Kelly Shibari by Isabel Dresler.

Kelly Shibari by Isabel Dresler.

Kelly Shibari is a plus size adult film star, model, publicist and former roadie. Born and raised in Japan, she began college by the age of sixteen.  She has been in the adult industry since 2007, and in 2014 became the first plus-size woman to appear on the cover of Penthouse. Wear Your Voice talks to Shibari about the business and the shape of things to come within the adult film industry.

WYV: First of all, thank you for your participation.  I’m a fan of yours and I really respect the work that you do. How long have you been working in the adult film industry?  What did you do prior to your work in this industry?

Kelly Shibari: I’m coming up on my 10th year in the adult industry. Before working as an adult entertainer and industry publicist, I was a roadie (set/lighting) for about six years and a Hollywood production designer/art director for eight years.

WYV: You’ve got a couple of directing credits. Are you leaning more toward the production side of the industry at this point or do you still plan on staying in front of the camera?

KS: I think one of the best things people can do during a recession is to try everything they have interest in and see what sticks. While I enjoy directing and producing, I really love being a publicist and marketer for companies that work inside the adult entertainment and educational space. It’s taken up so much of my day-to-day that performing and modeling has definitely taken a back seat; it actually makes it much more fun to do those things, occasionally, because the projects seem fun or groundbreaking, rather than doing them because you feel you have to for the paycheck! It’s a decision I made about four or five years ago and I’ve been so much happier since.

Related: How the Porn Industry is Getting Seriously Feminist [NSFW]

Kelly Shibari, Penhouse Magazine. Used with permission.

Kelly Shibari, Penthouse Magazine. Used with permission.

WYV: I know that it is old news, but congrats on being the first plus size model for Penthouse!  How do you feel that this can change the industry? Which ways would you like to see the mainstream porn industry shift?

KS: Thank you so much! It’s still very surreal to see me within the covers of a Penthouse magazine — it’s something that was a “pie-in-the-sky” bucket list item, for sure, that actually came true.

In terms of how that might change the porn industry? I’m not sure in terms of specifics pertaining to Penthouse. The only thing I can do on a regular basis is help mainstream adult entertainment companies see that there is a place for more diversity in body shape and that there are plenty of guys who love thicker ladies. It could also open up those companies to a female audience. From a (financial) perspective, that’s always attractive to companies. And from a more feminist perspective, it opens the door to women becoming more confident about their sexuality and attractiveness to partners and admirers. It might not be the same sales numbers when compared to the mainstream consumer base, but you do get a loyal consumer base and you expand the variety of people buying your product. If a larger (no pun intended) community of larger men and women are open to purchasing films and magazines, because those films and magazines showcase sex-positive photos and articles on a regular basis which cater to them, then you have a win-win for everyone.

I’m not hoping that Penthouse will become a plus-size magazine. I’m hoping that it shows many adult entertainment businesses that catering to a more diverse population once in a while might lead to more sales, more empowerment and positive media messaging to the public.

WYV: How do you feel about seeing the first plus sized Sports Illustrated swimsuit models?

KS: I think SI was clever in acknowledging that women embody different shapes and sizes. Publishing three separate covers with three different body shapes — “standard SI model,” “athletic,” and “plus size” — allowed people to pick the one which spoke to them the best, or collect all three.

By not just publishing just a “standard” and “plus size” issue, people also weren’t forced to choose and have it be a competition between only two choices. Having that third option made it way more of an even statement about women and beauty.

All in all, I’m so happy that SI decided to do a plus-size cover and pictorial. Plus size women CAN be sporty, be interested in sports and so much more!

Kelly Shibari by Eddie Powell

Kelly Shibari by Eddie Powell

WYV: Do you feel that mainstream porn is becoming more diverse? 

KS: Diversity in porn is kind of cyclical if you only look at production. When I got into the industry in 2007, there were a handful of amateur [Big Beautiful Woman] websites in Southern California and only three professional BBW websites (two in Florida and one in Las Vegas). In terms of professional DVD production for BBWs, there were two in Florida and two or three in Southern California. On top of that, you had two mainstream porn companies who did ONE BBW porn film a year — so if you weren’t selected for those two titles that year, you had to try to stay in the industry long enough to be considered the next year.

Fast-forward almost ten years later, and you see a large diverse “feminist porn” community in San Francisco, which showcases all sorts of bodies; the explosion of BBW and SSBBW webcam and fetish/clips websites; and the same two website/DVD companies in Florida. In terms of mainstream porn companies, the two companies who did the one title a year have stopped producing BBW porn — and other mainstream companies have come and gone, trying their hand at plus-size pornography. You have big companies like Wicked Pictures doing a sex-ed film for people of size and magazines like Penthouse doing a plus size pictorial. Most of the adult industry awards now have a BBW category, rather than relegating that genre to “specialty.”

When you look just at production, we’re not any more prevalent in terms of the number of films released. But when you step back and look at the bigger picture, you’ll see we are more accepted as an actual genre in adult entertainment. That’s an amazing accomplishment, to have plus-size porn go from underground fetish to a mainstream adult entertainment option.

Related: Introducing The World’s First Body Inclusive Sex Shop

WYV: Plus size bodies are polarizing, whether you are in one or talking about them.  There’s a lot of conflict between “body positive” and “fat liberation” activists — two separate schools of thought with overlapping issues. Do you feel that there is a “good fat” and a “bad fat?” How do you feel the two groups can work together?

KS: Gosh, that’s such a touchy topic, isn’t it? Personally, I think it’s not “good fat” vs. “bad fat.” I think it’s more “good healthy” vs. “bad healthy.” There are plenty of slender models and entertainers (not just in XXX) who do some pretty unhealthy things to maintain their size … and plenty of fat models and entertainers who do the same thing. I think that no matter what your shape and size is, if you’re doing extreme things to keep that size (and that applies to slender AND plus size people), then it’s bad.

