Indian actress Sherlyn Chopra was all the buzz a few weeks ago. She pranced around the Playboy mansion in nothing but her birthday suit, and in defiance of Indian laws banning porn, announced her sense of accomplishment as the first Indian woman to appear in Playboy Magazine.
Gayatri Bajpai, Senior Web Producer of Schema Magazine, the sharp and witty Diana Nguyen and Jen Wang of Disgrasian.com and the preeminent Asian American women's magazine Asiance, got together (online) for an off the cuff exchange over the merits of Sherlyn Chopra's upcoming display of assets.
In response to Michelle da Silva's article that asked why should we care? The first thing we asked them was whether Chopra's future appearance in Playboy was worthy of all the media attention it received.
For the sake of authenticity, we've left most of the IM-spelling intact.
Gayatri Bajpai: Notice the 'dirty wishes' in her twitter blurb. frankly, I think a lot of bollywood starlets are making an effort to go that way.
Diana Nguyen: it's true. i just checked out the bathtub twitpics of Poonam Pandey
Jen Wang: I think firsts are always newsworthy.
DN: Agreed with Jen on "firsts."
GB: i think it was newsworthy partly because we are in the west and for us, this is a blip in what we see as largely traditional, conservative history
Asiance Magazine: hahah yeah she's followed by mostly AA
JW: How you feel about them is another thing, and that's why we're here, right?
GB: That's what I was trying to say in my long-winded way
GB: what I find interesting is how she's owning it enthusiastically. On kind of a personal fascination level I think it takes guts...despite the monetary benefits for her
DN: I feel like there was a lot of discussion spawned by Playboy's acknowledgment of this "first." The way they are kind of thrusting her out there as an exotic.
JW: I remember when I wrote about Liu Wen as the 1st Asian model for Estee Lauder, and some dude wrote back with a comment that was like, "GIRLS, why are you blogging about this? Models are too skinny blah blah blah..." And I was like, well, there will be a significant cultural impact. It might not be PC and feminist, but watch.
GB: anyone know about the history of playboy re: non-white women? Especially Asian (other than Indian)?
JW: Wikipedia'ing now...
DN: me too!
DN: first Black woman in 1971
GB: yeah, context is SO important
JW: China Lee, 1964!
JW: That seems rather early.
JW: My god though, that name, "China Lee." Is that for real???
AM: Playboy could also be trying to appeal to this market now
GB: India's eons behind her Asian counterparts lol
AM: Indian Americans
AM: South Asians
JW: Yeah, but India's gonna take over everything and make up for lost time. :)
consume a helluva lot of porn
GB: Minor legal issues aside
JW: It's a numbers game after all!
GB: And if there's anything Indians know a bit about, but won't talk about, it's sexytime, as the numbers tell
AM: Especially with all the recent research reports lol
JW: So China Lee, first Playboy Playmate of the Month, 1964, was born Margaret Lee. I mean, of course she was. And get this: "According to her Playmate profile, her name is pronounced "chee-na" to rhyme with "Tina"." WHAT?
DN: Oh dear god. I wonder at what point she changed her name...
JW: Diana, your Playboy Playmate name would have to be "'Nam Nguyen."
GB: She's in playboy, can't she even get herself a DIGNIFIED NAME??
DN: like "Oriental Lee"
AM: The article is prob full of generalizations and racism as well. We should should get a copy and compare
GM: I have a feeling this article's going to be peppered with disclaimers
DN: 'Nam Nguyen' sounds like a restaurant or sauce.
JW: Exactly. Aren't Asian people and Asian food the same thing? *sarcasm for the dummies out there*
JW: I only read Playboy for the articles.
DN: I want to write Playboy articles. But that's a whole other story...
GB: For realz? it might be an opportunity...occupy playboy, make it our own
DN: Also! Nobody steal my Playboy name!
GB: I've always dreamed of my own mansion, but my harem would be ethnically diverse and all playmates would get organic feed
JW: "organic feed"--like cows? :p
GB: In all seriousness, though, I think Sherlyn's splash was kind of smaller than what she was hoping for
JW: Has the issue come out yet?
