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Big Is Beautiful (and Profitable) for the Adult Marketplace

Big Is Beautiful (and Profitable) for the Adult Marketplace

Photograph of April Flores and Kelly Shibari in Behind the Red Door, directed by Carlos Batts and produced by Good Releasing.

The adult industry, along with the world of fashion, has long been criticized for promoting a physical aesthetic that is not only unrealistic but also unattainable for most women. Given that the average American woman wears size 12-14, the dominance of the size-2 model is even more confusing. Especially in the adult industry, which makes bank on serving even the most arcane sexual niches, why is such a large contingent of consumers—and their pocketbooks—being left out of the economic picture?

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Setting aside the question of any social injustice that this bias might represent, ignoring the majority of female consumers—and those who find them desirable—is especially short-sighted during a recession that has affected even the adult industry. Considering that the market for so-called “plus size” apparel is expected to increase by 37 percent and equal $65 billion in sales by 2012, it’s not just the luscious body measurements involved that should be quickening the pulses of the country’s manufacturers and retail outlets, not to mention those whose livelihoods are dedicated to creating sexy visual imagery.

With an estimated 40 million American women who weigh more than 152 pounds and are eager to purchase costumes, lingerie, and other erotic products—as well as both male and female devotees hungry to consume quality erotic entertainment that showcases amply proportioned women—the only thing missing appears to be an abundance of appropriate products.

While some can’t grasp the fact that women who don’t look like traditional porn stars desire many of the same things—and enjoy similar adulation from fans—as their Barbie-shaped counterparts, those who do “get it” struggle with the frustration of limited product lines.

“It’s definitely a growing market, or becoming more recognized, anyway,” observes Larry Garland, president and CEO of Eldorado Trading Company. The web-based wholesaler, which specializes in adult toys, has been carrying plus-size products “as long as they’ve been available,” according to Garland, who adds, “All signs are positive.

It’s a growing niche and we’d love to have more products to offer.”

Fortunately, as the median age and weight of consumers have increased, so have the options available to them. While a surge in size-acceptance activism during the 1980s brought the issue of discrimination to a wider audience than ever before, the buying power of that same audience has inspired the creation of an ever-increasing number of fashion and entertainment opportunities, much to the delight of not only consumers but also an expanding capitalist bottom line.

Pretty, Plush, & Pornographic Pictures

In the wide-open arena of the internet, those with a closeted desire for abundant flesh have been able to build their own erotic infrastructure, investing in the assets of various plus-size webgirls, including Miss Mina, SarahReign, Wild Diva, MercedesBBW, Bi-servantgirl and Juicy Little Fat Grl.

Virtual BBW-related watering holes such as FatForums.com, BodaciousX.com and CJWrightXXX.com have reassured untold numbers of men and women who self-identify as “fat admirers” or “chubby chasers” that they are not alone in their appreciation of the fuller figure. Social networking enthusiasts with their fingers on the mouse-pulse of the internet and its mobile offspring gain even greater access to the objects of their desire by friending models on MySpace and Facebook, as well as following them on Twitter individually, or as part of @bbwgirltweet.

“We have always had great success with the BBW producers who have uploaded their content to Clips4Sale.com,” says Neil Orkin, president and founder of Clips4sale.com. “The BBW fan base continues to drive traffic. This is a growing fetish where fans and admirers who desire BBW content are always searching for the next hot BBW starlet.”

Director/performer Wright, known to many as the “King of the BBWs,” makes no bones about his special admiration for women of substance. He knows from personal experience what it’s like to be a man whose pornographic preferences have not been satisfied. After having his desire to shoot scenes with larger women laughed at by producers, Wright decided to take matters into his own hands and begin filming the kinds of scenes he’d been dreaming about.

“The mainstream part of porn could care less what I’m doing,” he confides. “If BBWs were swallowed up by the earth right now, they wouldn’t care.”

Wright and his loyal fan base would care, however.

Wright knows there are fans “who are starving for this material, because they’re not getting fed. But it’s like when girls say people are telling them not to fuck a black man. The average person looks at me and thinks, ‘Oh, he wouldn’t like no big girls—he probably likes fitness models,’ not even knowing. I don’t care how big a chick is. If I’m attracted to her, then it’s cool. Big tits, big butt, big thighs, big belly, big arms; I like all that shit.”
Much to the delight of Wright and his fans, women with those attributes like him, too. Topaz LaDai, who wears a size 16/18 and worked with Wright on Bumpin’ Body Phat 2—Operation M.I.L.F, is only one of many BBW performers with words of praise for the hard-bodied lover of soft-bodied women.

Although BBW performers acknowledge that a frat boy/bachelor party market for their products exists, with purchases being made primarily as gag gifts, they universally scorn videos featuring what LaDai calls “I’m fat and desperate or watch me degrade myself as a fat slut for your amusement” themes.

