Last week (February 10), Hulu and ABC News premiered their new documentary, OnlyFans: $elling Sexy, which examines the profit-making world of the sex worker-led subscription site. The film charts the platform’s astronomical rise – which has been enhanced by the pandemic – and speaks to creators about the impact of an influx of celebrities.
One such celeb is former Disney star Bella Thorne, who notoriously joined OnlyFans in August. The actor quickly broke the platform’s record for most money earned in a day, topping $1 million, but was criticised by sex workers after OnlyFans subsequently placed new limits on its pay-per-view transactions.
As well as accusing Thorne of not considering the effects of her actions on sex workers, many of whom rely on the platform for their income, OnlyFans creators condemned the star for profiting off sex work while not having to deal with the stigma faced by actual sex workers.
“She didn’t think about us as real people or about sex work as a real job,” OnlyFans user Erika Heidewald said at the time. She also accused Thorne of scamming people, as the actor’s ‘nude’ photo turned out to be a lingerie shot, similar to images shared on her Instagram. Heidewald stated that this can lead to “the spread of a dangerous and unfair stereotype that sex workers are scammers”.
Although Thorne apologised, asserting that she “wanted to bring attention to the site… to normalise the stigmas”, she later caused more controversy by claiming that she was the “first” to join OnlyFans.
In a clip from the OnlyFans: $elling Sexy doc, Thorne continues to show no remorse, saying: “You either love me, or you hate me.”
Speaking to Dazed in December about the censorship sex workers face online, sex worker Valerie August said: “Celebrities and others who trade on sex appeal in more ‘respectable’ ways are currently allowed to get away with much more explicit content than sex workers are, and this will continue. The difference isn’t the actual content, but the fact that it’s connected to a sex worker.”
Watch a clip from OnlyFans: $elling Sexy above, and look back at Dazed’s 2018 exploration of OnlyFans here.