Of course, there has been the inevitable backlash. An anti-SuicideGirls live journal site was started a few months ago, which in turn whipped up a shitstorm of responses on the SuicideGirl message boards. One member calling herself Wuvmonki responded to the live journal posting citing the lack of plus-size SuicideGirls. "I mean, are women that don't die [sic] their hair going to go all up in arms because of it?" Wuvmonki poses. "No. So women who are not a size 2 shouldn't freak out because there are no larger sized women." But even the members recognize the subtle double standard: "I mean it's not like I could be a SuicideGirl myself," she continues. "I am too old, too short, got too much chubby in the tummy and my thighs could crush a watermelon they are so big."
Sean is remarkably candid about the exploitation issue. Asked by a Seattle paper if he thought the SGs were being exploited, Sean said: "I really, honestly don't know. I would like to say we're not exploiting the women. They chose the pictures; they did the Photoshop; they chose exactly what they wore and how they were represented; they wrote their description; they write their journal entries. I mean, it is totally them. We just give them the forum. But at the same time, in five years, is that girl going to regret doing this? I sincerely, honestly hope not. But until that time is past, there's no way to know whether what we're doing is right or not."
What does it take to be a SuicideGirl? Well, imagine if there could be a punk-rock Miss America pageant. Many apply, but only a few are chosen. An average of 250 women a week apply, ranging in age from 18 to 37. If they are chosen to advance to the next stage from the photos they send in, they must complete an essay and question-and-answer section on why they want to be on the site. Ultimately, it is up to Missy to handpick the girls she thinks have a unique face, something interesting to say, and a personality indicative of the SG "way of life."
"Being a SuicideGirl is about self-confidence," says Missy (who herself appears on the site, but not nude) in the office before Nixion's shoot. "Either she is or she isn't," she continues. "Sexuality is intrinsic to being human, and it's fun. There's no reason to repress it. There's nothing wrong with wanting to be sexy. Real girls are far sexier than fake boobs, bleached hair, and all those impossible poses on hard-core porn websites. Real girls are attractive, and SuicideGirls are real girls."
Missy and Sean say they're aiming for a "real girl" aesthetic. And it's true the girls aren't all impossibly beautiful, airbrushed prom queens with fake tans and vacant stares. They're grad students, moms, writers, waitresses. And for all the naked ladies on the site, they point out, there's not one degrading penetration or cum shot to be found.
But some of the street grit of the Portland-based site has disappeared, according to former members. Dia, a 28-year-old former SG model from California, was among the first 50 models on the site. "The early models were awesome," Dia says. "A lot of them were strippers, and were doing it for extra money. None of them were doing it for fame. What really attracted me to the site was the sense of despair. The girls back then were broke; a few were homeless. Do you think any of the models now are homeless gutter punks? The girls now are doing it for self-esteem." Dia won't go into details, but she says she was removed from the site for "being too sexual, a die-hard feminist, and opposing people's political views."
"I think the site really reduces solidarity amongst women and tends to pit them against each other," she explains. "They have a lot of rules you learn about after the fact. You were encouraged not to go to events, you were not allowed to argue with other models publicly, and you can't shoot for other sites. Individuality in the true sense of the word is frowned upon."
As close as it comes to bellying up to the feminist bar and creating a place for individuality -- letting the girls call the shots in their shoots, giving them creative license in their journals -- it still feels like porn, with a lot of the crass trappings of commercial sex. Call it soft porn. The bottom line, though, is that SG is a business that sells sex. There are consumers and products, and there will always be people with a hankering for some pictures to make them hot.