Q&A: Kelly Shibari Talks Career Highlights, Experiences
LOS ANGELES — Kelly Shibari, an award-winning performer, publicist and social media marketer, made history as Penthouse magazine’s first-ever plus size model for its January 2016 issue. The Japanese-American entertainer and entrepreneur first entered the industry in 2007, eventually adopting the name “Shibari” in reference to Japanese rope bondage. She is now CEO of the "PR and Social Media" marketing company, The PRSM Group, representing clients in the sexuality and novelty fields.
During her eight years in the adult industry, Shibari has earned several BBW Performer of the Year awards and became the only plus size Fleshlight Girl in the sex toy company’s history. She has also appeared in mainstream works, like Rammstein’s “Mein Land” music video in 2011 and the “Sons of Anarchy” series finale in 2014. Before Shibari was featured in Penthouse’s flagship publication, she was the first plus size model to appear in its offshoot Penthouse Forum magazine, in June 2014.
Shibari co-directed, wrote and hosted Jessica Drake's “Guide to Wicked Sex: Plus Size,” which won the 2015 XBIZ Specialty Release of the Year award, and she was the cover model for online retailer SheVibe.com’s September 2014 issue.
XBIZ had the privilege of talking with Shibari about her adult industry experiences and perspectives in this exclusive interview.
XBIZ: You had quite an eclectic professional background before entering the adult film industry in 2007. How did your diverse job experiences uniquely influence your approach to adult entertainment?
Shibari: Certainly. I think my background behind the scenes — as a roadie, and then a production designer / art director in mainstream film, for almost 15 years — has allowed me the unique perspective to know how crews work, and not only what they want from actors, but also how they talk about those actors behind their backs (and that includes the mega-celebrities!).
Having respect for the crew and your costars, which exceeds the worth you bring to a set, has helped me be a better performer even before I get naked. It's also allowed me to understand how so much of the industry is business, and not personal — I have a tendency to see many things from a logic-based perspective, compared to one based on emotion and ego, though I do think that some of that also comes from not having entered this industry until I was well into my 30s.
XBIZ: In what ways have you observed beauty standards evolve, in both mainstream and adult entertainment, since 2007?
Shibari: The most obvious one is that of size acceptance. When a friend of mine suggested I try my hand at porn, my immediate reaction was, "There aren't any fat girls in porn!" That reaction came from the fact I thought the only kind of adult entertainment available was that of the slender performer — I knew niche porn existed, but only in the "circus sideshow" aspect — midgets, fat ladies, things like that. Someone had to take my hand and show me there were companies doing niche porn in a positive way — and it's also so appropriate that this perception is ultimately reflected in my Penthouse shoot, by the way!
These days, with social media and the public push for the acceptance of non-traditional beauty, people know BBW porn exists, as well as all of the other niches. It's a really cool time where the Rule of 34 really does exist, and it's not that hard to find. And the nice side effect of that? You now don't have to be in the closet any more about liking non-traditional aspects of beauty and sexuality. So many more people are being so open about liking all sorts of interesting things. It's a wonderful time where many people aren't sticking to peer or media pressures about what they like and don't like. I won't lie — having so many niches out there being so public means those groups are also up for a lot more public scrutiny and judgment. But I think the fact we're no longer told to live in underground communities, in silence, in fear of trolls — that in and of itself is positive change. Being different is so cool right now. Being interesting is SEXY.
XBIZ: What were some of the more difficult challenges you overcame early in your career?
Shibari: In the beginning, I have to admit, my challenges were two-fold. First, it was still in the beginning of plus size porn being super public. Most models participated and promoted their photo sets and porn scenes in BBW community message boards, only to people who were self-professed FAs (fat admirers). They would only do BBW-only nightclub events as well. That's certainly changed, as a variety of mainstream porn companies have tried their hands at BBW imprints, and even some awards shows have added BBW as a standalone category.
The other challenge was my lack of knowledge about how the industry works as a whole. BBWs don't have agency representation, and it makes sense why — there really aren't enough production companies to net an agent any real amount of commission per performer, and many companies generally pay less than many of the mainstream porn companies if they do have a BBW line (which is a profit issue, not because they think less of BBW performers, I'm sure). But because of that lack of guidance and advisement in the beginning, I certainly had to teach myself (sometimes via the hard way) about how to navigate through the business side of things (and some of the personal stuff as well).
