Sophia Benoit on leaving Kirkwood, finding Twitter and loosening up
Growing up in suburban St. Louis, Sophia Benoit was about as good as a good girl gets. She was her high school valedictorian (Kirkwood High, class of 2011). She spent hours taking care of her younger half brother and half sisters. When she was tempted to drink to fit in, she earnestly discussed the prospect with her mom and, for a time, actually faked it by secretly pouring her Bud Light down the bathroom sink and refilling the bottle with water.
And then she found a way to let go, to release herself from the pressure to be perfect. She gave into the messiness of life and some of its temptations.
She came to this conclusion: “The world is mostly hard and often lovely and here’s the thing: You can’t be so good that you don’t get hurt.” So why not surround yourself with people who are brave and kind, she writes, to try to be like them in your own way, and go easy on yourself when you can’t?
Now a sex columnist for GQ and the author of the hilarious new essay collection, “Well, This Is Exhausting,” Benoit lives in Los Angeles. She joined Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air to discuss her awakening, her childhood in Kirkwood and how Twitter changed her life.
Benoit recalled signing up for the account during AP calculus. Her handle, @1followernodad, came from her quip that her dad would disown her and she’d only attract a single follower.
“I think every single serious job that I’ve had — from GQ, and now I write up a column for Bustle, and this book — all came about through Twitter,” she explained. “I even met my boyfriend from Twitter. Some of my best friends are from Twitter. So as much as I would love to say, ‘Don't go on social media’ — and you know, as much as I would love to protect my younger siblings, and my sister's pregnant and about to have a baby, and I'm like, ‘Oh, don't go on social media’ — but I also think, ‘Oh my God, it gave me so much.’”
Benoit knows her experience is not typical. When she heard from the woman who’s now her editor at GQ, at first she thought it was a joke. And spending her free time giving away jokes on Twitter wasn’t the only thing she did that went against the playbook for young writers.
“They tell you never write for free,” she said. “But I feel like I was so Midwestern about everything where I was like: ‘I don't really know how this works. I'll just, ‘Oh, sure. I'll write for free. Yeah, absolutely.’ And it ended up working out for me because someone reached out — but I'm sure that doesn't work for a whole lot of writers.”
Benoit acknowledged that writing about intimate topics can be challenging with a Midwest family. “Early on with my mom, my agreement was, ‘You're allowed to follow me on Twitter. But you may never mention anything that you see here’ — which, I don't think she follows that rule. But she tries,” she said. “And then my father and I have a very tacit agreement that we just don't speak about anything.”
As for her lousy first boyfriend, a slightly older St. Louis guy who gets a lot of pages in “Well, This Is Exhausting,” Benoit admitted that she had to change some details to satisfy her publisher’s attorney.
“I kept telling them, ‘I really don't think he's a big reader. I don't think he's gonna read it.’ And they were like: ‘That's not a legal defense. You can't say we didn't think he'd read the book.’”
She added: “I think it's really hard to avoid a bad first love. I think it's almost impossible to talk yourself out of it, because it's so exciting.” Even so, there’s hope: “Almost every single friend of mine had a bad first boyfriend and moved on from it and has had great relationships. So if you can just make it through the first one, and know the ending of it won't kill you when you can find someone else.”
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Kayla Drake. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.