DN: Comes out end of the year, probably November. Did anybody else read that they kicked off the morning of the shoot with whiskey and vodka? I mean i love whiskey AND vodka together, but usually I wait until noon.
JW: So why wasn't the splash splashier?
GB: She says she feels like a different person after the freedom of prancing about the mansion in her birthday suit
GB: Yeah I read that
DN: She says they were the best days of her life
JW: I feel like the less splashy splash does say something about how we in the West view Asian (and in this case specifically Indian) beauty.
GB: I was actually talking about india. There's a new film out called Jism 2 and Sunny Leone is acting in it.
AM: Former porn star
GB: It's a) legal, b) steamy. It's getting a lot of bad reactions from the conservatives, but for everyone else, it's a lot more immediate than playboy
DN: Wow, really!
DN: I shot a PSA with Sunny, no joke. Just before she finally did penetration movies! She had sore thighs that day.
AM: omg no way
JW: Wait, wait, you had me at "Jism." Who's in Jism 2???
GB: Sunny Leone!
JW: What is happening? We went from softcore to hardcore fast.
GB: I don't know the dude's name yet, but I can find out
DN: Sorry, let's back it up. Back to Sheryln's splash.
GB: Well, sunny went backwards
AM: Is she still in porn?
GB: From hardcore to mainstream bollywood softcore-ish
DN: Is Jism 2 a real thing?
GB: Oh definitely
DN: Oh wow, yes yes it is.
JW: Who is Sunny Leone? Seriously, you guys are clearly more into porn than I am. What am I missing?
DN: She was a Vivid girl. Half Indian, correct?
GB: Yep. A trailblazer for us half-Indian girls
DN: For a long time she only did girl girl/no penetration, which was good for her demo
AM: oh wow milestones!
JW: My god, Diana, you have me clutching my pearls right now. "girl girl/no penetration"
DN: Actually a very chipper lass!
DN: I'm sorry! I know you're a Texan belle but these are her definitive characteristics! She was a "pure" porn star for a little while!
GB: Anyway, the point with Sunny was that Sherlyn was overshadowed a bit
JW: Sherlyn was overshadowed by Sunny's Jism 2? Is that what you're saying?
GB: Bollywood in general is moving towards more sex (at least the strongly implied kind, not the 'they're doing it in the bushes' kind, where you see a flower shake overhead)
DN: Here's my question: How famous was Sheryln before Playboy?
GB: I hadn't heard of her
JW: So Sherlyn didn't go hardcore enough.
DN: I hadn't heard of her, but I am not a Bollywood expert.
GB: Yeah she's definitely far from A-list
DN: I looked her up, and she seems to be a bit of a sublebrity
JW: If she wanted to be famous, she should have gone "girl/boy penetration" in the words of Diana?
GB: Nah only firsts get media attention ;)
AM: The 28-year-old knockout wrote to the magazine and suggested the idea herself
GB: oh right
DN: Girl/boy penetration with both A and V penetration...
GB: that's your point, I saw 'girl-girl' at first
JW: Diana, again, I'm clutching my pearls.
DN: Okay! But seriously, it seems to me like she just wasn't that notable to begin with
GB: cross yourselves, because she says this is only the first step
JW: What, if anything, does Sherlyn's turn in Playboy mean for Indian American/Canadian girls and their notions of beauty?
GB: This was totally a publicity stunt. It's just one that, imo, not too many Indian celebs would've been able to go through with with such ... conviction
DN: And if I'm a guy ... I like hot chicks in my Playboy and I don't really care that much about the politics. If I'm in India, there's all this news about some woman I don't really care about anyway ...
JW: But I'm interested in how this filters down in our culture.
GB: what it means for Indo-Canadians/Americans is an interesting question
AM: Finally making Indian/Indian American women sexy and desirable
JW: When did y'all first see an issue of Playboy? (I'm going somewhere with this, trust.) I was 8, sitting in the backseat of my uncle's car with my bro. In other words: EWWWWWW
GB: I haven't :) Grew up in india
DN: I think college? I remember by the time I saw one I'd seen way worse.
JW: College?! No wonder you're such a pervo now. Making up for lost time.
DN: Hahaha, I'd already seen Hustler and regular porno mags! Playboy seemed like it was for novices.