While some viewers certainly find such videos arousing for a variety of reasons, many performers believe that they, and the majority of genuine fat admirers, are better served by producers who focus on the sensuality of women sporting size 14 and above. Wright and award-winning directors Rodney Moore and Carlos Batts are seen as role models for the industry. They are joined by appreciative male talent including Christian XXX and Guy De Silva, both of whom size 16/18 Japanese-Irish performer Kelly Shibari admits she “would never say ‘no’ to.” And there are other video titles as well, including Waist Watchers from Zero Tolerance, Curvaceous from Vivid Plus, My Big Plump Wedding from The Score Group’s XL Girls Presents, and Tippin’ Tha Scales and Whole Lotta Lovin’ from Combat Zone.

Likely reflecting men’s desires more closely than the marketplace and society in general may realize is the fact that some male talent, including big-name directors, enjoy the sexual company of BBWs in their private or fantasy lives, but do not hire them when they have the opportunity. The hope among BBW talent and its adoring fans is that as it becomes more obvious that theirs is a devoted and financially meaningful portion of the market, budgets and attitudes will continue to improve.

For the fans who populate Wright’s message board, that would include appearances in BBW content by Nacho Vidal and Rocco Siffredi. For Miss Mina BBW, it would include Shane Diesel and Richard Mann working with BBWs. As Mina sees it, “Shane needs to plow some big girls with his huge cock.”

The April Flores Effect

Within an ever-increasing array of beautiful big and fat girls delighted to remove their garments and bare all for an admiring camera is a sizzling game-changer named April Flores.

The self-described “Mexidorian” beauty (she’s Mexican and Ecuadorian) likes to squeeze her classic large/extra-large curves into what she calls an “extra medium,” much to the delight of anyone who has the pleasure of gazing upon her.

While the voluptuous muse does not represent the full range of the BBW market (see sidebar), she has experienced remarkable acceptance outside of the traditional big-girl niche, thus pushing the boundaries of what the L.A.-centric industry acknowledges as desirable. By successfully combining charisma, beauty and business savvy, Flores has devoted a decade to living the truth that “we are beautiful and confident.”

Flores speaks for many when she says that she prefers words such as “voluptuous, curvy” and even “fat,” as opposed to the derogatory terms often affixed to promotional materials aimed at lush women.

“The time for describing any woman, fat or skinny, as an animal is gone and past,” she observes. “Women should no longer be described as heifers, cows, dogs, etc. We live in the future and people can most certainly find appealing terms to describe my body type without being offensive or insulting.”

In spite of the fact that some online video retailers choose not to show Flores’ photo or list her name in the searchable credits, the fact that the photogenic Latina has worked for such respected companies as Adam & Eve, Vivid, Belladonna Entertainment, HeartCore Films, and her talented husband’s C. Batts FLY shows her wide appeal. A campaign to petition Playboy magazine to feature a Flores’ shoot has gained encouragement from an impressive Bizarre Magazine cover girl appearance.

Although Flores has appeared in two Kimberly Kane productions, has worked with Good Vibrations’ director Courtney Trouble, and participated in Tristan Taormino’s Rough Sex series, one of her most important contributions to the adult market may well be becoming the first BBW performer to have her genitals lovingly re-created as part of Topco Sales’ popular Wildfire Celebrity Series.

The April Flores Voluptuous CyberSkin® Pussy was released in mid-spring of 2009 and has enjoyed not only excellent sales but what Desiree Duffie, Topco sales director of marketing and public relations, refers to as “some unique promotions.”

Those “unique promotions” have included a popular Celebrity Product Featurette Video with her replica toy and a cross-country April Flores Love Toy Art show. The latter was the brainchild of Flores’ director-photographer-husband, Carlos Batts, and featured plaster replicas of the toy mold, each painted by a different renowned artist. Participants have included COOP, Axis, Jim Mahfood, Kime Buzzelli, Small Paul, Toronto’s Brian Donnelly, Mo Moussa, Molly Crabapple, Carol Queen, Robert Lawrence, and Flores’ lead worshipper, Batts himself. The show made New York City and Philadelphia stops courtesy of Eden Fantasys and stopped in San Francisco for a visit at Good Vibrations.

Flores’ success within the erotic realm echoes increasingly, if erratically, positive media representations of mainstream women of size, such as the Gossips’ Beth Ditto, 180-pound Glamour cover model Lizzi Miller, and no-longer-size-2 Baywatch veteran Nicole Eggert. Considering that a 2008 study found that 92 percent of plus-size female participants acknowledged heterosexual intercourse, compared to 87 percent of female participants of more average body mass index, any assistance that Flores and her camera-ready companions can lend their sexually active sisters will be much appreciated by this chronically under-served consumer demographic.

