Feast of Burden
Ivy doesn’t look like most performers in mainstream pornography. Then again, the thousands of viewers who have logged on to watch her YouTube videos or look at her photo sets aren’t seeking mainstream adult entertainment. While most porn stars and pinups show off their tits and ass, Ivy shows off her big belly, the body part fetishized in the niche genre of feeding porn.
Photos and videos on websites like BigCuties and BBW Pinups show scantily clad, obese women packing away pastries, chowing down on cheeseburgers, and feasting on fries. In one video, Ivy performs calisthenics until she groans and wheezes. Then, after looking off-camera for reassurance, she begins to gorge on powdered donuts while exaggeratedly and sensually licking the powder from her fingers and rubbing her stomach, still gasping for breath. Where traditional porn emphasizes largeness in breasts and penises, feeding porn eroticizes the quantity of food women like Ivy can consume, as well as the combination of pleasure and pain that comes from consuming it.
If, as Laura Kipnis suggests in her 1999 book Bound and Gagged: Pornography and the Politics of Fantasy in America, pornography serves as a repository for images and ideas expelled from society at large, feeding porn seems inevitable. As we all know from shows like Half Ton Teen, 650-Pound Virgin, I Eat 33,000 Calories a Day, and even the new reality-dieting show Dance Your Ass Off, in a society accustomed to fanatical diets and fastidious exercise regimens, few things provoke fascination like obese bodies.
And given the rich historical parallels between food and sexuality, one can’t help but consider this literal food porn a symptom of women’s repressed sexual and physical appetites. Historian Joan Jacobs Brumberg noted in 2000’s Fasting Girls: The History of Anorexia Nervosa that in Victorian bourgeois society, what a girl or woman ate was thought to reflect not her taste buds but her character, and appetite became less a biological instinct and more a social tool. The culture condemned indulgence in rich, “sensual” foods like meat and candy, thought to stimulate sexual urges, and lauded female frailty and appetitive renunciation. Today, Western culture still widely associates dieting with self-mastery and obesity with laziness and overindulgence. And the innumerable commercials for “light” versions of fattening foods, which encourage women to indulge—but just a little!—are proof that the offensive association between food, femininity, and morality is still in effect.
To publicly eat when you’re already fat might be one of the most transgressive behaviors available to the modern woman. And though feeding pornography eroticizes the pain of overeating, it also emphasizes a certain possibility for female pleasure that is decidedly antagonistic to the heteronormative model—in other words, there’s no penis necessary. (In his essay on porn in the book Fat: The Anthropology of an Obsession, anthropologist Don Kulick suggests that feeding pornography is a rejection of the penis as the “ultimate bestower of rapture.”) Feeding pornography also reconfigures depictions of female pleasure when it offers obese bodies as visual “proof” of female sexual fulfillment: If eating is sexy, the body of a 400-pound woman itself is testament to her satisfaction—no stagy wailing or sheet-clutching required.
But while the presence of obese bodies in porn could be encouraging and radical under different circumstances, feeding porn’s gender dynamics undercut that potential. Even in the absence of a phallus, men are central to the eroticized dominance and submission that’s performed in feeding pornography. A “feeder” (usually male) encourages the “feedee” (usually female) to gain weight, often literally placing the food in her mouth. The ultimate (if generally unattained) goal of the relationship is for the feedee to become immobile, and this eventual incapacitation is fetishized: Feeders get off on the idea that their feedee might one day become too “satisfied”—and too obese—to move, thus making them completely dependent on their feeder. It’s an extreme manifestation of the idea that masculinity in men involves eroticized dominance over women.
The feeders who, off-camera, forcibly coax a female performer like Ivy to gorge posit themselves as masters on whom she is dependent for instruction and encouragement. It’s different from much of traditional porn only in the poundage: By performing a relationship of overt dependence, the men who create such videos—and the viewers who identify with them—claim the female body as a site for male domination and control; if the woman happens to enjoy it, that’s secondary. In the end, the producers and consumers of feeding porn fail to acknowledge that the female performers really are big, beautiful women, and not just big mouths to feed and big bodies on whom they can imagine perching naked with a box of donuts (as one YouTube commenter does). Feeding porn takes the frat-house idea that some women are just too fat to be fuckable to literally massive proportions. And in fetishizing consumption that makes women
too big to move, the genre makes it hard to look at the pleasure on their faces and not see the violence that follows quickly behind.
Jessica Hester is a student at the University of Chicago, where she studies English and Gender Studies. This is her first contribution to Bitch.
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