Back Stories – Kelly Shibari

Big Beautiful Women – or BBWs – embody a dimension of adult production that gets very little press in the mainstream world.

“Fat girls don’t do porn!” and the like, right?

Wrong!! Human sexual proclivities are as diverse as humans themselves, and we are all sexual beings (size notwithstanding… duh!!).

But our culture operates under a collection of problematic assumptions regarding size, sexuality, and desirability. These assumptions are commonly used to marginalize certain sexual desires and the folks that embody them.

What’s that all about? Moreover, what’s that like?

I recently had the opportunity to learn much about sexuality, sex performance, and size, and the ways these factors shape individual experiences in the adult industry from the incredible Kelly Shibari. Kelly had much to say about all these issues and more – read on!!

So Ms. Kelly… How long have you worked in adult production, and what exactly do you do?

“I’ve been in XXX for about 5 yrs now. I started as a plus-sized porn performer and have moved into producing/directing a fetish site as well as run a marketing company specific to the adult entertainment industry. I also have a few other irons in the fire, including writing for an industry magazine, managing a studio space in downtown LA, and collaborating on a few photography and book projects.

I still perform in porn, but it’s definitely not as frequent as when I first started and most of it’s what I produce myself these days. I’ve also branched out to do some photography modeling, as well as mainstream video and film work.

I guess I’m in constant need of stimulation, both mental and physical, and need a handful of things going on at all times.

Wow, you have a really diverse skill set and do A LOT!! What got you into the business in the first place? What did you do before?

Curiosity? Boredom? The need to have sex with people without being in a relationship while living in a town that is transient at best, a big scary lie at its worst, and is rarely safe? All of the above?

I worked in mainstream film and TV before getting into adult, but behind the camera. In 2007, the mainstream industry faced a giant writers’ strike. I had survived the strike before, but this one was pretty monumental – a lot of people closed shop and moved out of California, and a lot of filming moved out of town.

At the same time, I broke up with my live-in boyfriend at the time. He was someone who I knew had a cheating streak, but I had given him permission to have sex with other people if we were in different cities on different projects. Apparently, being given permission is a boner-killer for cheaters… so he ended up cheating on me anyway and moved in with her. Go figure.

When something like that happens – when you think you’re the perfect girlfriend by giving your guy exactly what you think he wants, and it backfires anyway – you shut down. I did, anyway. I decided that the last thing I wanted to do was get back into a relationship. Add to that a long-lasting industry strike and all I wanted to do was make a giant change. A sabbatical.

The funny thing about the film industry is that no one in mainstream would *ever* dream of working in porn… or at least that’s what they tell you. That may certainly be the case with performers; but with crew, it’s a completely different story. Many crew members work both in front of and behind the scenes on porn sets – at least they did in 2007. One of my closest friends worked in both industries, and he suggested I try porn.

‘Fat girls don’t do porn!’

‘Of course they do, it’s an hot niche right now!’

‘Oh, please. Show me a site.’

(shows me a site)

‘Oh.’

‘See?’

‘OK, fine. I’ll send my pics in and if they take me, I’ll do it.’

Of course, this was with the assumption that they wouldn’t take me… but then they did. So much for assumptions (there’s a running theme here…).

Haha, isn’t it ironic? (dontcha think?) So then, what’s your favorite thing about working as a performer? What’s most surprising or unexpected? Is there anything about that part of your job that you find challenging?

I think that my experience in porn is different than most. I didn’t get in for the money – I got in because it allowed me the opportunity to not be a crew member, have someone do my hair and makeup, have sex with good looking guys who are tested for STDs, and then go home… home to emails and messages from fans telling me I’m gorgeous, beautiful, sexy. Who wouldn’t want that?

Of course, the money was a bonus. But porn performing as a plus-sized performer isn’t the same as a mainstream porn girl. Boy/girl scenes pay $500, not $1000. Anal scenes and other fringe acts (gangbangs, blowbangs, contortionist positions, double-penetration, etc) don’t necessarily result in higher pay – because for a plus-sized performer, the draw is that you’re plus-sized. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing an interracial scene or swallowing or just doing a run-of-the-mill boy/girl scene – you’re hired because you’re fat and pretty.

Companies don’t bother doing BBW gangbang and blowbang scenes, mainly because the market is smaller and these scenes are not necessarily going to turn a profit. Group scenes are expensive to shoot. For the same money, you can shoot three standard boy/girl scenes.

Wow, that’s really fascinating – it’s interesting to consider how preference for body type can supersede other aspects of content. It’s also interesting to consider how that dynamic might play out in other contexts… like if a preference for a specific sex act trumps who is actually performing that act, you know? Certainly everyone is different, but it’s an interesting series of tensions to consider… Sorry!! You were talking about navigating the industry as a performer…

Girls, niche or mainstream, it doesn’t matter, don’t realize that their lifespan in the porn industry is really short – a couple of years, more only if you can keep rebranding/remarketing yourself. I think girls would do better if they used the industry to make the money they need, or get the ego boost they want, or both – and then use it as a springboard to something else.

