From Plus-sized Porn Princess to Social Media Maven: Catching Up with Kelly Shibari

In 2009, the Civilians interviewed Kelly Shibari as part of the research for the new musical "Pretty Filthy." Extended Play recently caught up with Shibari to see how the industry has changed since. Post contains NSFW images.

Photo Credit: Isabel Dresler

The Civilians first met plus-sized adult performer Kelly Shibari in 2009, during a trip to the porn capital of  world — the San Fernando Valley. The Civilians interviewed over 100 adult entertainment insiders, collecting material for the creation of the musical “Pretty Filthy” which ran at the Abrons Arts Center in NY in February 2015.

Shibari’s career in the adult entertainment industry has been anything but orthodox. Born and raised in Japan, Shibari moved to the United States when she was 16 to attend college in North Carolina. After school, she spent time in New York as a stagehand, before moving to Los Angeles to work for 10 years as a Hollywood art director. The Writers Guild of America strike in 2007 crippled Shibari’s livelihood and at the age of 34 she took a friend’s advice to try her hand at porn.

When the Civilians spoke to Shibari in 2009, she had only been a performer for two years and spoke frankly then about the benefits and disadvantages of being a plus-sized woman in the industry.

When she got her start in porn, Shibari had to balance more empowering projects (e.g. a porn parody of the sitcom “Roseanne,” in which she played the title role) with those that dehumanized her for her size (e.g. “Piggies for Porkin”). Frustrated with the trade-off, she founded a social media company and began setting her sights on a career beyond performing.

Extended Play Editor Ian Daniel caught up with Shibari to see what has changed in the six years since the Civilians last spoke to her.

IAN DANIEL: I’m reading the interview that the Civilians’ collaborator Laura Nix did with you in 2009.   You talked to her about supplementing your income from performing with revenue from your social media consultancy, Hourglass8. You said, “I think there’s longevity in the business if you take yourself out of the equation as a performer. Everyone’s looking at free porn. There are definite ways around it, and one of them is social media.” Are are still involved with social media? Are you still performing?

KELLY SHIBARI: The company name has changed from Hourglass8 to the PRSM Group, because it’s PR and social media now. I collaborate with a publicist in New York, and she handles all of the performers, because I don’t really have the patience to deal with performers personally. And on my end, I deal with novelty companies, and websites, and DVD companies, as well as non-adult entertainers.

I was always really super picky about which projects I would be in. And because I’m a plus-sized performer, a lot of the projects — especially when internet piracy became super rampant, like it is now — a lot of the plus-sized porn companies tried to branch out… you know, things that were almost fetishizing the size of the body. And so I was actually turning down those jobs. And so there would be companies, websites like — oh god I hate saying these names — but like “Feed Her Fuck Her” (NSFW link), which is a website. I don’t even know if it’s up anymore, so don’t even check, but basically big girls get a hotel room, eating room service while having sex with the room service attendant.

And it wasn’t sexy, like strawberries and whipped cream. It was fried chicken and macaroni and cheese. And so I was turning down probably half of the work that was being offered to me, even though the rates were really good, because I really wanted to stay on brand for me. I just want to be a hardcore performer, regardless of what size I was.

And so over the past five years, I’ve really slowed down my performing… I also turned 42, and so I was like, well I can’t be a performer forever… If I have a fun cameo as a non-sex performer — or if a really big project comes along, and I really want to be a part of that — then I will take those. But my main concentration really is PR and social media.

Kelly Shibari

Photo Credit: HausOfSe7en

IAN:  Internet piracy is rampant in the industry right now, which did not seem to be as much of a problem six years ago.  How has that impacted your career and the porn business in general?

KELLY: To me, it’s kind of a double-edged sword, because on one hand, it takes money out of the hands of the producers, and so that affects how much work I get, and how much money I get paid when I do work. Because it’s trickle down… With mainstream performers, they might make anywhere from $800 to $1,200 for a standard boy-girl scene, whereas a plus-sized performer would — especially when they’re first starting out — would make half that. The same kind of work.

On the other hand, being a niche performer — you know, the tube sites have showcased me to a group of fans that never knew I existed. So if you have guys who’d never buy porn, and they go to tube sites only, and they see a scene or two with me in it, and they go, “Oh who’s that girl?” And they seek me out on Twitter or Facebook — that’s a fan that didn’t know I existed.

