The news of Bella Thorne joining OnlyFans has sunk its teeth into the internet without letting go — with good reason. OnlyFans is a subscription-based platform in which content creators can post whatever they want, usually for a small fee that their subscribers pay. However, as creators keep 80% of the money they earn, users can also purchase “pay-per-view” messages, (messages that you have to pay to see) at a cost that is decided by the creator. Users can also tip however much they’d like.
That is, until recently. As Thorne teased the launch of her OnlyFans, she insisted that there would be no nudity. Despite this, tweets have surfaced revealing that Thorne was, in fact, offering subscribers a nude “pay-per-view” photo for $200. After receiving content that was less revealing than Thorne advertised, OnlyFans was bombarded with so many requests for refunds that the policies of the site are now changing entirely, most notably limiting monetization. Now, creators in certain countries can only get paid every 30 days. On top of this, creators can only charge a maximum of $50 per post, and the tip amount is capped at $100.
During Thorne’s first week on OnlyFans, she earned $2 million dollars in total. As OnlyFans operates similarly to other social media sites, solidifying a consistent following is essential in terms of maintaining a sustainable income. As the pandemic continues to pose indefinite economic hardship on millions of people, the internet has served as a means for people to supplement their lost income. OnlyFans has been one such tool.
Thorne had initially claimed that joining OnlyFans was research for a role in an upcoming film directed by Sean Baker. In an interview with The Los Angeles Times, Thorne said, “What are the ins and outs? What does a platform like this do to its users? What’s the connective material between your life and your life inside the world of OnlyFans? … How can it change your life for the worse and the better? How far are you willing to go, and how far do you WANT to go?”
Baker, who directed “Tangerine” and “The Florida Project” has since publicly denied that he told Thorne to join OnlyFans, and that the film was simply “a possible collaboration” that he discussed with Thorne at one point. Thorne has since tweeted that she wanted to use her platform to engage with the stigmas that sex workers face, along with normalizing sex work overall.
But this is not what happened. The reality is that not only is sex work stigmatized, but rather more importantly, it is criminalized. Laws surrounding sex work criminalize the industry altogether, rather than focusing on the protection of sex workers. Women of color are also more likely to be profiled by police, and in 2015, almost 40% of adult prostitution arrests were Black. With minors however, 60% of those under 18 arrested for prostitution — even if they were categorized as victims of sex trafficking — were also Black.
Therefore, the over-sexualization, racial profiling and policing against women of color does not afford them the same privilege in engaging in sex work as white women. Thorne was able to comfortably market her OnlyFans without fear of legal prosecution or economic failure. And while people may choose to engage in sex work for a variety reasons, ranging from empowerment to survival, the criminalization of sex work subsequently perpetuates dangerous environments that were not acknowledged by Thorne.
While Thorne may have brought attention to OnlyFans, she has yet to genuinely use her platform to focus on the realities of the industry. Things become trickier as Thorne maintains that she joined OnlyFans to uplift and support sex workers, while simultaneously claiming that it was research for a film that doesn’t exist yet. If anything, by joining OnlyFans, Thorne perpetuated a harmful perception of sex workers that use the site by scamming her followers out of $200.
Alongside this, lies the common misconception that sex work is “easy money,” which is another harmful idea that Thorne reinforced rather than helped destigmatize. Instead, the reality of sex work is that it requires an immense amount of taxing physical and emotional labor, dedication and risks that mainstream culture, including Thorne, tends to ignore completely. Earning a livable wage on OnlyFans relies on building a network of clients, which can take months compared to Thorne’s one week stint.
Unlike Thorne, most sex workers cannot market themselves using their real name and identity, something that functions as a challenge in earning an income. Instead, Thorne’s privilege saved her from the necessity of navigating anonymity for safety, allowing her to use her well-established following to secure a profit that she did not need for survival. Now, those who relied on OnlyFans as their main source of income are now faced with more economic pressure.
However, Thorne is not the first celebrity to join OnlyFans, and surely will not be the last, as influencers such as Tana Mongeau, Blac Chyna and Trisha Paytas have OnlyFans accounts of their own. Naturally, part of the conversation should be centered around the response of OnlyFans, and their decision to decrease the pay of creators. Thorne has also tweeted that she plans to meet with OnlyFans about the new restrictions. But regardless of what happens next, I think that it’s important to acknowledge what happens when celebrities join creator-based platforms such as OnlyFans or YouTube.
Ultimately, when people who already have an established following join a site that relies on having a high follower count, smaller creators suffer. As bigger names join platforms, people tend to subscribe to the names that they recognize, regardless of the quality of their content, rather than seeking lesser-known creators.
As celebrities choose to partake in platforms that otherwise function as people’s source of income in lieu of a hobby, the accountability of such issues becomes difficult to dissect. As people wrestle back and forth between blaming either OnlyFans or Thorne herself, I maintain that they’re both at fault.
Thorne should have examined her privilege differently. She could have donated her earnings toward sex workers, particularly to those of color, who are most at risk for sexual violence. She could have also stayed off the site altogether, instead dedicating her own time and resources toward protecting and supporting sex workers without financial gain. OnlyFans, on the other hand, did not need to react in the way that it did by enacting such severe policies. The site should also consider only enforcing monetary restrictions for celebrities that join the site going forward.
Either way, the result is still the same. Creators on OnlyFans are losing control of their financial stability while Thorne comfortably earned $2 million dollars in a week. While preventing something like this from happening again is key, it is important that we as a community support and uplift sex workers at an individual level. Sex work is work, and it needs to be protected and honored.
Mutual Aid for Sex Workers in Response to COVID-19
SWOPLA Emergency Relief Fund (Los Angeles)