Meet The Plus-Size Porn Star Who's Fighting Back

PHOTO: COURTESY OF @kellyshibari.
How does one sum up Kelly Shibari? Yes, she performs in hardcore porn. Yes, she is plus-size in an industry notorious for its fixation on bottle blondes of Barbie proportions. But, the tag “plus-size porn star” hardly does Shibari justice. Born and raised in Japan, Kelly got her start in the entertainment industry as a Hollywood art director and production designer. In 2007 she was invited to perform in an adult film — and she's never looked back.
Seven years after her porn debut, Shibari's influence spills far beyond her viewers' fantasies. She runs her own social-media marketing company, ThePRSMGroup, which advises adult-entertainment clients on how to build their brands. She also holds executive positions at two other brand-management companies, FineAssMarketing and STEME360. And, she engages closely with her fans (and goes head-to-head with critics) on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Kelly's latest role is that of sex educator; she's working with fellow porn performer jessica drake to create jessica drake’s Guide to Wicked Sex: Plus Size, out later this month. In the DVD, Kelly leads viewers through an intimate (and graphic) exploration of what plus-size men and women look for in relationships — a first-of-its-kind, how-to guide. Basically, this woman can work a room.
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We spoke with Kelly about the film as well as her takes on body confidence, feminist porn, on-screen gangbangs, and the sex scene she absolutely refuses to do.
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PHOTO: COURTESY OF @kellyshibari.
First of all, congratulations on being the first plus-size model on the cover of Penthouse Forum in over 40 years. What has the response been like?

"Thank you! When that issue came out, the response was even bigger than I had thought it would be, and there have been a nice handful of mainstream media sites that have covered it. [Even if the commentary] was in disagreement, it was intelligent. For example. on one site, this guy commented, 'I would never buy her porn... She’s not my kind of sexy.' I think the standard response from most women when they hear that is, 'Well, fuck you, you’re just a hater' — but my response was, 'Well, good for you for knowing what you like'... That ideal of the slender, Photoshopped model, with lots of hair and makeup and shot with lighting and a filter on a lens — that kind of beauty has been shoved down our throats for decades, and [many of us] don’t like it. There are plenty of men and women who prefer men and women of size."
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PHOTO: COURTESY OF @kellyshibari.
How did you figure out how to deal with haters today?

"In my first couple of years in the industry, there was a lot of that online trolling, and it was shocking because I hadn’t experienced it before... There are so many girls getting into the industry these days who just got out of high school or just got out of college, so they understand the whole social-media aspect of things. But, you’ve got girls like the student Alyssa Funke, who just killed herself because she got outed as a porn performer for having done one scene. Then, on the other side, you’ve got girls like Belle Knox who are just like, 'Yeah, I’m gonna own it, and make that part of my brand.' So, for me, just having been bullied in general made me more aware of that kind of behavior. Also, the fact that I didn’t get into the industry until I was in my 30s allowed me to deal with the trolls in a different way than somebody in their 20s probably would have."
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PHOTO: COURTESY OF @kellyshibari.
It does seem as though we as a culture are still struggling with so much shame around porn; even people who watch it will give performers a hard time. Do you think attitudes toward porn are changing or stagnating?

"I think attitudes toward porn have shifted in that it’s really become mainstream. You’ve got Samuel L. Jackson talking on a panel about the free porn site he goes to, you know? You’ve got people making porn jokes on a regular basis. Where people used to be very hush-hush about watching porn, now people say, 'Yeah, sure, I watch it, and so does everybody else'... On the other hand, it’s still very taboo in this culture if you’re in that industry — this weird hypocrisy where people are like, 'Yeah, everyone watches porn! Yay! But if you’re doing it, then you suck.' [However,] in Japan, the assumption is that if you’re in that industry you’re eventually going to get out of it. Everybody in those countries understands that it's short-lived."
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PHOTO: COURTESY OF @kellyshibari.
So, is being a performer a much bigger label in the United States?

"The assumption in other countries is 'Oh yeah, in a few years you’re going to get out of porn and move on to something else,' whereas here it’s, 'Oh, you fell into it because you have nothing else to offer the world, and so you’re going to become this broken, drug-addled, STD-addled human being, because this was your last resort.' So, that perception is what needs to be changed."
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PHOTO: COURTESY OF @kellyshibari.
How did you get your start in the industry?

"I actually worked in mainstream Hollywood as an art director and production designer. But, in 2007, there was a huge writers’ strike in LA; if you wanted to work, you had to cross the picket line. A friend of mine who did lighting work in the adult-entertainment industry said, 'Well, this is what we’re doing; you might want to try it.'

"I asked a whole bunch of questions about STDs, and said, 'I’ve never seen plus-size porn. Does it even exist? Are we the butt of a joke?' And, my friend showed me a couple websites where the girls looked great and they were actually being showcased as plus-size, beautiful women — as opposed to the girl who lies on the beach eating a bucket of fried chicken and then has sex.

"[Performing in porn] was really meant to be a sabbatical, so I said, 'Okay, fine. I’ll send my photos and if they take me, then I’ll do it.' So, that turned into a year, [which] turned into two years...and now it’s been seven years."
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PHOTO: COURTESY OF WICKED PICTURES.
Do you feel that the industry is moving in the right direction in terms of including a greater range of size in performers?

