Like most social media platforms, OnlyFans rose to prominence seemingly overnight. Launching in 2016, the site works the same as any other social media platform, where you share content and collect followers and likes. But the paywall nature of the site allows users to post pictures and video only to those who pay a nominal subscription fee – hence ‘OnlyFans’.
Then, as with literally every other place on the internet, came the porn. Content of a NSFW nature began to takeover the app, and the site quickly became a source of subsidiary income for those who weren’t afraid to get naked – doubly so if you led a jet-setting life or never leave the gym.
I wasn’t the least confident person alive before I started my OnlyFans career, but I was by no means someone who would willingly strip down at a moment’s notice. It’s hard to think of yourself in a particularly confident way when you open dating apps and find people calling you obese, sending you messages with information on where the next WeightWatchers meeting is, sending you a voice note of pig noises on Christmas Day.
While dinting my pride, those comments never stopped me posting on Instagram, flooding Snapchat, or thirsting on Twitter. Refusing to hide and to stop posting pics was the best way to drain the power of the words of my anonymous critics.
“My confidence wasn’t just bashed on social media. I was often the only one of my friends going home alone on a night out”
But my confidence wasn’t just bashed on social media. I was often the only one of my friends going home alone on a night out. To be surrounded by those who court attention in a way you can’t is disheartening and only exacerbates those small insecurities, turning them into huge obstacles to overcome. By the start of 2019, I had some very big obstacles standing between me and feeling confident about myself.
I flirted with the idea of starting an OnlyFans for months – telling myself that I would wait until that ‘summer body’ was ready. Summer rolled around and my body was as set for summer as it ever would be, owing to a hectic lifestyle and, I’ll admit, a penchant for pints. But while I may have felt unattractive in whatever clothes I was wearing, I felt confident out of them thanks to compliments I would get about the ruder pictures of myself I shared online. If my ‘summer’ stomach wasn’t quite ready just yet, what I hid under my swim shorts apparently was.
At this point I had a cursory knowledge of what OnlyFans was. I had seen other people’s accounts and seen how it could be a fairly lucrative way to monetise something you might well be doing anyway. And that’s how I came to decide that, being able to fully control everything, I would start my own OnlyFans page. The only question running through my head was: are you attractive enough to do this? Starting a page that sells yourself in that way is almost a declaration that you hold yourself in a high regard but that undoubtedly wasn’t the case with me. But I don’t think objectively attractive people with chiselled jaws and abs should not have a monopoly on being sexy – not every person in the world would be attracted to a certain look on the market. If I didn’t at least try, would I regret it?
My first day posting on the site, I had zero fans. I spent the day compulsively checking my emails for the notification that someone had subscribed, that someone wanted to see what I might have to show. Hit by the sudden regret and realisation that I had stood in front of the world, preparing to bare all, and the world shrugged and carried on as normal, I considered deleting the page.
But then came my first subscriber. Then the second. Then the third. Suddenly, I was terrified. Who were these people, how had they found me, what could they do with the content I had posted that could damage me? Could this bite me on the backside at some point? You are inviting people to see you at your most honest and most vulnerable, and you’re trusting them to be discreet and respectful. But there is always the chance that someone could leak something. Now I was less concerned about how I looked physically, and more concerned with how I would look professionally.
But then I thought of Donald Trump. If the man holding the highest office in the world could have so many negative, provable stories about his personal life and could storm onwards towards his second term unscathed, what was the worst that could happen to me, a nobody, for posting harmless pictures online?
As my fan count grew, so too did my confidence. I know it’s a sad fact of modern life that the value we place on ourselves can be so tied to the throwaway likes that we get online but I felt validated when I received positive messages, likes, and new subscribers, or when fans renewed their monthly subscription. I began to love the feeling that came with each notification – a feeling that has been described by some scientists as mirroring the same rush of chemicals in the brain as a drug user would experience when finding a fix of crack cocaine.
But more importantly I realised that I wasn’t feeling validation from some faceless person online named user78290, I was feeling validation by myself. I realised I was looking at my OnlyFans not as a platform to make some fast money, but as a way to accept myself.
“OnlyFans allowed me to feel sexy and to feel good about myself and my body, and I don’t think I’m the only one”
The first few posts, I was hit by impostor syndrome. Yet once the initial few posts were out of the way – once I’d found figured out my best light, a system of balancing my phone upright inside a plastic cup and had discovered the best angles to shoot – I became a well-oiled OnlyFans content machine. Literally.
I became more daring with what I would show and post and experimented with what people might want to see. The account forced me to be disciplined, to ensure I was posting regularly, and to tap into my imagination to spice up the same few shots. My OnlyFans experience didn’t make me feel more attractive, more muscular, or more sexy because users had given me some pocket money – instead it forced me to look at myself with a kinder eye, to be less critical whenever I looked in the mirror, and indeed begin to find compliments to pay myself.
For some people, OnlyFans is a cash cow – some accounts make thousands a month and become professional career paths in much the same way as Instagram and Twitter. But for the majority of users, casual account holders at best, it represents a chance to stand proud of your body and embrace sex and sexuality in a positive way. With body confidence and self-esteem increasingly prevalent issues in the social media age, being able to embrace what you have is a brave thing to do.
Whether bringing in fans by the thousands or producing regular content for a handful of loyal subscribers, OnlyFans allowed me to feel sexy and to feel good about myself and my body, and I don’t think I’m the only one. You stand in front of a viewing public and say: ‘This is me’.
And if you can’t love your body, how can you expect anyone else to?
James Cullen is a writer and video producer from Leeds. Follow him on Twitter at @jculwestside
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