XBIZ: Are there any companies or adult film performers that were especially good to you?
Shibari: I think Score Group has always been a great "gateway" porn company for BBWs — they're discerning, and if they do choose to shoot you, they treat their performers really well. Out of most of the BBW porn companies, Score has always treated all their BBW performers like stars — from handling transportation and housing, to providing wardrobe, hair and makeup — when I first started, that was so rare. I think it probably still is.
Channel 69 and Devil's Film were always very good about shooting BBW performers more than once — which, with so many girls and not so many companies — was always really nice. And I'm also so appreciative of all of the mainstream porn companies who have tried a BBW line — from Red Light District, Zero Tolerance, Evil Angel, Wicked, New Sensations, Hustler and more, it's always so cool when they notice that BBW porn is something worth investing a little money in, to see if their customer base would be interested. Even if the company only puts out 4-5 titles and then drops it, at least the attempt was there, and that, over time, is exactly why BBW porn has gotten more attention over the years. Those companies pushed us beyond the softcore solo girl sites that advertised on those BBW-centric message boards.
In terms of performers? I'm always extremely appreciative of all of the male performers who have worked with me. My job on camera is to put on a good enough show for the viewer to be enticed into masturbating and having an orgasm; my male costar is expected to not only keep things hard, but also help position me properly for the camera, keep thrusting and have a visible orgasm. It's really hard (haha) work, and I owe so much to all of them. I have the utmost respect for what they do.
XBIZ: If you had to list 3 women that most inspire you, inside or outside the adult entertainment industry, who would you name and why?
Shibari: Well, the first would definitely be my mom. She was always a "bucket list" person — which I guess is where I get a lot of my own desire to do every single thing on my own "bucket list" before I get too old. She passed away with absolutely no regrets — I mean seriously, she found out she had breast cancer and decided she didn't want treatment because she felt she'd done everything she wanted and needed to do in her life — and I want to live my life in the same way.
Margaret Cho is also so inspirational — she not only is a badass, but she's one of the most caring, compassionate badasses I know. She cares for the people of the world, and isn't afraid of what the public thinks of the things she says and does. She's been through a lot of stuff — like, a LOT of stuff — and she's still showing the world how you can rise above and make something positive out of all that hurt and negativity. That takes a lot of strength, and I wish I could bottle it and apply it daily. I wish I could bottle it and EVERYONE could apply it daily! I'm so happy she and I have grown to be friends — it's so surreal when someone you look up to becomes your friend.
There are so many other women I am inspired by — Madonna, RuPaul, Miley Cyrus, so many more — but overall, I'm a fan of any woman who strikes out on her own, without assistance and takes on the world. I love badasses — anyone who is told "no" repeatedly, yet keeps at it, and does her own thing, is an inspiration to me.
XBIZ: In what ways have performers or fans shown you appreciation for inspiring them with your work?
Shibari: My fanbase has certainly changed from when I started. It used to be that only guys would contact me — and their comments would be of the traditional "OMG you're so hot / I just jerked off to your scene" type. Once in a while I'd get a message from a fan's wife or girlfriend, who was somehow convinced that I was only talking to their guy because I wanted to steal them. But then I'd talk to the girls, and they'd realize I really AM just an entertainer, and I preferred they would watch my scenes WITH their guy.
I'd also get fans who would message me publicly with some pretty lewd stuff — basically along the lines of how, because I was a porn performer, they could just ask me when I was going to provide such a service to them. It took time, but I would do things like ask them if that was how they would approach a girl they liked at a club. I think many fans don't really know how exactly to approach a porn performer; they think they should talk to girls like their male costars do on camera. It's amazing how quickly the fans become friendly and approachable, rather than arrogant and demanding, when you coach them on how to be a good fan.
These days, most of my fans are not only men, but women and couples as well. It's so cool to get messages about how they've become inspired to be more comfortable with their bodies because they see how comfortable I am with mine — and how much fun I'm having being naked! And that applies for the guys as well as the gals — I like to make sure that chubby guys get love too, and their response is so positive. I love that so much.
XBIZ: What are some current industry practices or standards you would like to see improved upon?
Shibari: I wish there was a better "entrance exam" type thing for new girls. There are times I think performers should be older than 18 before they could perform. Sex is such an intimate thing, even if you're just acting — I don't know how I would have navigated that if I got in when I was 18.