"I think so, right now, but I don’t know what things will look like in a couple years. Right now it’s the 'it' thing to talk about, both in mainstream fashion and television, with people like Melissa McCarthy and Margaret Cho and Rebel Wilson. The plus-sized female entertainer is very popular in mainstream culture right now, though mostly still in comedy — in sitcoms or as the comedic sidekick. The plus-size woman is not allowed to be the sexy person or the ideal for a romantic love interest."
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PHOTO: COURTESY OF WICKED PICTURES.
Do you see yourself continuing to perform?

"Oh, no. The PR and marketing work is taking up so much of my time now that I’m really comfortable going, 'Okay, well, I think I’ve done everything I want to do as a performer.' If something else comes up, cool, I’ll take it, but I’m not going to be pursuing it. Once you turn over 40, you start going, 'Are there projects I have wanted to do that I haven’t done yet?' And one of them was a sex-ed video... I’ve looked everywhere: There’s no DVD out there right now for the plus-size, singles-and-couples market for relationships and sex. I approached a few sex-ed companies and pitched them, but nobody seemed to be that interested. So, I approached jessica drake, who is a contract performer with Wicked and also owns [the video series] Guide to Wicked Sex. And, immediately, without hesitation, jessica said 'Yes, let’s do it.' We got a script together, we cast the film, we shot it, and now it’s coming out on June 25."
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PHOTO: COURTESY OF WICKED PICTURES.
What kind of information are plus-size people going to find in this resource that isn’t readily available elsewhere?

"It really is shown from a very nerdy, geeky standpoint of ergonomics: 'You have a penis, you have a vagina that has fat in the way. Let’s figure out the ways that make penetration deeper.' We do make a disclaimer and say, 'Just because we are showcasing these positions doesn’t mean that these are the only positions you can do — but if you happen to be a couple who currently has sex in one missionary position with the lights off and a T-shirt on, you might want to use these positions as a kind of experiment and go from there.'

"So many sex-ed DVDs really have just positions, but we wanted to make sure that we also covered body confidence and communication... Something that happens with a lot of plus-size women and men is they feel they’re unattractive because that’s what they’re told all the time. And, if you’re told that you’re ugly 10 times a day by all the diet ads and the magazines and people on social media...you’re going to believe that hype, you know? A lot of girls and guys think 'Oh, she’s only with me because she’s settling.' It’s so sad... Because, if you actually talk to the partner, they’re like, 'No, I think she’s fuckin’ hot. I love those curves.' And, the same goes for guys. A lot of guys feel like they need to have a six-pack to be attractive, and there are a lot of women out there who are like, 'No, I would much rather have my guy have a little bit of meat on him.'

"So, we do have...communication exercises [on the DVD, to help partners] feel more confident... And, I think that those kinds of exercises work for all sorts of couples, not just plus-sized. Age falls into that, too...over time things happen; you get pregnant and you don’t lose the weight, or you get grey hair or wrinkles or stretch marks...and it becomes this downward spiral of two people who never, ever have sex again. It sucks. So, this film is specifically marketed to the plus-size community, but there are aspects of it that apply to all sorts of people."
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PHOTO: COURTESY OF WICKED PICTURES.
Speaking of including all sorts of people, what’s your take on porn that brands itself as “feminist”?

"I think that the definition of feminism is skewed. I feel that what they’re creating isn’t feminist porn but actually humanist porn. They handle trans*, they handle queer, they handle gay, they handle plus-size, they handle everything, you know? It’s not just feminist, and the directors aren’t all women, cis or trans* or otherwise. So, I think that what may have started as a feminist movement...is actually more of a humanist movement and that branding it as 'feminist' actually ostracizes a lot of cisgender men."

So, you see it not as a problem of content but of labeling.

"As a performer, and as a sexual person, I like all sorts of things. I like kink, I have fantasies about multiple partners, and I’ve been able to do that in my work — but in certain circles that’s not feminist, because I am putting myself in a position of submission, or I’m putting myself in a position of being used as an objectified human being. And, my take is, 'Yeah, but I’m a woman, and if I’m spending my own money and my own time and I’m producing my own content, technically that should be feminist, because I’m not waiting for a guy to handle that.' It’s funny to be considered a feminist not for the work that I’ve done or for the choices that I’ve made as a performer, but really only because I’m plus-size.

"A couple years ago I created a film called Kelly Shibari is Overloaded, which is a fan-bang movie. I invited 18 guys who were all fans, so they’re not built like male porn stars, and we had a blow-bang, which is a blowjob gangbang. It was self-produced and self-marketed, and it got nominated for a bunch of stuff, including the Feminist Porn Awards, surprisingly. Depending on who you talk to, it was very feminist or it was very misogynistic. But, I think that if I had been slender and created that movie, it would never be considered a feminist movie. When my work is branded as feminist...because I’m a person of size, I go 'Okay, I guess I’ll take that — but I think I am a feminist for all sorts of different reasons, and I think you’re overlooking them.'... My feminism doesn’t come from my size. My feminism comes from me not waiting for a guy to help me."
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