There are beautiful and talented BBW performers in both explicit pornography and erotic performance art and burlesque, including Rodney Moore favorite Bunny De La Cruz, as well as Lady Monster, Sophia St. James, Xtacy, Daphne Daniels, Veronica Vaughn and Chessie Moore among them—but none of have set the stage or screen on fire with quite the intensity of Flores.

Her presence within the adult industry is definitely appreciated by other performers, including but not limited to Kim XXX (aka Curvy Kim), a new transsexual BBW who admires and has drawn inspiration from Flores, and director Wright, who Flores contends “really love and care for the models.”

Big, Beautiful, & Barely There Lingerie

Increasingly, savvy wholesalers, retailers and distributors are also learning to love BBWs—or at the very least their lucrative and growing corner of the market. With an estimated quarter of all clothing sales being made by women size 14 and above, both online sellers and brick-and-mortar shops are finding it makes sense to stock toys and garments proportioned for a riper body.

Shirley of Hollywood is a company that has been loving big girls for a long time, originally producing sexy garments for Lane Bryant a decade before releasing what eventually became its “Intimate Attitudes” line through its own storefront 30 years ago. Both owner Roy Schlobohm, who admits a personal admiration for plush women, and his son, director of international sales Eric Schlobohm, prefer to call their customers “voluptuous, rather than big or queen,” as Roy explains.

“We are all about giving the customers what they want,” Eric adds, “and there has always been a very clear demand for hot and sexy lingerie in plus sizes. Sexy does not start and stop at size small.”
In addition to providing customers with a clearly marked and obvious section where they can feel confident about finding garments in their size, Shirley of Hollywood has also hired respectful and informed staff—as well as appropriately sized fit models.

“All of the models that we use for Intimate Attitudes are voluptuous-sized girls, like a size 16, a size 20. We do fittings on a 2x fit model. It’s a whole other process; we don’t just don’t take and grade them up,” Roy informs, adding that “Intimate Attitudes represents probably between 20 and 25 percent of our total business.”

Coquette International, Inc. is another lingerie entity that has known for decades that the demand for high-quality plus-size lingerie and costumes is even bigger than the women who want to slip into the garments. Even with that knowledge, Marcus Horea, vice president of sales and marketing, says that the decision to carry sizes up to 1x/2x was not entirely based on finances.

“We went solely off of the customer feedback that we were receiving,” he points out. “There was a gap in the market that needed to be filled, and it’s very important to us to keep our customers happy.”
Coquette International’s customers include names like Fascinations, Lover’s Lane and Castle Mega Stores and make up approximately 30 to 35 percent of the company’s client base, with that number increasingly annually.

Size-acceptance activists Big Big Love author Hanne Blank, Marina Wolf Ahmad and blues sensation/ former BBW model Candye Kane agree with Taboo Video regional manager Ken Budde that not all women, especially those who are afraid of becoming larger than the societal standard, are happy with their bodies. Because of this, Budde’s chain of stores prefers to blend lingerie of all sizes together on the racks instead of setting aside areas exclusively designated for larger women.

“Unfortunately, not everyone is comfortable being larger, so I want to be sensitive to that when they visit our stores,” Budde explains.

However, as the size-acceptance movement gains strength, women’s comfort levels are growing. Horea and the aforementioned activists find that those who enjoy the larger body aesthetic also appreciate self-confidence.
“We’re finding that a lot of bigger women are no longer as shy about their bodies,” Horea affirms. “They love looking and feeling sexy just as much as smaller women do, and are no longer afraid to show it.”

Budde agrees, observing that although the shopping experience may still be a nervous pleasure for some, “We have found in many of our customers that BBWs are generally more open and passionate sexually than ‘Barbie’ body types. BBWs tend to be freer with sexual expression when they are comfortable and can purchase items to enhance their experiences. Retailers that do not attempt to accommodate this group are not embracing a positive market.”

Big Words and Other Abundant Delights

In addition to watching comely big girls strut their stuff in person or via a web or television interface, lovers of BBWs, and the women themselves, enjoy the same things that others enjoy, including erotic fiction and creative toys.

While strap-on harnesses for wider hips have not always been easy to locate, the selection has been increasing, much to the delight of male or female partners of BBWs.

Kim Airs, past owner of Boston’s Grand Opening! and current resident sexpert and sales manager for Pipedream Products, knows that big girls like to have fun, which is one reason she’s so excited about the company’s three Fetish Fantasy Series strap-on harnesses and one wireless, remote-control Fantasy Panty.

“We know there is a huge market for strap-on harnesses,” she observes, “and most of the products available are sized smaller, so it was a no-brainer to bring them out to fit larger women. Also, with my many years in the retail sector in a women’s oriented sex store, I have a strong working knowledge of what all women want, including those luscious BBWs.”

For retailers still uncertain how to make it clear to consumers that their products come in a large assortment of sizes, Airs recommends that displays more fully incorporate those products, possibly cross-selling or presenting them with BBW lingerie.

