Bella Thorne and OnlyFans: how not to be an ally
Print Screen Editor Francesca Sylph discusses how the actor’s exploitation of fame has ultimately harmed sex workers during an already challenging time.
On August 19th 2020, the former Disney princess-turned-porn-producer, Bella Thorne, announced on her Instagram that she had started an OnlyFans page. Charging her subscribers $20 a month, Thorne broke an OnlyFans record by earning over $1 million in her first 24 hours, which doubled to $2 million within a week.
You’ve probably heard of OnlyFans but if not then allow me to enlighten you. OnlyFans is a content subscription service that allows creators to earn money from users who subscribe to their content. Technically, OnlyFans is a platform for any and all types of content but due to the freedom and lack of restrictions placed on creators, the website has gained a reputation for NSFW content. The company was founded by CEO Timothy Stokely, who launched the platform after he previously created the BDSM and fetish website GlamWorship. In 2019, the New York Times called OnlyFans “the paywall of porn.”
Despite being launched in 2016, the platform has only recently received such widespread attention and popularity. OnlyFans saw a 75% increase in users in March and April of 2020, with 200,000 new daily subscribers. This is partly because it became an alternative way for unemployed sex workers to make money during the pandemic. In addition to being unable to carry out their normal in-person jobs, many sex workers have been denied government COVID-19 support funds, meaning that some of them now rely on OnlyFans for their income. As OnlyFans performer Bea King told Bustle: “Most of us are survival sex workers. We literally depend on this income to feed and shelter ourselves.”
So what exactly did Bella Thorne do to cause so much controversy? And how exactly has she ‘ruined’ OnlyFans? In addition to the money that creators receive from monthly subscriptions, they can also receive tips and charge for pay-per-view (PPV) content. In an alleged screenshot on Twitter, Thorne claims that she is indeed “Naked. NAKED?! Yes naked” in a pricey $200 PPV post. Apparently, Thorne was actually in lingerie, not “no clothes naked” as her message promised. On the 26th August, Thorne tweeted: “nooooo I’m not doing nudity!!!” She has since been accused of ‘scamming’ her subscribers by lying about sharing nude content in order to gain a bigger following. One of her subscribers turned to Twitter, claiming that “every single regular post is a repost from her Instagram. A complete scam. She clearly has 0 respect for her fans.” Her ‘exclusive’ feed apparently features bikini pictures and one image of Thorne eating a hot dog: all content that you could easily find for free on Instagram.
Not only has Thorne angered her subscribers but she has also angered a community of sex workers. On the 27th August, Only Fans announced that they would start capping the amount that creators can charge for PPV content to $50 and the amount that fans can tip to $100. To prevent fraudulent payments, OnlyFans also introduced a restriction in some South American countries meaning that creators will now have to wait 30 days to collect their earnings instead of the usual 7 days. Although OnlyFans denied that these policy changes were related to Thorne, many claim it’s an unlikely coincidence. These policy changes will seriously hurt creators who rely on their OnlyFans income for a living. As adult content creator Zara notes on Twitter: “She [Thorne] isn’t paying her rent with this. It’s fun money for her.” Another Twitter user argues: “The OnlyFans platform has basically been destroyed because of her lying. Sex work is real work and Bella Thorne just made a joke out of it and proved she has no idea what it means to be a sex worker. She disrespected every sex worker out there and nobody will forget about this.”
While Thorne may have had good intentions… there is no question that she ultimately ended up appropriating and gentrifying sex work
On the 29th August, 2 days after the controversial policy changes, Thorne issued an apology on her Twitter. She wrote that she “wanted to bring attention to the site” and “remove the stigma behind sex, sex work, and the negativity that surrounds the word SEX itself by bringing a mainstream face to it.” Thorne said in joining OnlyFans she hoped she could “help bring more faces to the site to create more revenue for content creators on the site.” She also claims that she is meeting with OnlyFans about the new restrictions.
TikToker and sex worker Nikki Newhope was disappointed with Thorne’s apology, telling Bustle that: “Celebrities going on these sex work platforms further stigmatizes. OnlyFans jumps at the chance to have a celebrity be the face of a platform. It’s a much better look for them then ‘icky sex workers’ that are so shunned.” She notes how: “The majority of real sex workers are called criminals or whores. She [Thorne] got to slide in for fun, reap the massive benefit, and get quoted by Rolling Stone and similar publications as an entrepreneur.”
While Thorne may have had good intentions when joining the platform, in my opinion, there is no question that she ultimately ended up appropriating and gentrifying sex work. OnlyFans is not just fun; it’s people’s livelihoods. Thorne’s endeavours into sex work only served to change the face of a platform that people depend on to survive. Furthermore, as a celebrity, Thorne was able to reap the financial benefits of sex work without having to deal with the social backlash and stigmatisation that normally comes with it. Dressing up as a sex worker for two days while being privileged enough to avoid the backlash is not allyship. If Thorne truly wanted to understand and support sex work, then this would not be the way to do it. If it’s not about you, then don’t make it about you. Simple.