01 February 2009

Making fat positive sex toys with April Flores

Congratulations to April Flores, the plus-sized porn queen who has just launched her own sex toy, a Voluptuous Cyberskin Pussy no less, and thanks to Lesley at Fatshionista for the tip-off. Flores looks delighted in the not safe for work photos accompanying her blog entry, it's clear that she's a proud fat girl, at home with her body and her sexuality, and that the experience of getting her fanny (English definition!) cast was fun and liberating. I'm heartened by the encouraging and admiring comments on the blog entry, and the cheery and nsfw Bizarre article about the moulding process. A fat cunt is desirable.

But there are a couple of comments that really intrigue me. Shawna writes: "This breaks down so many barriers," and Dimples says: "I have to second the fact of how awesome it is that you are the first plus-size molded vagina on the market!" What are the barriers that this product breaks down? Why is a plus-size moulded vagina on the market awesome?

I see that a representation of joyous fat sexuality is a great thing, a powerful statement that challenges the idea of fat as being asexual, gross, pitiful. I support women in businesses that are traditionally male-dominated, even more so in sex work. I see Flores as a role model and I'm reminded of Tristan Taormino's excellent butt plug that she launched a few years ago (Taormino is a sex-radical writer who's produced some great work on anal sex). I recognise the complexity of the sex industry and know that it can be a springboard for radicalism and a home for radical people.

I'm not going to get into what a disembodied plastic vagina marketed to men means. There's likely a contested feminist critique of this somewhere which explores that in more nerdy detail than I can summon today.

I think my puzzlement is more about what I suspect are some of the implicit assumptions in this product. My questions are more along the lines of: is a plus-size moulded vagina liberation? Is it a crafty commercial co-opting of social justice? Is it a melding of sex and politics? Is a product liberating? What is this thing about?

I'm wondering if "breaking down the barriers" means that, as with the development of plus-sized fashion, instead of a bunch of skinny moulded vaginas on the market, there is now one that looks more like a fat women. Maybe there will be more of these on the market too, if Flores' product is commercially successful. Maybe whole new markets in plus-sized moulded vaginas will appear. Fatshionista started out as a community where intersections of commercialism and liberation could be teased out, and Katie Lebesco makes soem comment about this in her work too. In short, this kind of barrier-demolishing is complicated.

This makes me realise how old school I am, that I've been thinking of liberation as this pure, grassroots, altruistic experience untouched by mammon or market forces. It's about making the world a better place, getting everyone to sing in perfect harmony, a bit like the, er, Coca-Cola ad. I need to rethink this position! It recalls the thing I wrote about grey areas recently, to which some people responded with comments about the necessity of drawing lines in the sand. I'm wondering if the notion that fat liberation is about a shared vision and shared outcomes is becoming redundant. I may be wrong, but I'd like to discuss this. I'm thinking of fat liberation as a postmodern phenomenon, that although its founders (Lew Louderback, The Fat Underground, NAAFA) set us goals to achieve forty years ago, goals that concerned equality, anti-discrimination, anti-oppression, and more, today's movement is more like an explosion of fragments moving every which way, chaotically but full of life, ever expanding. I'm beginning to see that there is room within fat liberation for all kinds of approaches and thinking that fat liberation does not have to be about one thing, or a few things, and that it will go in whichever direction it chooses, no one can control it, even if they wanted to.