GB: All the porn we saw was video my high school friends downloaded from somewhere
JW: Me and my friend Stephanie used to sneak her Dad's in 7th grade, too. But "sneak" is the wrong word. They were just on top of the toilet.
JW: Playboy is for novices! It's the gateway drug of porn.
DN: Like wine coolers ...
JW: I ask because I think most girls see Playboy early, and they view it with curiosity. None of this intellectualized, oh this is the male gaze stuff. Just, like, OH! These are women's bodies.
DN: And so it is important to see yourself, on some level, in the imagery
GB: So for Indo-Americans, it's like ok, Indian women bring pretty much the same goods
JW: For me, when I see Sherlyn being the 1st Indian woman in Playboy, I think this will filter down to brown girls being like, I exist. Maybe that's giving this too much credit though. Seeing yourself in the culture, even if it's not necessarily something you'd brag about in Women's Studies class.
DN: If they see themselves in the imagery, they feel that they exist somehow. And also, as your notions of desire are built, you see yourself as potentially desirable
GB: In a weird way, it might be a filter-up thing. It's in pop culture first
DN: And not something outside of it
GB: or sorry ... porn culture, and filters into the mainstream
JW: But also, when I find myself thinking about these arguments, I wonder if we're all just fighting over scraps. Like, Yay! Now we can be objectified in the same way! Huzzah!
GB: Yeah, but the way she talks about it, she is taking charge
JW: It's such a mixed bag.
I don't doubt it's empowering for Sherlyn Chopra. And her bank account.
GB: Especially since she gets so much shit for it from the same idiots who shut down bombay theatres. She's being really vocal
DN: But you know what, maybe it's a dream I don't share, but I would hate to think that an Indian woman COULDN'T pose for playboy due to some sort of bullshit ethnic glass ceiling.
GB: Which is not a common perception of Indian women here either
JW: Huh. It sounds like there's an even bigger social change element to her being in Playboy in India.
GB: Different kinds of change for sure
JW: So wait, Gayatri, explain how porn in India works. Like, it's shameful? There are laws against it? What?
GB: It's illegal for sure
JW: Across the board? Even softcore?
DN: Then how does it exist so publicly?
GB: It's shameful in polite company, but everyone's looking at it. Everyone knows everyone's looking at it, it's just not allowed. A lot of film borders on soft porn to fill that void. I wouldn't say it exists publicly in that you can walk into a store and buy a magazine, etc, no way, but people have access to tons on the internet, and there are soft porn movie theatres
JW: Hmm...that sounds kind of fun. (film bordering on soft porn)
GB: haha it's all relative when you're starved
DN: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pornography_in_India ... Interesting. So you can own it and watch it legally. But it's illegal to sell it or make it.
JW: So, general question, why did it take so long for an Indian woman to appear in Playboy? I mean, besides *racism*.
DN: And why did it only happen when this woman self-submitted? I wonder how many women of Indian descent have tried
GB: I don't think any have tried
JW: Really? That can't be true.
GB: I would blame the late development on tradition as much as racism
DN: Do you think that the cultural taboo is so high that no Indian women have tried? I'm curious to know about Indian American women ... surely someone has
JW: This is when we need a listener call-in feature.
GB: I doubt any Indian women have written in before her. Maybe all the Indian-Americans so far didn't make it past the 'trial' round
JW: Are the stereotypes of Asian women being hyper-sexualized, exotic, fetishes exclusive to East Asian women or do they extend to South Asian women as well?
GB: I think they are exclusive to East Asian women. Here in Vancouver Indo-Canadian women are certainly not fetishized the same way at all. Indian families also, in general, do not encourage their daughters to date white men
JW: I wonder if Indian women didn't "try" to appear in Playboy as Gayatri says because of conservatism within the culture or because of internalized racism, like, "I'm not pretty enough"
JW: East Asian families in general don't encourage their daughters to date white men either.
DN: But wait wait wait. Public sex, sure. But you can't tell me that Indian women aren't fetishized in the context of the Kama Sutra, etc.?
