In June, I wrote an article about the porn category of BBWs (an acronym meaning Big Beautiful Woman), in an effort to answer the question: What makes someone a BBW? This question was, in part, a personal one. I’m often considered a BBW performer myself. But classification always feels complicated to me (and for everyone I spoke with, too). Categories are constructed, and bodies don’t easily fall into categories.
That article was borne out of questions about my own identity and place in the community, so I asked questions that were relevant to me. Many of the people I spoke with reflected concerns similar to mine, both positive and negative. The piece spoke to people who are like me, to those who fall on the border. But I also received criticism from people who are classifed BBW, but whose concerns were not represented in the piece: many who reached out to me identify as SSBBWs, or Super-Size BBWs, a genre of porn performer that includes women who are much larger—often weighing around 400 pounds or more—than an average BBW. Others told me that being queer or Black made the BBW label more complicated, and that their experiences with fans and self-promotion can be significantly different than the ones I explored in that piece.
BBW is a euphemism for “fat,” but it also implies that not all “big” women may be “beautiful,” according to societal standards. In other words, the BBW category only includes women who society considers acceptably fat: That often only includes white, cis, straight or commercially plus-sized women, and leaves everyone else out. And there are many factors beyond size that may contribute to the experience one has within the category, so I spoke with some of these performers to help fill in some gaps.
What Makes a SSBBW?
As with the line between BBW and conventional models, the line between BBW and SSBBW isn’t entirely clear. “If you cannot fit into the largest size at a plus size store comfortably you are an SSBBW,” Ivy Davenport, a SSBBW performer told me on the phone. “A lot of people say it is at 300 pounds.”
Davenport feels at home in this world. She recalls that as a young person she realized that fat was her own personal kink. This interest traveled with her into porn. “I would categorize myself as a feedist. I love being fat, and I love feeding other people. It is a fun thing to play with,” she said. She describes her particular brand as extreme: it includes forced feeding, funnel feeding, gagging, forced orgasm while being fed, eating from a trough, wearing a pig nose, and being fed while fucking.
While Davenport has fans who are very comfortable in their desire for her and for other SSBBW models, there is also a contingent of fans who have a very different relationship to fat women.
“There are guys who, for whatever reason, love fat women, but can’t bring themselves to marry or date them,” she said. Davenport says that this behavior can become abusive, particularly when men project their shame onto the fat women they desire: when they seek out sexual relationships with fat women but refuse to be with them in public, when they insult the models they desire, etc.
Davenport told me that working for BBW fans has been mostly positive, but when she does crossover work with thinner performers, she gets more harassment. She told me that their fans have flooded her inbox with health related “terrible comments.”
Being a SSBBW also means having to face a lot of discrimination and harassment. Studios discriminate against them, so they’re often forced to produce and distribute their work independently: “You have to produce and distribute pornographic content for yourself because no one is going to hire you,” she said.
The category “BBW” doesn’t only set the boundaries for what is acceptable in terms of size. Race also plays a significant role, particularly for Black women. Shy Spells started camming and clip production a year ago at the suggestion of a friend. “I feel personally, as a Black woman of color and a BBW, that I have much fewer people who will favor me,” Spells told me in a phone conversation. “It doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for me, but I have to work harder to set myself apart.”
Being Black and being a BBW makes her an easy target for hate and harassment, Spells said. She told me she feels like she had to develop a thick skin. “Sex workers get a lot of hate already, and not being what mainstream considers beautiful boosts that.”
"To be honest, I think the Black comes up first, before the fat.”
There is also the overt bullying that BBW women of color experience. There is a long history of racialized stereotypes of Black women that emphasize the size of feminine features (large hips, butt, breasts).
“I have had some viewers tell me that they would never book a show with a fat girl,” Spells said. Before fat slurs, harassers usually opt for racial ones, Spells told me. “There is a lot of the N- word, and to be honest, I think the Black comes up first, before the fat.”
Spookyfatbrat, who has also recently begun camming, agreed. She told me in an email conversation that she’s also been called the N-word in her own chat room. Being racially ambiguous adds to the problem, “I’ve had someone think I was Latinx but found out I was Black and was completely awful to me… I am constantly being fetishized,” she said.