I wish there was better support for performers in general — education on how to navigate all of the aspects of being a performer. From counseling and therapy, to business and financial advice, and everything in between. I wish performers would understand the business better. And I wish the industry would find ways to nurture performers in ways beyond just acting on camera.
Now — I know many performers don't care to learn. Many performers also think they'll be 25 forever. But having the resources available — and the SUPPORT — to help the people who help the industry make that money, is so important. It's depressing to see so many former performers struggling, and so many current performers not know how to stay in the industry. There are so many different kinds of work in this industry aside from performing, directing and producing. We may not have a system of paying royalties, but we certainly can do sales and/or learn affiliate marketing for the scenes and DVDs in which we have appeared. There are performers who now are set designers, marketers, sales people, makeup artists, wardrobe people and so much more.
In a nutshell, I wish this industry wasn't so dismissive of our performers. Our shelf lives get shorter each year — it would be so good if the industry didn't treat performers as disposable meat puppets and nothing more.
XBIZ: Do you have any advice for aspiring BBW adult film performers?
Shibari: Gosh — that's such a hard, yet easy question to answer. It's hard, because it's not what people want to hear, and answering it just always seems to bring drama. It's easy, because it's simple. So here we go: don't approach this as a career. Treat this as a fun, short-lived, and life-changing hobby, which pays well from time to time. Start with camming.
Understand that there aren't that many porn companies that shoot BBW content, and you'll be competing against the hundreds of girls who want to be BBW porn stars every single month across the country.
Understand that once you've done a scene for the few companies which exist, they might not want to shoot you again for 6 months or more — so you should have another line of work so you can pay your bills.
Understand that once you've done porn, it'll be hard for you to get "real life" work out there — you might get fired when someone recognizes you.
Understand that your best bet would be as a cam model — but that's a full-time job and then some, from what I've heard and seen. It takes a hell of a lot more dedication and work to make great money camming, because you're constantly competing with the other BBW cam girls.
Understand not everyone is your friend, and if they say they are, it might be because they want something from you. Know that this industry isn't about making friends, but about making as much money as possible while you can. Everyone is disposable, and that's a harsh reality whether you like it or not. A lot of girls mistake "business collaborator" with "bestie" and then there's so much drama when the "fauxriendship" disintegrates.
And above all else, understand that if you do decide to get into the industry regardless of all of the potential pitfalls — have fun. Take the business side of things seriously, but don't take the rest of it seriously at all. Most of it isn't worth the drama. I've always agreed with the thought that "if they're not paying your bills, then their opinion doesn't matter."
There's a lot more... in fact, I had written a rather long "open letter" to girls wanting to get into the BBW porn industry a while ago, and it pissed off a lot of the new girls — but a lot of veteran girls who I have had problems with in the past publicly agreed with me. It was initially printed on my Facebook page, but was then picked up by xoJane. And I still stand by what I said.
XBIZ: Are there any upcoming projects you’re excited about, that we should keep an eye out for?
I've spent the past year really concentrating on my PR work. Doing it came from a need/want to do my own PR, which then turned into a company, and last year, it became increasingly difficult to choose between going on a shoot and doing work for my clients — so this year, I chose to do PR work. There are a couple of projects that I'd really like to do — I'm on the fence right now as to whether they should be XXX (porn) or R (more mainstream-minded). We're conceptualizing a few things, for sure.
XBIZ: Discuss your most recent milestone. How was your experience shooting for Penthouse as their first-ever plus size model?
I am beyond thrilled with the opportunity Penthouse has provided me. When my cover and feature for Penthouse Forum last year led to that issue being sold out (which was amazing in and of itself), the decision-makers there asked me if I'd like to be part of their Pop Shots project, which floored me. It's so nice to have such a big, mainstream gentlemen's magazine consider me for one of their shoots.
The shoot was so much fun — who doesn't like to dress up and be part of the circus? Being in porn was kind of like running away with the circus, you know... and it's been such an amazing ride. And having Jim Rose cast me in the role of the strongwoman was such a compliment. It's the embodiment of being a take-no-prisoners badass, with a protective mama-like personality, and to have Jim think of me in that way is so flattering.
I've always been more of a confidence advocate than a fat activist — I think we're all insecure in one way or another, and if my work helps people say, "Hey, if she can put herself out there, then maybe so can I," then I'm happy, and feel I've done something positive.