I’m not a big fan of tube sites, but it is one of the more popular categories, BBW… There’s a couple of companies that I worked with last year that just did mainstream star showcase films with me. So I was in every scene, and I was working with A-list male performers, like James Deen, which plus-sized performers didn’t get the chance to do in the past. And even when they packaged it, it never said, you know, plus-sized porn. They never actually sold it as a plus-sized porn film.

IAN:  How do you balance the benefits of that exposure with the costs of not being compensated for your work?

KELLY: I do work with anti-piracy companies… And I have a Google alert, so if there’s a new scene that pops up on the tube site, I get a Google alert on it, and I send it to them… I’m super picky about what scenes do show up on the tubes. Super old stuff, like stuff that’s not available on DVD anymore, that I don’t mind getting out there. In fact, once a year, I’ll actually provide a link to it to all of my fans and say, “Here’s a free scene. Merry Christmas.”

The piracy community is very strong and very large. My friend, Nate Glass, he runs a company called Take Down Piracy. And he handles all the big studios, and that’s all he does all day long… And there are full message board threads dedicated to talking about how this guy is an asshole. All these pirates are like, “We keep putting stuff up. You can try to keep taking them down. We’re gonna keep putting them up.” And you’re like, “OK, you’re just giving me job security, dude.”

The fans don’t know that it’s piracy. The fans think that it’s something that me or the production company I work with deliberately put up on tube sites for advertising purposes.

There are companies trying to do a subscription-based thing for porn. But from what’s out there and does that — they’re only charging 99 cents a day, but people aren’t even really wanting to spend that. Like, 99 cents is still more expensive than free.

There’s the people who produce the porn, who are like, “You know, we really wish you’d buy your porn.” But at the same time, they also know that most people only need about two or three minutes of porn to get off. So I think that’s why we’re starting to see a lot more couples porn out there. When you’re watching porn with somebody, then you tend not to just watch three minutes.

IAN: In 2009, you said, “There’s a huge market for plus size porn. I’ve run into guys who are, like, ‘Yeah, my girlfriend’s skinny but I actually like thick girls,’ because of the whole social stigma.” Is that still the case?

KELLY: I think that in 2009, when we talked last, it was something that was still very fetishized… Since 2009, my fan base has changed, where most of my fans are couples and women. And, I mean, there’s still guys, but the majority of my fan base is now couples and women, who say, “I didn’t know that porn featuring people my size existed.”

And I also think that it also depends on the demographic. If you’re 18 to 24, and you’re a frat boy, the narrative might not even be what you care about. Most people only need about two or three minutes of porn to get off.   But if you’re in your 30s or 40s, and you’re in a relationship, or you’re female, or you’re a sensitive male who likes romance — like my current boyfriend, he watches a lot more rom-coms than I ever did — for those people, story-driven porn with dialogue is much more appealing, because it’s not just physical, it’s also mental.

IAN: So you think porn that has a narrative arc is gaining in popularity?

KELLY: Well, with more women starting to say that they’re watching a lot more porn themselves and admitting to it, I think you’re starting to see a lot more companies appeal to that and create products that do appeal to that market. We’re starting to see a lot more couples porn out there, which is kind of going back to 70s porn. Because most 70s porn was narrative.

Gonzo porn really didn’t become popular until the mid-to-late 80s. You know, people used to go to the theater. We don’t go the theater to watch gonzo porn now. You’d go to the theater, because — yeah, you’re gonna be in a seedy theater and jerk off — but there’s still a storyline. They have to still play the movie.

You’re starting to see more parodies, although parodies have become — they were super popular maybe three years ago — and they’re starting to slow down. But even the parodies have changed, where now it’s a lot more superhero parodies than sitcom parodies. Kind of tapping into the cosplay market, which has skyrocketed. So, you know, things are always changing, but there still kind of always the same. You still revert back to what things used to be.

IAN:  I’m curious to know your thoughts about how the porn industry has changed since Los Angeles started requiring performers to wear condoms in 2012.

KELLY: Well it’s my understanding is that it’s still mandatory within city limits. It’s just not really as enforced… There’s no money in the government in the middle of a recession to send people to go door-to-door to see, one, if they’re shooting porn, and, two, are you using a condom. Especially when people stopped filing for film permits, because in L.A. you have to file for a film permit for any filming that you do. And up until then, the porn industry was actually paying the city government film office for permits to shoot porn. When they realized, “Oh, if we give them when we’re gonna shoot porn, they’re gonna come by and check.” So they stopped buying the permits. The city government lost money.

