‘Shocking rise in women selling pictures on onlyfans!’ screamed the Daily Mail headline, and I thought, there’s an unprecedented use of the word shocking. We’re all skint, bored, isolated, stuck at home gawping at our phones for days on end: surely it would be more shocking if we didn’t consider the possibility of making some money from it?
I love OnlyFans. I dabbled with it a little a couple of years ago and made a few pennies, but when Covid stole my vanilla career I turned all my energy to making it pay. These last six months have been a joy and a revelation. The more clever and creative you are, the more work you put in, the more money you will make: it’s the closest Britain has ever come to a meritocracy. I’m vastly more bright than beautiful, but I’ve never found a way of monetising my brains. OnlyFans has given me that opportunity. There’s irony, eh? No wonder the old school hate it. Now it no longer matters if you understand concepts like sustainability, use the right quasi-management speak, know the right people. If you create something fun and intelligent that speaks to people, you will make money from your content.
I’m top 9.6% now. It’s clever the way they let you see your own statistics, how you rank against other creators: it makes you feel competitive, fired up, day after day, keen to improve your ranking, on days when money isn’t sufficient motivation. I upload something at least twice a day, always a photo, often a video, sometimes a written piece. I’ve established a Book at Bedtime, where I post 1200 words of erotic reverie, ending on a cliffhanger. That’s been super popular. I’ve never made any money from my writing before, not real money, the kind you can fold up and rely upon, feel weighing down your pockets, straightening your spine, lending you confidence and charm as you stand in shop or bar.
My most enjoyed content sees me sharing a part of my life, not my flesh. Talking to camera about how excited and nervous I am before I walk into a new film studio, no make up, duffel coat buttoned to the chin; sitting in a micro-pub beside a blackboard of specials, asking for help to decide which cider I should try first. The beautiful studio shots, of which I post many, tend not to elicit much engagement or tipping. If you’ve only photos to share you’ll get nowhere. It matters not how beautiful you are. Beautiful bodies are everywhere, gratis. You are but one woman with one body and when you’ve shown every inch of it your fans will drift away. Here’s my cleavage again, in the woods, in my kitchen, in the bath, on a bicycle, big deal. What your fans want is a tiny piece of you. Tell them how the shoot felt. Tell them how the photographer was creepy, or charming, or handsome, or some combination thereof. Here at last it helps to be able to weave a narrative, to create characters, to introduce plots and twists. I know how words work, and words draw an audience to your page, not images. I can weave a narrative around my life, create a more interesting version of me. That’s all I do when I write, and all I do on OnlyFans.
More irony: it’s the first career I’ve ever pursued where I haven’t felt alienated and objectified. It uses all of me, all my talents, my wit, creativity, charm. It’s endlessly engaging, an absorbing little game, trying to decide what to post next, how to make it seasonal, relevant, unusual. My birthday, playing with banners and cupcakes. National allotment week, the plum and the marrow. Halloween coming, which means fishnets and fangs, an old white shirt to use as a makeshift hospital gown: that’ll show up the blood spatters beautifully. Every day a new chance to dress up, play and create. It’s like being a child again, but a really rich spoilt child, with more pocket money than sweeties to want. ‘Let’s get together and create some content!’ is all I ever hear from my friends. I’m a creative sort, and the idea that you can make money simply by being a creative is staggering. All my theatrical friends have to beg the Arts Council for assistance, which is a sight more humiliating than getting your flesh out, and 80% of the time they refuse to pay for your time and degradation, after making you endure months of it. With onlyfans they cough up first, then you get to choose what you’ll make.
I’m arguing so hard for onlyfans because I’m aware it has its detractors, many of them feminists. I can remember when feminists weren’t inevitably anti-sex. I remember when women exploring and enjoying their sexuality wasn’t seen as the most despicable act of betrayal they could commit against the sisterhood. I remember when a flow of cash going largely male to female-wards wasn’t seen as an obscene abomination. I remember when feminists could engage in reasoned, interesting debates, without screaming ‘pornification’, ‘objectification’, ‘sexualisation’, words that are scary and vague enough to shut down any debate, yet contain no actual meaning. I remember reading Erica Jong and Spare Rib and Germaine Greer and thinking that feminism was about something other than fear. When did it change? Why?
There is a correlation between pornography and rape, but it is an inverse correlation. In countries where pornography is freely available, rates of rape and other sex crimes are much lower. Point this out, however, and women refuse to believe you, then get very very cross. The fear of women being in charge of their own sexuality is primal, visceral, palpable. Not from men, usually, who tend to find it quite cool and interesting. Not always of course: the religious right are an exception to this. And I do have about 15 female fans, some creators themselves, interested to see what I’m up to; some of whom, frankly, who are just really into me. It’s a boost to the old ego, onlyfans, on top of all else. You can’t keep believing you’re fat, ugly and boring when you’ve hundreds of fans desperate to see what you’re wearing today, what your plans are, what deviant schemes are flitting through your febrile kinky brain.
My teenage son has a friend who works at a sports shop on a zero hours contract. If it’s not busy they send her home. If it is busy, she’s on her feet for ten hours a day with a 30 minute break, selling trainers made by tiny foreign children, to parents who can’t afford them, in a bid to prevent their own children getting beaten up. Sometimes the mothers cry when they see the price label, but then again, the children cry if they don’t get the trainers. She earns £4.55 an hour for that privilege, or £45.50 for a 10 hour shift. Could you live on that, or with that? I couldn’t.
The OnlyFans worker, in contrast, is, I would argue, living the Marxist dream. Sole proprietor of the means of production (phone, cleavage), working from home, engaging brain and talent to make what she possesses pay. No chance of alienation when you yourself are the product, and the whole of you (brain, charm, wit, talent, character, fizzog, physique) is required to turn a profit. Turns out sexualised imagery isn’t a tool of male oppression. It’s good fun and extremely profitable.
I wonder what it is about the idea of women enjoying and earning from their sexuality that a patriarchal capitalist society finds so frightening?