You might expect a feminist social critique of bulimia, fat-shaming, and emotional abuse from academia or, say, this here blog, but not so much mainstream porn—and yet, here we are. The porn studio Pure Taboo has released a new feature, The Weight of Infidelity, with a “controversial plotline about society’s struggles with size and body image,” as a press release puts it. And it’s not some avant-garde vanity project—people are actually watching it.
The film was posted to PureTaboo.com on Friday and, over the weekend, it broke a site record, doubling its traffic. (A representative declined to provide exact numbers to Jezebel.) “The response has been overwhelming,” said director Bree Mills. That might have to do with the fact that it was made free to watch—something the site doesn’t typically do, given its paid membership model—but Mills argues it’s the film’s content that is pulling people in.
The story, written by the film’s star, Angela White, follows an emotionally abusive husband, played by Tommy Pistol, who attempts to police his wife’s eating and exercise habits. White, a performer with Christina Hendricks-esque curves, plays his calorie-counting, aerobics-going wife. In the opening scene—after a vigorous fuck fest, of course—he shames her for pulling some Rocky Road ice cream from the freezer. “We have a whole fucking fridge of vegetables and juice and the stuff you should be putting in your large body,” he says. Later, she’s shown eating a salad at work, only to desperately pull open a secret drawer full of sweet snacks and then puke in the bathroom.
Eventually, she discovers that her husband is not only having an affair with a curvier woman, played by BBW performer Karla Lane, but also coercing this other woman into eating excessively. She walks in on them going at it next to a box of a dozen cupcakes and sees him promise Lane’s character that they can move in together if she just gains enough weight. In other words, the guy is getting off on emotionally manipulating both women about their weight.
The storyline was inspired by White’s own personal experiences around body image. “My curves place me in a liminal space where I’m not slim enough to have the ‘ideal’ porn body, but I’m also not curvy enough to be considered a BBW,” said White. “Basically, I’m ‘not enough.’” (Although the industry seems to be telling her that she is more than enough: White recently won the title of Female Performer of the Year at the AVN Awards, the so-called Oscars of porn.)
The plot was also informed by her “engagement with feminist theory,” as she puts it. That is a bit of an understatement: White, who is Australian, published her University of Melbourne honors thesis in gender studies on women’s experiences in the porn industry—and she once ran as a candidate for the Australian Sex Party on a platform of sex workers’ rights.
For Mills, the storyline is also a way to challenge porn industry standards as a whole. “We as an industry are hyper focused on physical perfection and glamorizing certain body types over others,” she said. Part of what she hopes to do is promote “more inclusiveness within the performers we cast.” This was the first time Lane was cast in a mainstream, non-BBW-targeted adult film; and White speculates that this might be the first time a mainstream company has ever cast a BBW actress in a mainstream leading feature role.
Of course, there’s an unusual tension here: porn is meant to titillate—and critical feminist social commentary is not exactly known for its mainstream aphrodisiacal appeal. But the film intersperses dramatic, dialogue-heavy scenes with all-out, freaky-deaky sex, so any viewers just looking to get off can find plenty of moments of action to repetitively loop as a means to their personal ends. This includes a daydream sequence in which White’s character fantasizes about being with the mistress, feeding her frosting, telling her how beautiful she is, sensually rubbing her face in her belly—until it turns uncomfortably sour and she stars tearfully screaming, “What’s wrong with me? What the fuck is wrong with me?”
Given the medium, it’s a fine line between critiquing emotional abuse and eroticizing it. White says that the emotional abuse—most of which happens in-between the explicit sex—“is so unpleasant” that she wasn’t worried about it becoming sexualized. A couple of the sex scenes themselves, however, do engage with the abuse—when the husband is coercively feeding his mistress during sex, for example. But fetishizing faux abuse isn’t the same as endorsing actual abuse. In fact, we tend to eroticize not just taboos, but also the things that oppress or offend us most in real life. It can be freeing, cathartic, or simply titillating to go to those dark places in the realm of fantasy.
It’s compelling—and maybe even ingenuously sneaky—for a porn film to take people to those thrillingly taboo make-believe places, while at the same time attempting to make a critical statement about the social forces that just might have led them there in the first place. “This is not the pizza delivery boy scenario that you’re used to,” said Mills. “If I can leave my audience affected by what they saw, it will change how they look at that subject in the future.”
The film ends with the two women teaming up to exact revenge. We see the husband tied to a chair in a room covered with plastic wrap à la Dexter. They stand naked before him with a knife and a mallet in hand and kneel over him—and, just before the screen goes black, we hear wet Zombie-like chewing sounds and he screams bloody murder. It’s campy and over-the-top, but as White puts it, “The two women have been manipulated and controlled through their consumption, so I felt that it was fitting to have them consume their abuser.”