So there’s still a lot of porn being shot without condoms, and nobody’s getting fined… But it’s an odd space, because the ballot measure wasn’t just for condoms. It was also for goggles, and facemasks, and latex gloves, and dental dams. The police department really couldn’t be bothered, because they’re too busy dealing with real crime… There are so many companies that shoot without condoms. It’s kind of still business as usual. I think people are more concerned about piracy than condoms.

Kelly Shibari

Photo Credit: CJ Wright

IAN: You said you’re picky about what you perform in, so are there any projects you’re working on that you’re excited about now?

KELLY: This past year, I had a couple of big projects that were more more like passion projects. And one of them was a sex-ed video for the plus-sized market, because that doesn’t exist. You have all these companies who make sex-ed videos, like “How to Give a Better Blow Job,” or “How to Have Anal Sex,” or “How to Negotiate a Threesome.” But there’s never been one for, you know, “How to Have Sex When You’re Plus-Sized.”

When we made the announcement that we were going to do it, a lot of people were like, “What? Fat people have to have sex differently?” There was a little bit of pushback from people who weren’t plus sized, right, cause they were like, “Well we shouldn’t offend fat people by saying they have to have sex a different way.”

The movie came out through Wicked, and it’s the only title out of their entire sex-ed line that sold out. And it had lots of mainstream attention. The plus-sized community completely embraced it. And it won Specialty Release of the Year in January at at Xbiz.

The sad part for me was that you could only buy that movie — because of the porn scenes — you could only buy them in adult stores. There was a part of me that really wanted them to come out with a non-naked person version that we could have at, like, Lane Bryant or Torrid, you know? But either way, it did really well.

IAN: That’s great.  Do you think its success speaks to a change in attitude towards plus-sized porn?

KELLY: You still have an obesity epidemic, and you still have people being unhealthy. But people are starting to talk about, “Look, there are skinny people who are super unhealthy.” You know? There are people who do cocaine all day long so that they can stay skinny.

In mainstream Hollywood, you still have fat-people sitcoms like “Mike and Molly,” where they do talk about size in a not-so-positive way. But at least in porn, we’re starting to see big women in super sexy situations. And there’s still companies that put out stuff like “Feed Her Fuck Her,” but you’re also having companies like Wicked and Hustler putting out plus-sized porn, where the women are shot in soft-focus… and they look gorgeous… The titles aren’t “That Whale Fucking.” It’s titles like “Big Girls Are Sexy,” you know, where you’re not having titles that say “Fat Sluts.”

IAN:  Do you feel like the younger generation of performers appreciates the doors you’ve helped to open? In 2009, you talked about mentoring women who were entering the business to prevent them from getting scammed. Is that still something you do?

KELLY: No… Mentoring girls is not, unfortunately — like, I’d love that to be positive, but my style of branding and doing work is so different from 20 year-olds getting into the business. They just want to make as much money as possible. It doesn’t matter what their brand is. And so telling them, “Look you need to be super cognizant of what films you take and what films you don’t take,” it kind of falls on deaf ears. Telling them, “Look, you might be doing a lot of work right now, but trust me, in six months it’s really gonna slow down, ’cause you’ll have worked with everybody.” They just don’t, they don’t believe that.

I do get several inquiries a year of girls — especially after interviews and stuff — saying, “I saw your interview… I’m thinking about getting into the industry. Can you help?” And I always have a stock answer, which is, “You have to understand that your family might disown you. If you have children, that you might lose custody. You will probably never be able to get a corporate job ever again, because when people find out you’ve been in porn, you’ll be fired. If you want to talk to children while you’re an entertainer, schools will prevent you from doing that, because you shouldn’t be talking to minors.”

I want to go and talk about confidence and body confidence and anti-bullying, but I can’t talk to people unless they’re at the college level. I can’t go to high schools and junior highs and talk to them, because I’m in porn. You know, my ex-boyfriend played local league hockey, but he wasn’t allowed to coach kid’s hockey, because he’s in porn.

If you’re OK with all of those things, then sure, do it. But also understand that you might make really good money for the first three-to-six months, and then you might not make any money. You might do your first scene and never make any money. You know, so if you consider all of the downsides of it — and hey, things do happen. You might get chlamydia, you might get gonorrhea, you might get herpes, you might get HIV, right? If you are comfortable with all of those potential downsides, and you still want to do it, then yeah, I guess go ahead. But I personally don’t want to help you, because I personally don’t want you or your kid or your boyfriend or your mom or your dad to come to me six months or two years or ten years from now and say, “You know, she got in the business because you helped her.” I don’t want to be blamed for that.

Comments

Leave a Reply