Cam model Jalisa Elite, who has been in the industry for seven years, also talks publicly about fetishization. While she understands that she has to label her work with terms like BBW and “Ebony” in order to attract clients, she says this comes at a price: “When you’re part of a fetishized group because of race and/or size a lot of people will have a hard time remembering outside of compensated contact that fetish talk is not wanted,” she told me in an email. “While I have no problem being referred to as a BBW, being referred to as ‘an Ebony’ is a hard no…. People get so caught up in the fetish they forget that Ebony is a keyword for Black porn and not what you call Black people. That is pretty draining.”
Gender identity also complicates categorization. BBW is obviously gendered feminine, as are many other euphemisms that are often associated with plus size models, such as curvy, voluptuous, etc. This becomes a problem for performers who are labeled BBW, but who do not identify as cis-gender women, such as Xöe Nova, who identifies as an indigenous, pansexual, non-binary, transmasculine femme.
Given that Nova has been in the industry most of their adult life, they built a pornography and art modeling career prior to having a sense of their own gender identity. This has meant that they have built a career on a certain brand of female sexuality that doesn’t quite fit. “Starting sex work made me truly understand my femininity and my power in that,” Nova said. “It’s a part of myself that I am proud of, but it also helped me realize that I am not a woman and I don’t think I’ve ever been completely comfortable in these roles that I’ve built my work, career, and brand on.”
“It is really cool to be celebrated for the things the general public finds the most horrifying about you."
Nova has long black hair, large breasts, a curvy body. They have built their career on a feminine appearance, and one that gets sexualized in the way that femmes are sexualized. That’s not something that they are interested in throwing away now that they have come to terms with their more ambiguous gender identity. “Being femme, I still love playing it up and it can be fun and performative in some ways when I’m on cam,” they said. “I still see it as a way to harness and celebrate my femininity, and I don’t see that as a threat to my masculine identity at all.”
Pushing Perceptions of What’s ‘Acceptably Fat’
The toughest thing about doing this sort of sex work for all of the models that I spoke with, and for me, is how hard our fans’ perceptions of us are to escape. This is particularly pointed for Nova, because clients have a hard time seeing past their feminine presentation. “I’m much more than my body and my feminine appearance, and it can be very confusing and painful to be perceived as only that,” Nova said. “People overly feminize me because of [my body], that is the most difficult part, because though I love and accept myself the way I am, this is never how I wanted my body to be, it doesn’t fully align with me or how I feel.”
Nova found modeling to be a space that their own creativity can flourish. “The biggest positive has been understanding the full scope of my identity and how that has driven my creative process, my professional passions, my access to an amazing community of people just like me” they said. And yet, to Nova, it has also felt like being trapped in others’ perceptions. “If I change anything about my body or I am too open about my gender and presenting that in my work, I will lose my career and my client base,” Nova said. “It is difficult to think that I won’t have the option to have a breast reduction, for example, because maintaining my income in an industry where I have very little privilege to begin with, comes first.”
"When I see them as sexy, I’m like ‘OK, she’s beautiful so maybe I am too.’”
This is where the problem for all performers who get pushed into marginal categories. Categories flatten; they reduce us to a set of characteristics that we may or may not identify with. These classifications typically have more to do with perceptions of us than with how we feel about ourselves. While a broader array of performers representing different races, body types and gender identities is positive progress—and especially that most of the performers I spoke with feel empowered and liberated by this progress—it is also a way in which we are still being marginalized.
The people who are at the front lines, doing this work despite all of the various ways in which they are being marginalized and pushed out, are the ones who are going to challenge cultural perceptions of what we consider “acceptably fat.” This can be liberatory for both the performers who are brave enough to do this, and for the viewers, if they can learn to be open enough to move past their cultural biases and racism and embrace a wider diversity of desire.
Davenport describes her work as self-healing. “It is really cool to be celebrated for the things the general public finds the most horrifying about you. I revel in that,” she said. And she is not alone.
“Fuck you; I’m big, Black, blunt, and I am going to make money off you.”
That she revels in this has helped other performers feel empowered. “When I look at people like Ivy Davenport I think, maybe I can be like that too,” Spells said. She started following more BBW and SSBBW models and told me that the fact that they are present in the community has been really powerful for her. “I realized how much I look up to them,” she said in a Twitter message. “When I see bodies that are similar to mine and when I see them as sexy, I’m like ‘OK, she’s beautiful so maybe I am too.’”
In addition to making Spells feel more beautiful, which is a substantial, she has come to see her work as a political statement. “I feel like my work is a slap in the face to the patriarchy,” she said. And as if speaking directly to the patriarchy, she passionately added, “Fuck you; I’m big, Black, blunt, and I am going to make money off you.”