Female Empowerment in the Digital Age: How this Marketing Grad Decided to Capitalize on Herself

Written by Madison Paloski

Modeled by Ashlee DeBarros Photographed and Styled by Madison Paloski

If quarantine has taught us anything, it’s how much humans rely on and need human contact. Now on month seven, it’s not unusual to feel lonely or isolated with the world at a standstill. With technology at our fingerprints, we’re luckier than ever to have the ability to connect with friends or strangers on the Internet to chat-- or be intimate with.

Since the beginning of the worldwide shutdown caused by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) global pandemic in March, the desire to turn to sex as a way to distract oneself from the uncertainties and unprecedented times we are facing isn’t all that uncommon. Pornhub released reports with data that suggests users increased by 6.4% daily at the beginning of March. More notably than Pornhub, the content creation site OnlyFans has become more than mainstream where creators can offer videos, photos, and even chances to chat one-on-one for a price.

Following its start in 2016, OnlyFans has changed sex work for the better. Instead of giving money to porn sharing sites leaving little to no pay for the actors and actresses displayed in the adult films, OnlyFans allows the x-rated entertainment to be in the hands of the entertainers exclusively. With social distancing strictly enforced in March, sex workers were left with little options on how to continue to pay their bills, forcing many to turn to remote work using the content sharing website. Many boasted how easy the site was to use and how much control they had over what was posted, making it extremely enticing for others following on social media, including celebrities and influencers alike, making talk of the site spread like wildfire. With this, also came the promotion of more ethical porn since subscribers can pay to the person directly unlike sites like Pornhub.

Many celebrities have hopped on the bandwagon (including a shout-out from Queen Bey herself on the Savage remix). The website can be seen used by Cardi B, Aaron Carter, Shea Couleé, and more. However, this move into the mainstream comes with a price. When Bella Throne joined, she earned a staggering one-million dollars in just 24-hours. The former Disney star was faced with criticism for hurting sex workers who were not allowed to receive payouts after her page received so much traffic. Many have argued that celebrities with large amounts of followers and millions of dollars of net worth should not be making these accounts and starting a “trend” because it’s ruining the platform for the people who need to use it as a job to make a livable income.

However, OnlyFans has become a space for all creatives, not just sex workers. Many users have opted out of the risqué content and instead have used the site for a behind-the-scenes look at their life, a place to offer recipes, work out tips, exclusive art content, and more. Now, if you mention the words “OnlyFans” to anyone, they either have an account, have thought about starting an account, or know someone who has an account. With COVID-19 ruining the current job market and many individuals temporarily furloughed, people are realizing that they need to invest in themselves and a side hustle, whether it be a new business, a magazine (*cough cough* Ruin Mag), or an OnlyFans account.

Among the many users on the site is 23-year-old Ashlee DeBarros. After graduating from college in 2019, she struggled with finding a full-time job. When the world shut down, DeBarros found herself laid off from her father’s company. Like many others, she was starting to feel hopeless. It wasn’t until she heard about the website through social media that she started to get intrigued. She recalls talking to a friend one day who was a frequent content creator. She showed her just how easy the website was to use, how much of an income is possible, and how she was in complete control of the people she talked to and what she posted.

She said, “Hearing her experience with the website just made me feel super comfortable in starting my own account. It made me feel like it was something I could actually do.”

DeBarros also has noted that since the start of her account in April she has noticed her self-esteem, comfortability in her own body, and sexuality have only gone up. She admits that it was a struggle at first to gain followers and to find people interested in the content that she was putting out. However, DeBarros got creative and put her education and background in marketing to use. Using her friend who showed her the platform, she was able to gain shoutouts from her and piggy-back from her followers to create her own fans. From there, she used marketing strategies to grab people’s attention, gain loyal followers, and build her empire.

“There’s a lot people don’t know about that goes into having an account. They think it’s so easy but there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work. There’s a lot of promoting for yourself that you have to do, like making a separate Twitter or Instagram, having your private stories on Snapchat, and just being really dedicated. Anyone can create an OnlyFans, but it’s about driving the people to it to make it successful.”

Using her background in marketing allowed her to create her online persona. She was able to control the image of what she wanted “Ashlee from OnlyFans” to be without revealing too much, one of the many pros of the website.

She said, “My hobbies already included social media and taking somewhat sexy photos of myself to post. To me, this was a way to be able to capitalize on it and not put all of it out there for free. It helped me discover more of my worth.”

The freedom of the website is the most enticing she notes. The ability to not only post whatever you want but also when you want is what draws many people to the site. You are in complete control when it comes to the people that can reach out to you as well and can block and report people if necessary, acting very similar to how Instagram accounts behave. It’s very secure to sign up as well with identification verification, which DeBarros says she loves.

However, with every pro, there is usually a con that follows. DeBarros says the only aspect she dislikes about the content sharing site is how they hold on to your money. The company only lets you take out a certain chunk of your proceeds at a time. The website also takes 5% of the earnings of the users. Both of these can be extremely difficult, especially for sex workers and people who use the website as the main source of income. She also shares that OnlyFans only lets you delete a certain number of posts a day.

“It’s frustrating because if I were to wake up one day and feel uncomfortable and just want to delete a whole group of posts from the previous day without having to deactivate my account I wouldn’t have the option to do so. This rule however makes me more aware of my posting and I always consider that before hitting the ‘send’ button.”

If you’re considering starting an OnlyFans, DeBarros suggests that promo is absolutely necessary. You have to market yourself, but also have fun with it. ‘Don’t do anything that makes you uncomfortable’ is her biggest piece of advice, especially with how much power the site gives you in self-security.

If you’re on the site looking to subscribe to DeBarros or any other content creator, she highly suggests asking for a menu of basic pricing and options. It gives the content creator the option to be in control. She says, “They have to be polite and not just be like ‘give me XYZ pics’. If you’re being intimate with someone, whether it be a partner or a stranger on the internet, you have to be respectful.”

With that, she suggests that people keep it extremely business-oriented oriented. While some sex workers on the site allow their clientele to talk about their daily lives and act almost as a ‘therapist’ or ‘partner’, many are just looking to make their money and go about their day, DeBarros included.

DeBarros claims that her venture into OnlyFans has expanded her knowledge and perception about sex workers.

“I’ve always been a ‘do you’ type of person, but I never could relate to them. I found myself asking ‘why do they do this? Why don’t they want a regular 9-5 job?’ but COVID has shown me that not everyone can get a job. And it doesn’t even have to be just a huge pandemic, it could be just generational, the way you were raised, or the environment you live in. I just have such a different view on it now. I’m way more understanding and now I can really relate with them. I’ve never judged before, but now I see how important sex work can be as a form of income for somebody. These are our natural bodies, it’s something we can do without a degree, without applications, and without a great credit score and that’s important for [especially women] to take advantage of.”

Although the decision to take on the average 9-5 job can be an option for most people, many sex workers genuinely do enjoy what they do and choose this as their career because it gives them autonomy over their bodies, as well as teaches their worth.

You can find Ashlee on Instagram and through her 21+ OnlyFans.