column from author/activist
The Royal Treatment
Big-Ass Birds and Other Creatures
Of all the mysterious things that ever came out of my dad's mouth mysterious as in, "Why the hell did he say that?" perhaps the most baffling and hurtful words were "big-ass bird." He engaged in a spate of this name-calling when I was eleven, pubertal, and completely freaked out about my body. I don't think it lasted for more than a few weeks -- it may even have lasted days, but its impact lingered for years. I'm not sure why he stopped, either, except that that was the year I started to talk back, and I can only assume I talked pretty vociferously. I remember thinking, in one tiny, clear part of my mind, "That is so inappropriate!" Which actually led to a pretty ground-level philosophical platform, one that's been with me ever since: My ass is mine.
Of course, that notion is pretty central to feminism, though it's not always expressed so baldly -- but then, another thing I learned from my dad was how to cuss. In the '70s-era feminism I grew up with, it was more likely to be stated as, "My body belongs to me," a little more prim, sure, but the same basic sentiment. "My ass is mine," so much more in-your-face, is more of a rowdy whore feminism, meant to speak to the issues of not just sexual harassment, rape, and abortion rights, but also how much to charge if you decide to rent your ass out by the hour.
At the age of eleven the notion of renting by the hour was so incomprehensible, if you'd told me then that later I would do it, it would have been like you were speaking Martian. One reason for this: I had been told that I was a big-ass bird. I screwed my spine into half a helix trying to look into mirrors, hoping to get a glimpse of how big it actually was. It must be huge, if my own dad couldn't help but mention it. Something like that would surely disqualify me from renting by the hour.
There sure was a lot I didn't know including that, in some circles, a big ass was a total plus. But who knew?
Even if this had not happened, I would not have been immune to body image issues as I proceeded into adolescence. Virtually no girl in this society is. The effects of this epidemic have been rather widely commented upon: worst-case scenarios include life-threatening eating disorders, and it's common for young women to feel detached from their own bodies, which often results in sexual disorders as well. The latter was certainly true for me -- I didn't learn to orgasm until I stole my dad's vibrator (hmmm, now that I think of it, getting back at him for his inappropriate mouth?). And though I was familiar with the concept of self-love, it was a struggle to really embrace that idea -- and myself. Especially my ass.
Body Image Hell
Men certainly have body image issues too; more, in fact, than most women ever know about. Given that women in this culture are schooled to be so critical about how they look, so competitive, so cellulite-obsessed this state seems completely normal to almost everyone. It's never truly a surprise when our lovely women friends come out with statements that tell us they find their own bodies deeply flawed. My ex-girlfriend Natalie, saved from complete sexual neurosis only because she was an avid masturbator, used to clutch my arm and demand, "Am I that fat?" when we walked down the street and saw someone over a size 14. She was not, in fact, fat at all. For one thing, she thought cigarettes were food -- and I must say it was both irritating and enlightening to be asked for such constant reassurance. Irritating, because it was obsessive and rude; but enlightening for the same reasons. She had good politics, she had even read Fat is a Feminist Issue, but she bought into a particularly female kind of fatphobia, a defensive sort of aggression.
As I said, men do this too. If we needed proof that women haven't cornered the market on body image issues, all we had to do was look at the market for fake abs. If anyone was surprised that women have flocked to get boob jobs, they hadn't been listening in high school, when girls in groups spent a fair amount of time obsessing about their breasts. But guys? Yep, guys. And never mind the penis enlargement market, which I've written about before.
Boobs weren't really my thing. I thought my breasts were essentially fine, especially after I stopped wearing the nasty white cotton bra into which my breasts did not fit. For some reason, although I was an A cup back in the day, I didn't buy into big tit fever. My ass, though -- well, you know how I felt about that. In fact, the healthiest thing I ever did about my ass problem was pose naked for Layne Winklebleck. Finally I could see my ass, splashed right here on the Spectator page. It was just about right. Well, who knew? Yes, a few of my lovers had reassured me, but a picture is worth a thousand words.