This isn’t like the Golden Age of Porn when you had a small core group of ladies that did all the work. Pornstars don’t really exist any more – we’ve become an industry with a giant pool of talent for companies to pull from. Stars, if any, are made these days not by what they’re able to do on camera, but how long they seem to have been able to stick it out. So many girls get into the industry thinking they’re going to be the next Nina Hartley, Jenna Jameson, or Jesse Jane… and they’re wrong. Of course, no one believes me until they’ve been inside. 

Wow, that’s a lot to take in… It’s amazing how complex things get when you factor in additional dimensions. So then, thinking about ‘additional dimensions,’ how do race, ethnicity, and body politics factor into your work as a performer?

As a BBW performer, it clearly puts me in a niche. It’s hard to break out of that, to even try to do work for mainstream porn companies that shoot big boob/big butt content for example. A BBW performer, despite having those assets, isn’t marketable in the same way. A thin waist is what they’re looking for, slender legs and arms.

It’s fairly obvious that I don’t get as much exposure, press, or work as the slender performers do. Consumers’ purchasing choices dictate what companies shoot – and if the average Joe Frat Guy is going to buy slender-girl porn, then that’s where the companies will spend the majority of their investment dollars. Companies have turned me down because I don’t fit their ‘size demographic’ or whatnot. It sucks to get that sort of response, but you can’t fault a company for making a business decision.

Porn isn’t a popularity contest when it comes to product – it’s business. Taking it personally is what makes performers bitter and angry, and then that shows in their performance. It becomes a downward spiral. You want to try to avoid that, and not taking their casting decisions personally goes a long way towards that.

I’ve had companies that shoot BBW content ask me to do specific things that are ‘stereotypical’ of fat girls – or what they *think* is stereotypical of fat people in general. Eating while having sex… I mean, who actually does that in their real sex lives? I’m sure someone out there does, but it’s not something that is restricted to plus-sized people. And asking me to eat a bowl of macaroni and cheese and some greasy fried chicken while having sex ‘because that’s what fat girls do’ just doesn’t work for me.

That’s so awful…

I’m not against incorporating food into sex, by the way. I’m all for bringing in some whipped cream and strawberries and such into the bedroom. But it’s the assumption that we must be fat because we eat all the time, even when having sex, that made me turn them down.

(By the way, I did suggest to the company that I would do the scene if they allowed me to do the whipped-cream-and-strawberry thing, and they said no. Thank goodness I didn’t assume they’d be OK with that!)

In my performance, I don’t like to do much of that ‘Oooh, look at my fat rolls…I’m such a fat girl…’ stuff. I don’t mind being plus-sized; but as far as I’m concerned, I’m a porn performer who happens to be plus-sized, not a plus-sized girl who happens to do porn. There’s a difference.

I try to do my scenes as if size isn’t the draw. I just want to have a good scene that’s fun for everyone. I don’t mean that as a slight to people who like me as a BBW – but if I were thinner, it wouldn’t stop me from being a performer.

Wow… the politics of it all – I had no idea. It’s really interesting!!

So, I know you’ve shot some for companies in the very independent/alt segments of the business AND for some relatively mainstream studios – how do these experiences compare? Are they are distinct as everyone alludes?

I think they’re the same, but that may just be that I treat them the same. Having come from a crew background, you know the things about actors that piss crew people off – showing up late and/or unprepared, not being polite…you know, Golden Rule stuff. You’d be surprised (or perhaps not) at the number of girls who show up drunk, high, unprepared, rude…and then they wonder why they don’t get rehired.

The main difference, possibly, is the money spent. Mainstream companies are used to having gorgeous shooting locations, with a larger crew. With very small companies, sometimes you do your own makeup, and the shoot is in the director’s studio apartment.

But work is work; and if you’re a professional, you get treated as one. So as much as this may sound like a generic answer, I really haven’t seen much of a difference except for the scope of the shoot. Sex on camera is still sex on camera.

What is your favorite thing about working off camera? What’s surprising or unexpected? Challenging?

Simple answer – not having to do your hair and makeup. Not having to worry about getting your nails done. Small stuff like that.

I think that because my approach to the industry was different – I’m not here to be a star – I’m not as affected when work is slow. Sure, I went through my phase when things started to slow, when I wondered if I was to blame, what I did wrong. But realizing that it’s just the nature of the business – that everyone eventually stops being the new girl and there are throngs of new girls every week that want to try their hand at the porn game – that helped put things into perspective.

