Fat Porn Breaking Beauty Ideals

by Monica Stancu


In The Desirable Body, Bound and Gagged and Sex for Sale, Jon Stratton, Laura Kipnis and Ron Weitzer offer a critical analysis of the commodification of the body, especially the female body within the capitalist American society. Thanks to the advent of mass reproduction techniques such as photography and video, the public can buy easy access to images of female sexuality. The female body has been transformed into a spectacle for the male gaze in exchange for money. Furthermore, these new technologies have served to promote and impose ideals of beauty by transforming women into docile bodies whose social and financial success depends on being able to conform to these standards.

However, pornography can also be used as a tool to cater to the people whose tastes and bodies do not reflect mainstream standards. “Fat porn” is a form of sexual expression through which non-conforming bodies are celebrated. For instance, the website http://www.porncity.net included the self-portrait of a naked chubby woman. While she may be ignored or stigmatized because her body type does not conform to contemporary ideals of beauty, in the virtual world, her body is potentially desirable. In fact, the word “fat” is not used: instead she is described in more positive terms: she is called a vixen with “naughty curves” and a “huge rack.” Moreover, the website where more of her pictures are posted is called www.mebeautiful.com.

In one of the essays included in Sex for Sale: Prostitution, Pornography and the Sex Industry, Sharon A. Abott argues that there are several reasons why women decide to get into the porn industry. They agree to expose their bodies in front of the camera for more than just monetary award. In fact, although the sex industry and fan magazines glamorize the business by focusing on the lavish lifestyles of its members, only some of them are able to earn a lot of money. Also, despite the fact that porn is one of the few industries where women make more money than men, Abott claims that “the annual incomes generated from porn alone typically approximate middle class earnings” (Abott 20). Thus, amateur porn like this non-professional self-portrait is unlikely to get the model a high paycheck, especially when the image does not depict the subject engaging in oral or anal sex. However, amateur porn is definitely a way to break into the industry by bringing models quick public recognition.

In addition to the desire to earn money and fame, Abott also argues that the porn industry offers an opportunity for individuals to reject the prevailing norms of acceptable sexuality:

While porn undoubtedly attracts exhibitionists, it is also a vehicle for people who wish to violate, challenge and refute social norms. This phenomenon is particularly relevant for women as the double standard offers more stringent norms for female sexual expression, whose violations carry additional sanctions. (Abott 26)

Indeed, by photographing herself, the amateur female model featured on http://www.porncity.net is claiming agency: she is taking control of how the gazer is watching her, and she is the one who decides how much the gazer sees, from what angle and when. She is defying the viewer by looking straight at the camera. In fact, chubby women claiming power is a recurrent theme in fat porn: these women occupy a lot of space and many times they seem to squash the men under the weight of their bodies. Therefore, these men enjoy relinquishing some of their masculine power, in this case physical power, to women.

The post describing her photograph reads: “It gets her turned on so much knowing that guys are going to be checking out her photos and jerking off.” By taking a nude photo of herself and choosing to display it to the public, the model refutes the idea promoted by cultural conservatives and the feminist right that women in porn are victimized and objectified. Moreover, she is not a passive abused woman since she is in control of her sexuality.

In Bound and Gagged, Laura Kipnis looks at the photos of the “legitimate artist” Cindy Sherman and compares them to the self-portraits in personal advertisements taken by transsexuals to argue that both types of photography adopt images of femininity. These types of pictures reflect the inability of the subject to conform to gender conventions and urge us to recognize the cultural construction of gender roles. Similar to the self-portraits published by transsexuals and Sherman, the amateur porn model featured on the website http://www.porncity.net is playing with the ideals of beauty and respectability. She is a subject that challenges social acceptability.

Kipnis also adds in her book that fat porn defies the norms of aesthetics by celebrating these nonconforming bodies: indeed, rather than hiding fat, “the chubby amateur” model featured on http://www.porncity.net confidently exposes it and is not ashamed of doing so.

In her self-shot photo, the model is wearing only a pair of black panties, an elegant bracelet and a pearl necklace, reminding the viewer of an iconic photograph of Marilyn Monroe (her last sitting) in which the actress also appeared only wearing a set of pearls. By associating herself with Marilyn Monroe, a Western symbol of white classic femininity and glamour (despite the fact that she did not look like today’s top models,) this woman legitimizes the desirability of her body. Her use of pearls conjures up images of socialites and upper-class respectability, while at the same time defying the images since it is the only thing she wears.

To conclude, although the sex industry can sometimes be harmful to women since mainstream porn promotes impossible ideals of beauty and sexual performances, fat porn provides a challenge and an alternative to these ideals, legitimizing the attractiveness of women who do not conform to the mainstream social standards in terms of physical beauty and sexual behavior. ▢

Monica Stancu graduated from the University of Bucharest, Romania with a degree in American Studies. She is the recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship and is currently a graduate student studying Women’s History at Sarah Lawrence College.

Works Cited

Chubby Amateur Self-Shot Photos. n.d. 25 June 2010 <http://www.porncity.net/blog.php?user=fat&note=132497&gt;.

Kipnis, Laura. Bound and Gagged: Pornography and the Politics of Fantasy in America. New York: Grove Press, 1996.

Stratton, Jon. The Desirable Body: Cultural Fetishism and the Erotics of Consumption. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2001.

Weitzer, Ron. Sex for Sale: Prostitution, Pornography and the Sex Industry. New York: Routledge, 2000.

One thought on “Fat Porn Breaking Beauty Ideals

  1. This is one of the best article I’ve read in a long time! A great analysis of our world that becomes female dominated and self aware of the dangers that pornography might have in relationship to a fully grown society . Well done, Monica!

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