Speaking of reassurance: One reason some women are hesitant about sexual exploration has to do with this complex set of body image issues. In retrospect, I'm glad my biggest worry was my ass; at least it was on the other side of my body. Back in those days we had a bumper sticker that read, "If I tell you that you have a beautiful body, will you hold it against me?" Now, this can of course be taken a couple of different ways, and I don't recommend it as a pick-up line, but it does speak to the issue of sexual, and body-image, reassurance. I'm sure I'm not the only person who gradually learned to believe lovers when they told me they thought my body was beautiful.
So speak up, people! Don't lie, but rhapsodize about whatever you can, especially of your partner is shy. It couldn't hurt, and you just might patch some old holes in your lover's self-esteem. Help a fainting robin into its nest again, you know. Maybe even unleash a sleeping tiger -- hey, I don't mean this has to be a completely altruistic deal.
There are many reasons why body image is such an issue, and if anything, it's worse today than it was when I was trying to look at my ass in a mirror. Today, after all, we have Britney Spears for comparison. At least I had the alternative role model of Mama Cass. And one thing that many, many women speak up about is the way porn bodies make their own bodies seem inadequate. Even women who are generally pro-porn may not enjoy watching it, because they can't get it out of their heads that those bodies tanned, blonde, worked-out and busty are they way women should look, and if they themselves don't look that way, there's something wrong. You have to go pretty far out of your way to find porn that features women with real bodies non-enhanced by silicone and hours of gym time, I mean. In fact, I think this is one of the appeals of amateur. Sure, there are plenty of pornstar clones among the girls and boys next door who make those movies but there are also plenty of folks who don't hit the gym every day, who don't have fake boobs, who look like the people you see at the mall or the grocery store.
Big, Beautiful, Bold, and Bodacious
The irony is, plenty of men and women like big lovers, like a super-curvy body, like that Venus-of-Willendorf abundance. At Good Vibes we often get requests for porn featuring bigger and bolder stars. So for its next release, GV's video company Sexpositive Productions is answering the call with Voluptuous Vixens, an all-female big-girl romp in the style of '50s pin-up. Hey, they're like Bettie Page, only bigger! Not only does the video have beautiful style -- the art director totally outdid herself, and you know that's another thing many women want in porn -- it features gorgeous women of size, doing what they like to do. Masturbation! Strap-ons! Wrestling! And more masturbation! For some reason, Voluptuous Vixens has not one, but two masturbation scenes that take place in cool old cars. As you watch them, you may find yourself thinking, "Yeah! Old cars are sexy! Why isn't there more porn with cool old cars?"
Ass! Tits! Thighs! All abundant, and all beautiful. Hanne Blank, author of Big Big Love, raved about it, and if you have one iota of appreciation for large women, so will you. Hey, the underwear alone is worth the price of admission. Voluptuous Vixens will be on the shelves in about a month look for more info in the calendar section and come to the screening. I showed a sneak preview clip at Ladyfest last month, and the mostly-female audience howled their approval. It's only one strike against body image neurosis, but if a picture is worth a thousand words, a moving picture is a whole volume.
When I was writing Exhibitionism for the Shy I sought out Candye Kane, the bold, beautiful plus-sized blues singer who used to do porn. She said great things about body image issues, as did Juliet "Aunt Peg" Anderson, who didn't even start making porn movies until she was forty years old. But another (younger and thinner) interviewee said something equally brilliant. To paraphrase: "When I see people who don't fit the social norm for attractiveness [that young, pretty, thin state that even the youngest and thinnest is bound to grow out of] dressed up sexy, at a play party, having a great time, I realize everything I tell myself about not being good enough is a lie. Look at them! They're having fun! They're hot and sexy just they way they are! And I must be, too."
Yeah, baby. Look at that ass!