Sundari Prasad has tried everything.
That's what you're supposed to do in this, the Age of Self-Promotion.
She appeared on "Maury" and "The Jenny Jones Show." She faced off with Tyra Banks.
She auctioned ad space on her body to benefit People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. (EBay took it down.)
She got sunbursts tattooed on her areolas. In public.
She lost 160 pounds. She self-published 16 books. She modeled for Hustler, Bizarre, Urban Ink, Prick and the American Heart Association.
Her persistent pursuit of fame hasn't quite worked. Not yet. But Sundari Prasad, aka Aurealia Nelson, Purple Kitten, Mina Royale, DJ Demoness, Lady Slaughterhouse and her current identity, Sun Karma, keeps trying.
"Everything to me is a grand performance," she says, pronouncing it grande, the French way. "It's a show. Like Marilyn Monroe said ... 'It's all just make-believe, isn't it?'"
She grew up in North Side and Byrd Park neighborhoods. Her mother was a model, a flamboyant beauty who put a young Prasad in pageants. Prasad learned to perform, but what she really wanted to do was write, she says: "I just wrote, wrote, wrote, wrote, wrote."
Prasad graduated from Douglas Freeman High School and then attended Virginia Commonwealth University. There she studied communications and art history. She also gained weight — at one point she hit 275 pounds. Her friends dared her to lose the weight and then celebrate by dancing at a strip club. Prasad went vegetarian, dropped to 115 pounds, showed up at the notorious Red Light Inn on Grace Street and danced. "I'm ornery like that," she says.
Prasad later began working as a nude model — "artistic nudes," she clarifies. The market for tattooed, pierced, goth, ethnic models wasn't exactly booming. But Prasad refused to make herself into anything else. "I'm not the big-booty black chick sticking her butt out, shaking it in the music video," she says.
In 2004, one of her photos was printed as the centerfold in a Mexican magazine, El Sol. "Then Hustler saw me," she says. "And saw the photos that I sent them. And they saw I was also a writer." She became an official "roving reporter" for the porn magazine; her first assignment was covering the annual adult video industry convention in Las Vegas.
Alongside Prasad's articles, the magazine ran pictures of her in leather, lingerie and nothing. Editors called her an "erudite exhibitionist" and a "gifted wordsmith." She was delighted when Hustler featured her alongside Eva Mendes and Kim Kardashian in a 2007 article about beautiful exotic women. Who would have thought it, she says — "a little girl from Richmond who nobody knows."
But Hustler — and its opinionated, First Amendment-champion publisher Larry Flynt — often told Prasad how and what to write. In one article she had to defend radio host Don Imus after he called the Rutgers University women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos." She still writes for the magazine, she says, but only occasionally.
Prasad sought another avenue to celebrity: the talk-show circuit. She appeared on an episode of "Jenny Jones" called "Brainy Busty Babes" alongside a Canadian with double-M breasts. She appeared on an episode of "Maury" called "Geeks to Chic," in which producers brought on an old Freeman classmate to marvel at her transformation. Then in 2008 she appeared on "Tyra." The topic was "Guess My Race."
Prasad told Banks an intimate story from her family history, about how her light-skinned great-grandmother instructed her daughters not to marry any man darker than a paper bag. "We have to keep up appearances," her great-grandmother told them, "and we have to keep up our color." Prasad says Banks twisted her story around, and tried to get her to say she hated being of mixed ethnicity. In the end, producers cut Prasad's appearance to just a few minutes.
So no more talk shows. No more stunts. And no more modeling, at least not the conventional variety: "I can't stand there and just look cute. ... I can't do it. It's just not me." Prasad's ready to reinvent herself again.
The trouble is, this isn't only the Age of Self-Promotion. It's the Age of the Permanent Past. While Prasad's proud of her Hustler experience, she says, "it's something I'm still trying to overcome." She's been fired from one job because of it. And when people Google her, she says, they assume she's a porn star.
She wants to transcend her past, she says. To be known as "more of a panoramic performance artist, writer, model than just a pretty pixel."
Prasad, who turns 38 this month, is seeking a new start in her hometown. She's working as a makeup artist and pursuing a master's degree in psychology from the University of Phoenix. She's writing her 17th book, "The Penis Diaries." She's participating in the Diversity Pinup Project, a photography series organized by local pinup girl Ellie Retrophilia. She wants to be "a personality," she says, someone everyone knows.
"I want to be the queen of Richmond," she says. "Yes. Forget Dirtwoman."
Why not? This is, after all, also the Age of Second Chances. S