How Porn Helped Save My Body Image

Curvy Body! Source: Triplethreatcret

Curvy Body! Source: Triplethreatcret

Porn: one of the most divisive topics among feminists. Some see it as an excuse to objectify women and perpetuate harmful stereotypes, while others see it as an opportunity for women to embrace their sexuality. The debate stems back to the Feminist Sex Wars of the 1970’s, and continues today with topics such as the “Duke University Freshman Porn Star.”

Women are shamed for participating in porn and then not given legal protection such as union rights. The porn industry has many faults, especially the “exotic” portrayal of marginalized identities. And yes, in most mainstream porn, women are treated like sex objects. Given the assumption that the majority of porn viewers are straight men, the male gaze runs rampant. But if you take a step back and look at the industry as simply a producer of another form of media, it becomes clear that these issues are pervasive in our society and not just inherent to porn. In fact, if sex-work was less stigmatized, laws could be put in place to better protect the health and rights of the performers.

Tiago Pinheiro hidden sensuality

Hidden Sensuality, Source: Tiago Pinheiro

But I want to take a step off my soap box and look at an issue that is rarely addressed in the pornography debate. Throughout my life, I have heard everyone accuse porn of establishing unrealistic body image expectations. Now, everyone argued, boys assume that their sexual partners have to look a certain way. While this still presumes that only men watch porn, the issue remains: porn stars exemplify an unobtainable physical ideal. Porn is meant to be a fantasy, but its pervasiveness suggests that the fantasy should be the reality.

As a body image and sexuality blogger, I knew I would eventually have to do some sort of analysis of the porn industry’s body expectations. While I didn’t go out on a major investigation, I did participate in some sexuality group discussions on the topic. And I came to realize something: the porn industry has a larger array of body types than the film industry. Yes, the women are fetishized for these differences, but they are all seen as attractive in their respective videos, and they more or less participate in the same activities. Maybe this isn’t the norm, but it seemed as if porn gave a more accurate portrayal of women’s bodies than what we as a society deem suitable for mass consumption. At the very least, I realized that aspects of my body that I considered unattractive were actually seen as very appealing. I had spent years hating my body and convincing myself that no one would see me as desirable. At least in a purely physical sense.

That’s when it hit me – there is no one set standard for what is judged as beautiful or sexy. Sure, there is an ideal that people try to emulate, but the truth is, everyone’s tastes vary. There are people out there who will find my body attractive. There certainly is an ideal, but it is not enforced nearly as much as we are lead to believe. Our society takes this ideal fantasy, insists that everyone is only attracted to this specific image, and perpetuates this standard by encouraging everyone to strive for it. Throughout films and TV shows, women are pigeonholed based on their measurements, and that is a medium that is supposedly based on a wider worldview than just physicality. Therefore, in our society, when it comes to lust body size does not matter, but the moment “true love” is involved, the woman has to fit into a costume smaller than the one for the character actress. When I would judge my body, I was not looking through the eyes of a potential lover. I was looking through the lens of the lowest common denominator – the ideal that appeals to the largest number of people. And that is the worst excuse to shame my body.

Porn is a fantasy, something personal and potentially eye-opening. Yes, there are major issues with the industry and the products themselves. But it can be a way to explore, just like films help guide us through emotional and intellectual journeys. They’re a means of expression, and proof that all bodies are different. It doesn’t matter if my body appeals to others. All I care about is that it gives me the pleasure I need to live my own life.

 

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