“If a BBW walks into your retail establishment, to specifically show them these products lets them know these items are made for them, will fit them comfortably, and feel good for their size,” she explains, adding that “By having a BBW on the boxes of these products, they have visual appeal to those women, who can easily spot them and visualize themselves wearing them.”

The written word, in addition to images, is effective at helping people visualize the indulgences that they dream of, which is why magazines such as Plumpers and Big Women, Juggs, Bodacious, and Voluptuous can provide additional sales. For those disinterested in a more traditionally pornographic display of abundant flesh, photo books including Laurie Toby Edison’s Women En Large and Leonard Nimoy’s Full Body Project showcase their models in an array of personal, artistic and sensual environments.

If more words and a plot are of interest to customers, anthologies like Blank’s Zaftig: Well Rounded Erotica and Unruly Appetites fit the bill nicely. Ken Meyer’s Real Women Don’t Diet, Kathleen LeBesco’s Revolting Bodies and Bodies Out of Bounds; and The Fat Studies Reader with Jana Evans Braziel will appeal to customers seeking more activist-oriented affirmations.

Retailers reaching out to sex-positive feminists would be wise to consider titles like Shadows on a Tightrope, edited by Lisa Schoenfielder and Barb Wieser; Marilyn Wann’s Fat?So!; and any back issues of Fat Girl: A Zine for Fat Dykes and the Women Who Want Them, from the mid-’90s. Other popular titles include Camryn Manheim’s Wake Up, I’m Fat!, Wendy Shanker’s The Fat Girl’s Guide to Life, Cheri K. Erdman’s Nothing to Lose: A Guide to Sane Living in a Larger Body and Naomi Wolf’s classic The Beauty Myth, among others.

Shops that carry audio selections may want to consider adding Candye Kane’s body-positive blues CDs to their racks, along with releases from the Gossip, Diane Schuur and Adele.

Weighty Words to the Wise

Whether merchants choose to market to BBWs or Super BBWs, whether producers choose to create imagery featuring them, and whether manufacturers choose to design clothing or novelties with their special needs in mind, the words of BODaciousX sum up the thoughts and feelings of a multitude when he advises the powers that be to “make it more tasteful and make a bigger profit. Also, stop treating BBW products like it’s a nasty fetish or joke.”

As Taboo Video’s Budde reminds, “Our philosophy is body beautiful for all, and we want everyone to be able to release their inner passions no matter what size, shape, color or age.”

When it comes to the BBW market, professionalism and simple courtesy will not only make customers happier, but corporate profits fatter.

Size Matters: The Lexicon, From BBW to Zaftig

BBW = Big Beautiful Woman. Originally coined in 1979 by Carole Shaw for her BBW Magazine (later published by Larry Flynt). Refers to women who are any size of large.
BBBW = Big Beautiful Black Woman.
Chubby = A larger-bodied woman who is closer to the societal norm than not.
Chubby Chasers = A person who fancies BBWs or BHMs.
FA = Fat Admirer. Someone who fancies BBWs or BHMs.
Fat = An acceptable word to describe larger-bodied people when used in a size-positive way. The term is often embraced by men and women who are part of the size-acceptance movement and consider it to be an act of empowerment designed to remove the pejorative sting often associated with the word.
BHM = Big Handsome Man
Feeders = People who derive sexual and emotional satisfaction from feeding their partners until they are quite fat; in some cases until incapacitated by their weight.
Obese = A clinical word that implies a medical pathology. The word is not generally appreciated by those seeking more empowering and/or erotic ways to refer to larger-bodied people.
Plus-Size = A fairly neutral and non-judgmental term used to refer to larger-bodied women. The term is often used when referring to clothing sizes 14 and above.
Plumper = A chubby or especially curvy woman who weighs more than the height-weight charts or society deems appropriate.
Rubenesque = A complimentary term referring to larger-bodied women. Inspired by the full-bodied female models of Peter Paul Rubens, who were considered highly attractive during that time.
Super-Sized = A term that predates its current fast-food use. The term is generally used to describe those 300 pounds and heavier or wearing a size 26/28 or above.
SSBBW = Super-Sized Big Beautiful Woman, generally above 300 pounds.
Size-Acceptance Movement = A philosophy dedicated to encouraging larger-bodied men and women to acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of body shapes and sizes rather than becoming obsessed with achieving an idealized weight.
Voluptuous = A sensual larger-bodied woman, generally with wide hips and/or large breasts.
Women of Size = A respectful descriptive term for larger-bodied women. While some see the term as overly politically correct, others appreciate its lack of emotional baggage.
Zaftig = Like “voluptuous,” this term refers positively to ripe, sensual, larger-bodied women. The word literally means “juicy.”

This article originally appeared in the December 2009 issue of AVN.






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