Traci Lords: This Ain't The First Time She's Told Creeps To Beat It
The Debrief: Traci Lords has a long history of struggle, reinvention, and overcoming the odds. Here'a s brief history of her long and very challenging career...
Looking at her new clothing range, which includes a t-shirts that say 'Beat it, creep!', you'd probably deduce that Traci Lords is fairly badass. What you might be less aware of is that Traci Lords has a long history of struggle, reinvention, and overcoming the odds. From acting and directing to speaking out about exploitation in porn - clothing design is only the latest move for Traci in a very long and challenging career.
So who exactly is Traci Lords?
We wanted to give you the lowdown on who she is and where she's come from, but as every Traci Lords profile begins with her early work in porn, instead we're going to start from now and work backwards.
Traci Lords: clothing designer
In a recent, heartbreaking-in-hindsight interview with Broadly, Traci Lords urged people: 'you cannot put Trump in office.' But she wasn't just there to offer advice on how to avoid The Darkest Timeline, she was discussing the launch of her new clothing range, Couture for Every Body, designed for Pinup Girl Clothing - lots of femme clothes that accentuate curves and wouldn't look out of place on one of the Pink Ladies from Grease.
Apparently Traci used to design and make her own Barbie clothes, because she was sick of the outfits that came as standard with the stick-thin dolls. She explains that this collection is her answer to clothes that are only designed to fit – and look good on – people who are size 0. It's a retro, fifties collection, partly inspired by one of her most famous film roles...
Traci Lords: film, TV and music
Prior to clothing design, Traci was famous for a number of film and TV roles. Most recently, you might have seen her in Blade, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, or on the web series EastSiders, but her IMDb is crammed with plenty more. She's also a singer/songwriter – her debut album 1000 Fires was released in 1995 and went double-platinum. Although the lead single Control didn't make the top 100 in the States, it did get into the UK singles chart.
The film Cry-Baby was one of her most famous roles, the style of which is mirrored in her clothing design. If you haven't seen the film (I have it on good authority that Debrief readers aren't all as old as I am) then you can watch the trailer here. It's got the style of Grease, but with Johnny Depp instead of John Travolta. Traci Lords plays 'bad girl' Wanda Woodward, and from photos on her instagram it's pretty clear she shares a lot of taste with Wanda: Wanda's exactly the sort of person who'd sport a 'beat it, creep!' t-shirt and some figure-hugging capri pants.
But while she's had a lot of famous mainstream roles, Traci's acting career began long before she hit the mainstream films and TV.
Traci Lords: youngest porn star
At the age of fifteen, needing money after she'd run away from home, Traci Lords responded to a modelling ad. She said that with 'stars in her eyes' and a fake ID, she went along to her first audition – in February 1984. Before the day was out she had been offered, and taken, cocaine, been drunk for the first time, and posed topless.
Let's be clear here: this is not going to be a story about empowering and uplifting porn. Traci's experience in the industry was a harrowing one, and the ways in which she was exploited is shocking. Using her fake ID, she began with nude modelling shoots for magazines such as Penthouse, and before long was being contracted to shoot porn films which included hardcore sex scenes.
Traci Lords was a huge success, winning industry awards and out-earning other porn performers at the time. But it would be dishonest to profile Traci Lords as a porn performer – as she explained in an interview with Oprah in 2003: 'I was playing the part of a grown-up. But I was a kid.'
Long before she ran away, Traci had been subjected to appalling abuse in the home, which she explains taught her to 'associate sex with all the wrong things: violence and power and control.' As well as domestic abuse, Traci was also raped - by a 16 year old male friend, who threatened to kill her if she told anyone.
Traci Lords: interview with Oprah
She started to speak out about her past on the release of her autobiography in 2003 – Traci Lords: Underneath It All, and in a subsequent tell-all interview with Oprah. While she's clear with Oprah that she doesn't want to speak for all women in porn, Traci is very clear that her experience was a traumatic one.
'There were times that I thought that it was fun, and who cares, and I’m going to be dead by the time I’m 21. I was fooling myself, and I was a little brat, really. And on the inside, I was a really scared, really hurt little girl.'
By 1986, shortly after she turned 18, authorities discovered that Traci Lords had been working underage, they took her into protective custody. By that time she'd developed a cocaine addiction, and in her interview with Oprah she explained that acting in porn wasn't about sex or orgasms - “it was about 'numbing out' – it was about a place to put that anger.” Since her autobiography, Traci has frequently spoken about her time in porn, and lends support to the charity Children of the Night, which helps rescue children from prostitution.
Traci Lords' time in porn was clearly harrowing – her later work to try and help young women who have been sucked into porn and prostitution shows that she's dedicated to preventing others from falling into the same trap. What's more, the federal investigation that followed the revelations about Traci's age has paved the way for better age verification systems today. Since 1988, any adult producer making porn must follow strict rules not just around checking identification, but making a record of that ID and storing it for possible inspection at a later date.
After it was revealed that she was too young to be acting in porn, all the tapes of Traci Lords' early films were seized and destroyed. Traci then spent a long time in therapy, before heading to acting school to begin her career in mainstream film. Now, her work spans four decades, encompassing books, films, TV, music... and now clothing design too. ow back to her early movie career – using the fierce, fifties style that she was known for in Cry Baby to create clothes that are designed for everybody, except – of course - creeps.
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