Aurora Snow’s piece at the Daily Beast, “How Porn Made These Women Feel Empowered: ‘It Gave Me a New Sense of Confidence’” includes accounts from seven performers, including the Adult Video News (AVN) Female Performer of the Year, Angela White. Angela White has also recently published “The Porn Performer: The Radical Potential of Pleasure in Pornography” in The Routledge Companion to Media, Sex and Sexuality.
These performers offer their own experiences of their bodies prior to engaging in sex work. They cite insecurity and a lack of confidence. They describe the transformation of their relationship with their bodies during their work as arising from encounters with fans and other performers. Their work–their coworkers and their fans–emerges as a locus for the development of a greater appreciation for those areas they’d once tried to hide.
“One of the magazines I posed for called my stretch marks ‘beauty marks,’ and it was that magazine that helped me appreciate my curves in a way I couldn’t before,” recalls White.
There was a sense of validation in seeing herself this way: “Not only are men and women paying to see me, but there are companies paying me money for my curves. Seeing myself published in a magazine sold specifically for sexual arousal was confidence-boosting.”
Rather than feeling victimized and truncated by their experiences as performers, the women in this interview feel and describe a sense of flourishing.
“Whatever you’re insecure about, chances are it’s somebody’s biggest turn-on. Capitalizing on the things I used to hate about myself has given me so much respect and appreciation for my body and shown me power I didn’t know I had.”
There is the possibility of mounting a critique of this transformation particularly because it is explicitly bound to and within the view/approval/validation of others. One can point to the way that White highlights the role of the market in her self-esteem and confidence. Certainly, one can read this article solely as an account of being-for-others.
These critiques point to a limited account of the lived experience of these performers; and their role in knowledge production about their work, their place in their work, and about themselves. That is, these critiques run the risk of discounting the being-for-self that these women claim and embrace. (Being-for-self can involve admiration from others.) It is to deny that one (and particularly porn performers) can both engage with the world and transact with it without completely being reduced to it. It is to suggest that they are ontologically resilient enough to resist being completely truncated by the encounter. More to the point, a desire to rush to such a critique ignores the lived experience of these performers and commits epistemic violence.
As Angela White states in an earlier interview:
Most of the academic work on the field is about sex workers but never makes references to their voices. I believe when it comes to the production of knowledge about sex workers, specifically porn performers, in this case, I believe they are experts in their own lives and should be heard and represented—not just spoken about. I wanted to contribute to the academic knowledge on the subject albeit through the engagement of female performers themselves. Obviously, my work now is both academic and performative: every time I’m on set I use it as an opportunity to collect more data on the issue so it’s all tied to a larger study later.
…I don’t look at whether women are abused or empowered. I look at how the performers in porn experience their sexuality—how performing in porn has changed their sexuality—and I think more research on the topic needs to be done. It’s such fertile ground and there’s so much to look into when it comes to porn and it hasn’t been done because of those narratives.
Attending to the being-for-self of these performers strikes me as the far more thoughtful, supportive, and productive stance to take. If these women have found a way to more fully be for themselves–be themselves–and love themselves through their work in porn we should not doubt it; we should attend to it.