My hope is that people are able to not play into and perpetuate a stereotype just for the sake of money or fame. People should be able to say, “Hey, this is my body and I hope you find it, and my performance, sexy and titillating enough for you to be turned on.”

In terms of the two groups playing well together? Best way would be to just leave each other alone. Bashing doesn’t achieve anything. Accepting that everyone lives their own lives, as long as it’s not at the expense of someone else, is a great way to ensure that everyone can work on their own pursuit of happiness without fear of shame. Outside of getting involved because of actual injustices, we should let each of us live and let live.

I definitely am not “best friends” with all BBW models, fat activists and size-acceptance advocates. I’ve always maintained that I’m a confidence advocate before anything else, regardless of my size. But what I will admit to, is unfollowing, blocking, et cetera anyone who doesn’t speak my language. Yes, I suppose it’s private censorship, but I won’t call them out to try to censor them on the public stage, which I think is important.

WYV: How do you feel that modeling for Penthouse has benefited fellow plus size women outside of the industry?

KS: I’m not sure. I do know that Penthouse, since it’s a gentlemen’s magazine historically, received a fair amount of publicity for being so history-making/groundbreaking, but it didn’t receive the same amount of press as Ashley Graham did for Sports Illustrated. Adult entertainment doesn’t get the same visibility as mainstream publications — for good reason. You’re never going to see me on Good Morning America because there are far too many minors who might see that and be influenced in a way their parents (and conservative corporate sponsors) wouldn’t prefer.

I think it’s benefitted plus-size consumers more than plus-size women in the modeling/fashion world, adult or mainstream. Allowing the plus-size community to see that, yes, a gentlemen’s magazine (which makes its money by showing its consumers what “sexy” is) wants to show a woman of size is a very public sign that women who are bigger than a size 0, 2, 4, or 6 can indeed be considered beautiful from a carnal, sexual perspective.

Kelly Shibari at the International Lingerie Show. Used with permission.

Kelly Shibari at the International Lingerie Show. Used with permission.

WYV: As a buxom, full-figured woman, was growing up in Japan difficult? How do you think that has informed your work/work ethic? If you have been back to Japan over the years, how has your experience changed? If you often travel internationally, which places do you feel are most welcoming to you as a plus size person?

KS: It was difficult for a couple of reasons — at school (K-11) in Japan, I was bullied because my schoolmates saw me as “fat and ugly.” Outside of school, lots of men thought I was way older than I was. I was 12, and Japanese men thought I was easily 19 or 20. There was a lot of offers from much older men during my junior high and high school years. It’s funny now, because at 43 in the USA, people think I’m in my early 30s. It’s a weird arc of how cultures see age.

I didn’t go back to Japan till the mid-’90s, when I went there as a roadie/translator on a tour. I was already out of college then, so I think my experience was different, in that I actually was an adult. Unfortunately, I haven’t traveled as much as I’d like; it’s all been North American travel and not internationally. My plan is to change that next year, though.

Related: Here’s Why The Body Positive Movement Hasn’t Made it to Asia

WYV: As you age in an industry where sex appeal is your commodity, how do you see your career changing (if at all)? Are you treated differently?

KS: My career has already started changing! I made the decision years ago to do my own PR work and I’m now positioned where my work as a publicist takes up the majority of my workday. Modeling work is now back to being something I do if the project is interesting or inspirational — I’m in two documentaries this year and only one adult film, which I have agreed to because of the script.

I think I’m treated with a different kind of — respect, I guess — in terms of my work as a publicist. When I first started speaking at adult industry conferences, I would definitely have people wanting to schedule meetings with me afterwards, and I would know in the first five minutes of the meeting that it was nothing more than an attempt at a date … because of my position in the industry as a porn performer.

Now, six years later, companies are serious when discussing marketing campaigns. I guess it means I’ve proven myself as something more than “just a porn chick dabbling in something because no one’s hiring her anymore” — which is a definite assumption by many non-performers in the industry.

I’m grateful I have been able to stick it out and prove my place as a publicist and marketer in this industry. It means I can stick around way past what the industry considers the “expiration date” for many models and performers, in an industry I love and find weird and fascinating and ever-changing.

Kelly Shibari, used with permission.

Kelly Shibari, used with permission.

WYV: What advice would you give to other plus-sized women who may want to start a career in sex work? What should they be wary of? What would you have done differently, if anything?

KS: You know, I wrote an “Open Letter to BBWs Entering the Industry,” which received a lot of positive responses from BBW veterans and a lot of flack from those who have only been in the industry for less than three years.

To put it into a nutshell, the advice is the same for potential performers regardless of size — understand all of the potential pitfalls and if you still decide you “want in,” then know that it’s a finite, short-length industry. Not everyone performs past — 50? 45? 40? — and although the money may seem amazing in the beginning, work WILL slow down. You WILL have to charge less. You WILL start to get turned down for work. You WILL (if you’re not careful), get bitter when those things happen.

And if you decide to retire, you might get fired because a customer or coworker recognizes you. It’s a good idea to have an exit strategy even before your first scene or photo shoot and start using the money you make to invest in that, so you’re able to ensure yourself a proper retirement fund, health coverage, etc.

Learn business. Learn taxes. Learn investments. Think long-term and big-picture. An even shorter sound bite version? Treat your time in the industry and the work you do in it as a fun, sex-positive hobby that makes you some great “mad money.” And I think that applies to any industry that focuses on the commodification of beauty, regardless of size.

Check out Kelly Shibari’s XXX site or follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

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