, or on set, to take a deep breath into myself, to belong to my body, and to keep talking about these issues until there’s nothing left to say. “Do you really want to trim this shot?” Suzanne asks, as we chow down on the overpriced sandwiches I picked up after I remembered that juice is not lunch. “No,” I say in between bites of brie toast. "It’s perfect.”

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