Written by Jessie Sage, originally published in the Pittsburgh City Paper.
Last week, Pittsburgh-based artist and poet Christina Springer was a guest speaker in the class I’m teaching on sex work and sex workers. She read from her collection of poems, The Splooge Factory, which draws on her time as the receptionist at an erotic massage parlor/dungeon in the early 2000s.
In discussing these experiences, she spoke candidly about her reluctance to work more directly with clients, saying, “I remember the other women urging me to consider dominatrix work. They thought I would be a natural: I was theatrical, I loved language. But I felt I was too fat and that no one would ever want me.”
Though she was assured that there would be many clients who would prefer her build, she said, “I had internalized one of many oppressive attitudes,” adding, “Some days, I wish I had [become a dominatrix].”
Her word struck me on a personal level, being a plus-size woman who wound up working in the industry. As she expressed the way body image issues prevented her from doing work that would have been lucrative, I was simultaneously being harassed online for the crime of being naked on the internet (while fat), the parenthetical being the most salient part.
The conversation was particularly resonant with me, given that one week earlier Vice featured my husband and me in a short documentary about making porn as a couple. In less than two weeks, it’s already hit 1.2 million views. Such broad exposure catapulted us out of our safe circle of fans/clients, colleagues, and sympathetic friends, to a harsher and more critical general audience.
I anticipated the way that sex work stigma would negatively impact people’s views of our careers; I am quite used to managing that stigma. The intense fat shaming, on the other hand, was something I wasn’t prepared for.
Watch the video on YouTube and you’ll find comments like:
It would be cool if she wasn’t a whale … people pay for this?
If she lost 100 pounds, she would make way more money.
Bruh she’s built like she sips mayonnaise out of the jar for breakfast.
Curves, she’s built like a grocery bag full of water.
Yet, while I was being shamed for being too fat to fuck, I was also being flooded with new OnlyFans subscriptions and video sales. This is hardly surprising. Anyone who has spent any time in this industry knows that desire is way more diverse than internet trolls would have us believe.
While such fan support is important (after all I have a mortgage to pay), what was just as powerful to me were the messages I got from other women thanking me for making them feel different about their own bodies, here is one example:
I have always loved and respected my curvier friends but always had a fear of losing ‘my figure’ and seeing the confidence you embrace gives me a reassurance that as my body grows and changes I will still be beautiful.
While I certainly don’t think that the job of women/femmes is to be sexually attractive to men (or moreover that the sex industry is a good choice for everyone), I do hope that with more representation of women of all sizes, fewer and fewer will question their own desirability.
It makes me wonder if this is why being unapologetic about my own body was so unsettling to the endless people who worked hard to tear me down and make me insecure about my weight. Women believing in their own desirability is powerful, perhaps threatening.
I will take all of the hate I got in the last couple of weeks if it meant that even a handful of women feel more comfortable in their own bodies and sexuality, if they stop thinking that they are too fat to go after anything they desire.
Jessie Sage is a sex worker and writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. She’s also the co-founder of Peepshow Magazine and the co-host of the Peepshow Podcast. Her words can be found in the Washington Post, VICE’s Motherboard, Hustler Magazine, Men’s Health, BuzzFeed, and more. She’s currently writing a book on sex work, motherhood, and illness called An Unexpected Place (forthcoming on West Virginia University Press).