GB: Well, I was putting it mildly. It's actually discouraged in most Indian families to even date a different cast, so dating outside of the community, particularly for women, is a huge no-no. Before, Indian women who were dating out would actually get stalked by community members. I haven't heard of that happening as much in East Asian families, but maybe I just don't know
AM: u got it
DN: But let's pause on dating and out-marrying for a moment ... What about sexual identity in general?
GB: The kama sutra thing i'm sure is a fetish for some, but oddly it kinda falls outside of the perception of Indian people's sexuality in general
JW: ... in the West, right?
GB: Yeah, the fetish hasn't become part of the mainstream as far as I can tell
JW: So no "sideways vaginas" for you guys.
GB: lol WUT?
DN: and no "can you put your legs behind your head?"
JW: Oh, that's an old stereotype. That Asian women have sideways vaginas. It's more mythic than stereotype I suppose, like unicorns.
DN: Gayatri! it's a common myth that Asian women have sideways vaginas!
GB: oh gotcha, I need to get educated
DN: in my case, of course, it is true.
JW: Well, one of your vaginas is sideways, anyways.
GB: Blame it on my third world upbringing
DN: ... or your limited time talking about vaginas with idiot frat boys.
GB: I did get asked if i worshipped the kama sutra once
DN: You did get asked that? By whom?
GB: Freshman at UBC. It wasn't even a pickup line unfortunately, it was genuine curiosity
DN: If only you'd said yes! I "worship" the Kama Sutra! (?)
GB: Not everyone can mess with the occult powers of the KS
JW: I wonder if Indian Americans/Canadians are subjected to more questions about their spirituality than their sexuality?
GB: it takes practice, mental discipline, and the most ancient incarnation of the kegels
JW: The kegels!
GB: well, the kama sutra seems to combine both so other North Americans can understand it
DN: I'm doing my kegel exercises as we speak.
DN: 10 minutes a day, ladies!
GB: It's like OH, they're sexing AND praying at the same time, now I understand
JW: And, you know, you're doing kegel exercises x 2. And sideways. And diagonally. Take that, Ginger Rogers.
DN: It's so much work!
JW: As long as yoga's involved ... Westerners "get" India. ;)
GB: till you can open bottles with the sheer strength
AM: Ladies, I need to hop off now, but i loved watching all your thoughts
JW: Bye, Jaymie!
GB: Seeya Jaymie! thanks for hanging out
DN: then can I just re-ask Jen's question from above? I wonder if Indian Americans/Canadians are subjected to more questions about their spirituality than their sexuality?
GB: Probably people usually
GB: see the two in opposition to each other. When people find out i'm half-Indian questions are more about stuff like arranged marriage, or whether I can have sex before it. if they get that far
DN: I guess I am so fascinated by this because in my own experience I feel like I have experienced both things.
JW: "arranged marriage" LORD HAVE MERCY.
GB: There's the assumption i'm religious, which i'm totally not
DN: And people very deeply invested in spiritual practice that includes deep sexuality, high-vibration sexuality, if you will
GB: The kama sutra confuses people, but i think on that level, people 'get it.' It's like, oh, it's in their culture if it's in this prescribed way it's not free, spontaneous, etc. It's not western and individualized if it's prescribed by your culture, is my general feeling about how Westerners view Indian sexuality
DN: But Kama Sutra aside, for many people sexuality is part of spiritual practice. For instance, a close yogini friend, Uma Inder, who conceived her child in a temple. Deeply passionate, highly sexual woman, deeply spiritual person.
GB: How have you guys seen it with your Indian friends? You said mostly conservative so far?
DN: No, I would say I've experienced both. It's what I was getting at above.
GB: were the more liberated Indian friends rebelling against family, or did they tend to come from more liberal ones?
DN: Family irrelevant. She saw sex as part of a spiritual practice.
JW: Alright, folks. That's a wrap!
DN: Off I go! Ta, all!
GB: happy kegelin!
Pre-Playboy Naked truth about Sherlyn Chopra Magazine Covers on asiancemagazine.com
Sherlyn Chopra Playboy nude photos trends in India at No. 2 on asiancemagazine.com
Bollywood actress Sherlyn Chopra to be Playboy's 1st Indian model on Twitter / disgrasian.com