Working off camera allows me to be creative in a different way; and since behind-the-camera is where I came from, it’s not that difficult to hop back and forth. When a performance offer comes in, it’s great and fun and exciting. If not, I have other things going on that are just as interesting and fun. It also allows me to get excited when I do perform, which I think shows on camera.

I think the main challenge and frustration came when I first started doing non-performance work. There was a decent amount of apprehension from companies – most porn girls don’t have a background in production or marketing, so hiring (and spending money on) a performer (or ex-performer) to do those things can be scary.

I also had my share of people approaching me and asking for a meeting, only to find that a business meeting was the last thing they had on their mind. It was frustrating to not be taken seriously and only seen as an easy lay ‘because you’re a porn performer’ – but I think that over time, people have been able to see that I can straddle both sides of that fence pretty well.

Clearly!! I’ve never heard of someone balancing so much!! Well, not very often… So, has working in the industry affected your personal life? 

In the beginning, yes. It’s definitely difficult to date civilians (non-industry people) – the first time you have an argument, you’re automatically a whore. It’s the easiest word to throw at a porn performer.

It’s funny – civvies want to date a porn girl, but then hate that their girlfriend does porn. Guys come up to you at events and parties and think that you’re a perpetual good-time-girl-for-free. They forget you’re a performer, and even though you may have a higher sex drive than the average girl (which I don’t think is true; many average girls have really high sex drives and never do porn), it doesn’t mean that you have an ‘Open 24 Hours For Sex’ sign tattooed on your forehead. They forget that what you do on camera is a performance.

I’ve now been with a great guy who’s an industry veteran (the amazing director/performer Tim von Swine) for the past year and a half. When he calls me a whore, it’s a term of endearment (haha!), because technically he is one too. It’s a more supportive relationship because we’re both in the same seedy, messed up industry. Yeah, I’m biased – but it’s a pretty cool relationship. We’re friends first, and that helps mitigate jealousy when you’re in an industry that is all about sex.

I also think that it hasn’t affected much of my personal life because I got in when I was older. I was 34 when I got in (I’m 39 now). I asked my mom for permission to try adult entertainment, and her response was, ‘You’re not 19. You’ve gone to school, gotten degrees, been able to take care of yourself without asking for our help. If you want to, go ahead, but be safe and be picky.’ She was an awesome lady and my greatest inspiration to be a fighter (she passed away this past year to breast cancer).

So, given all that, where do you see yourself in five years?

I’ve started to make the transition to doing more producing and marketing in the past couple of years. I still love performing and modeling, and I’m happy to say that I still have enough projects to keep me entertained. I can pick and choose my projects, which is more than what a lot of people can say.

I’m working with a company right now that inspires me to do bigger, better, more creative things. I’ve done cameos in music videos, been in some Taschen books, been interviewed for magazines, documentaries. I’d love to be a dead body in a crime show, or a horror film. That would be fun. I’m working with a company that wants to make a full-body mold of me so they can make body parts for horror films. I’m super-stoked. Like I said – I don’t really care if I’m a giant name star. I just want to do stuff that makes my life interesting.

So in five years? I hope I’m still being entertained by what I do.

What else, Kelly? Any closing bits of advice, insights, or wisdom?

Honestly? That I’m a hell of a lot more insecure than I let on. But I think everyone’s that way. I just try to do the right thing while protecting myself as much as I can and believe in Karma.

Oh! One more thing… it’s PORNO, people!!! It’s not rocket science. Have fun! If you’re angry all the time or bitter, it’s time to move on to something else. That applies for everything in life, right? So many porn performers write these super-serious biographies about how they want to be taken seriously… I think I’m in one of the funniest industries. I get to have sex! And that’s my JOB! Pretty cool, I’d say.”

Oh Kelly… you’re pretty cool, I’d say.

Kelly offers much insight about a series of really complex tensions shaping adult perfromers’ experiences. It’s really interesting to consider the implications of embodying a niche market in adult – are you a performer, or are you a <<fill in the niche>> performer? Both? Neither? Something else? And, regardless of how you conceptualize or self-identify your career, how does one reconcile these tensions when the market (read: producers and consumers) is involved?

And what about this whole bleed between mainstream and adult? And the diversification of one’s career behind the scenes? Perhaps there is more to the adult industry that meets the eye…?

There is, as Kelly has so generously shown.

Visit Kelly at KellyShibariXXX.com and/or check out PaddedKINK.com and ThePRSMGroup.com. Some of her performer credits are listed here.

You can also follow her on Twitter at @KellyShibari and/or be her friend on facebook – you know that you want to, and I know that you should!!

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From performers to post-production, office workers to executives, PVVOnline Back Stories explore the lives of people who work in all aspects of the adult industry. For more industry insiders’ Back Stories, go here.

Images courtesy of Kelly Shibari.

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