Naked talking with the SuicideGirls

SUICIDEGIRLS FOUNDER MISSY SUICIDE
SUICIDEGIRLS FOUNDER MISSY SUICIDE

Missy Suicide (aka Selena Mooney), a web developer from Portland, started SuicideGirls, an alternative pin-up site, in 2001 at the age of 24. The website and its community has grown to a hub of 3,000 girls, 500,000 members and 12 million followers on every social network you can think of. When they recently released a coffee table book in comic book stores in the US, they attracted queues of 600-long in the street. They’re currently in Australia performing their Blackheart Burlesque tour to themes including Star Wars, Game of Thrones and Dr Who. Straddling the evocative and the provocative, they’ve been praised for celebrating alternative beauty and going against the grain, but they have also been criticised for perpetuating stereotypes of female beauty in different packaging and encouraging female objectification. So who better to talk to about a very hot topic than the founder herself? I got to chat to the very lovely and candid Missy Suicide ahead of the SuicideGirls tour. Here she answers some questions about feminism and the female form.

What was your motivation to start SuicideGirls?

2001 was a very different time. There were really two types of beautiful women. There was the Pamela Anderson silicon-enhanced buxom blonde or there was the waif thin Kate Moss supermodel blonde, and that was it. That was the spectrum of beautiful. I knew all these girls who were gorgeous so I wanted to create a place where they could be themselves and appreciated for the beauty that I saw within them. I decided I was going to create pin-up style photos of my friends but in non-traditional settings. I had a collection of those and I decided I was going to create a website where they could post and keep blogs and express themselves not only through their photos but through their own words. And then we gave the members (subscribers) blogs as wells so they could get to know the girls and interact. The idea really took off. It turns out people like to social network. It was 2001, it was before Friendster or MySpace or Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or any of that. The idea that we were creating a place where people would say, I’m looking at these girls naked, and I’m going to put up (a picture of) my face and I’m going to share about my life on this website. It was a radical idea.

Do you consider yourself feminist-friendly?

It’s always a tricky thing because that word can mean so much to so many different people. I think that we are feminist and the main message behind SuicideGIrls is that every woman is sexy. Confidence is the sexiest attribute a person can have. I think that if every woman felt confident and beautiful about herself the world would be a much happier place. I think it’s one of those core things, if you don’t feel confident and comfortable in your body, you’re stuck with your body, so you’ve got to love it. It holds you back in different ways. To be feminist is to love yourself.

What about ordinary girls who might feel intimidated by how attractive all the Suicide Girls are?

If you look on the site, there are over 3,000 girls that are Suicide Girls – so chances are any girl who looks on the site will find a girl who looks similar to them – whether it’s a “hopeful” (someone who wants to become a Suicide Girl) or an actual Suicide Girl – but even the hopefuls have thousands of people giving them positive feedback and compliments and comments and stuff, helping them out (with their photographs), such as, oh, you’re so beautiful but your photos aren’t exactly right or you look a little scared. There are tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of photos up on the site, of girls that are beautiful and look like normal girls. They are normal girls.

You’ve got alternative looks but what about alternative body types?

There are SuicideGirls who are amputees, there are SuicideGirls who are little people. Anything you can possibly imagine. They may not be 200 that are a certain way, but there’s somebody that looks like most people. The site has been there for 12 years and there are girls that have been on there since it started. There’s a lot of variety.

What would you say to people who might say you’re perpetuating standards of female beauty in different packaging?

First of all, all the sets (of pictures) on the site go through member review and the SuicideGirls that do well are the ones that members respond most positively to. There’s no shortage of variety of sets that get put into the member review process.

Similarly, what would you say to criticism that even though it represents alternative beauty, it’s still about the objectification of women?

SuicideGirls celebrates the beauty of a woman’s body, which is sexy, but there’s nothing graphic about what we do. Everybody has a body and SuicideGirls aren’t embarrassed by their body or the fact that they feel sexy about themselves, because they should. I don’t think there’s anything really negative about that message.

What about Suicide Boys? I would look at that.

There’s a group on the site where members submit photos. There’s a Suicide Boys group and they give each other weekly assignments. It’s coming along.

Why aren’t things more gender balanced?

Dita von Teese’s burlesque show has men in it. But there’s hundreds of years of females perfecting the art of being sexy for the opposite sex. The idea of a man doing a sexy dance for a female has not been explored much. Most of the male performers are for a male audience. It hasn’t been perfected yet. It’s hard because every time I poll my friends and ask, what do you find sexiest about a guy, they all say different things. There’s not that consensus. When you say, what is sexy about a woman’s body – boobs and a butt. Most men are boob men or butt men, but women will say, the back of his hands, his shirt, crazy stuff. We have to decide what we would like first and we could probably do it.

In music videos and popular culture in general female empowerment often comes through sexuality. Even if it’s Lady Gaga or Beyonce saying I’m a strong woman they’re still presenting it through sexuality. Why is a woman’s worth so often linked with beauty or sexuality?

I think it’s a touch point for confidence. If you’re confident in your body and sexuality you tend to be more confident in your life in general. Even heads of state feel pretty confident in the way that they look. That might have something to do with it.

Being in the position you’ve in, you’ve probably been asked these kinds of questions before – is it challenging for you to deal with questions of anti-feminism and objectification as a woman in that role in that industry?

It is hard to answer those questions. I don’t feel like I’ve been elected as a spokesperson for feminism. All different types of women around the world feel they’re coming into power. Feminism means so much to them – it’s 50 per cent of the population and it’s very hard for me to speak for 50 per cent of the population and say intrinsically this is how women feel because first of all it would be impossible to get 50 per cent of the population to agree on anything and I certainly don’t feel I should be a mouthpiece for them. All I can speak to is my own ideas. And I used to be more timid about that because of backlash in the press. People would be like, that is not feminist! And I’d be, OK, I’m sorry. I feel like I should be able to speak my opinion about what feminism means to me.

What can you tell me about SuicideGirls stats?

We have over 12 million people in our social network following: Twitter and Tumbler and all the different social networks and that’s been huge growth. We started out with 12 girls and we thought we’d be popular in Portland and maybe Seattle.

I have to confess that seeing so many beautiful women affects my feelings about my own body. I was with a guy the other day and I said, we’re going to go to SuicideGirls but you’re going to have to tell me for 10 minutes afterwards how beautiful I am. He said, you’re an idiot. I said, you can call me that as well.

Aw, really? I never modelled for the site because I was a self-conscious 24-year-old girl. But since I’ve been exposed to the site for years and years I feel much more confident and comfortable with my body then I did back then. They don’t intimidate me. I think because I’ve seen so many different types of women be celebrated. Girls that are thicker, girls that are thinner. Girls that are bumpier, girls with tiny waists or big bums, girls with every body type, it’s made me realise there are people that appreciate the type of body that you have, thousands upon thousands upon thousands of them. They’re going to be exactly tuned in to what you have, so if you are projecting that, if you are confident and feel sexy about it there’s going to be thousands of people going, hey, yeah, you’re sexy and you’ll find them. There’s no reason for anybody to be ashamed of their body these days.

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