SOCIAL MEDIA & SEX WORK: THE GEN Z ICONS SHATTERING GLASS CEILINGS

SOCIAL MEDIA & SEX WORK: THE GEN Z ICONS SHATTERING GLASS CEILINGS

by Stella Hughes
6 min
@anna_paull ©

Every generation has their icons. From Elvis to Madonna, David Beckham to Kim Kardashian, people love to love prominent figures in society, and each new generation latches on to a new set of idols. There is, admittedly, some crossover: figures like David Attenborough and Louis Theroux seem to transcend generations to become national or global treasures. Whilst the former’s consistent output earned him a strong footing in the hall of fame, the latter reached (new levels of) global prominence recently because of a TikTok remix of him rapping on Chicken Shop Date. Huh.

However, speaking of TikTok, it’s a whole new ball game for Gen Z’s favoured celebrities. Back in the early 2010s, we saw the first wave of ‘influencers’ rise to fame – primarily through YouTube. Think Zoella, PewDiePie and Dan & Phil. As time shifted, so did the social media sites – and thus so did the influencers. Instagram’s peak in around 2016 saw a wave of creatives and influencers flood the celebrity sphere: think Charlie Barker and Joanna Kuchta’s domination of the app with their Y2K aesthetic, or design creatives such as Ava Nope landing a job at Marc Jacobs through her ‘bootleg’ creations.

At the same time, Vine (gone, but never forgotten) was popping off. Introducing (now) celebrities such as Jay Versace, CodyKo and, we hate to say it, the Magcon boys, this era formed a clear pipeline into the less than desirable Team 10 / Jake Paul / diss track / cancelling era on all social media, which is to serve as a reminder that not all rises to fame are to be celebrated and remembered.

@officiallouistheroux ©

However, as time has gone on, these icons have become very much associated with their time – Zoella was the Queen Bee of millennial YouTubers, and now has a child. Likewise – Nash Grier, integral member of Magcon, seems to have changed his ways and calmed completely down in fatherhood, shifting away from the gaze of the internet to focus on the offline matters in life. But back to TikTok – the app’s overwhelming prominence in the social media-scape nowadays (it is the most visited website in the world, over Google) has meant that TikTok stars are the new Gen Z icons.

We’ve seen it with Charli D’amelio (the most followed person on the app, until recently), along with Addison Rae, Bella Poarch and her sister Dixie. Their male counterparts (Noah Beck, Chase Hudson etc) have been likened to the new Magcon, which is not entirely unfounded, as people like Blake Gray have managed to be a part of both. Elsewhere though, one creator has popped up seemingly from nowhere and is now dominating the app: Anna Paul.

@anna_paull ©

Known for her daily vlogs, Anna Paul posts TikToks multiple times a day, from both her main and spam accounts. They detail the trials and tribulations of her (seemingly constant) travel around the world – from filming a playground in Germany, where she grew up, to ‘accidentally’ splashing £6500 on a mini bag in Selfridges. Through her videos, hundreds of millions of viewers have seen countries and places they perhaps never would have been able to in real life, learning about culture, food and travel experiences all through her eyes.

There is one major thing, though – Anna is minted. As mentioned, her round-the-world trips are taken with her boyfriend Glen, brother Atis, and sometimes friends and parents too. They’re seldom seen in anything lower than business class when jetting off, and money does not appear to be an object for the various shopping or food trips they take on the daily. So where does it all come from?

Well, OnlyFans. What some of her millions of fans don’t seem to know (judging by her comment section, in which there is a revelation every day) is that Anna is Australia’s top OnlyFans earner. Placed in the top 0.2% worldwide, the 22 year old has forged an empire which means she can treat herself, her friends and her family to a life of luxury and leisure. Iconic, to say the least. 

Perhaps more interesting though is Gen Z’s attitude towards the fact, when they clock on to it. Often having to skirt around the subject on TikTok due to their stringent censoring bots, Anna’s fans are all for it – applauding the creator for her independence, ingenuity and success. And really, what’s not to love? There’s clearly a demand for it, which Anna is effectively harnessing and flipping into new ventures on different platforms. Her boyfriend and family are supportive, and so are her audience – who flock to her daily vlogs to leave messages of support and admiration in droves.

She’s not the only Gen Z icon who is / was a sex worker, either. Breakout Euphoria star Chloe Cherry did porn before traditional acting, even appearing in a Euphoria-based porno before she was scouted to become Faye in season 2. Her expertly-played role on the cult favourite teen drama led to her becoming a full-blown star and fashion girlie, attending and walking multiple shows over the last year in Milan, Paris and London.

Similarly, Lottie Moss (Kate Moss’ younger sister) made headlines for joining OnlyFans earlier this year, taking back control of her image which for a long time was only articulated in relation to her supermodel sister – with comparative Vogue shoots or (shock) damaging Daily Mail headlines fuelling the fire. Lottie has also begun to gain traction on TikTok, documenting her life as well as dropping subtle promo for her OF account on the app.

@perfect_angelgirl ©

So what does this all mean? Well, essentially, that Gen Z is backing a new wave of icons. Traditional routes of ‘coming up’, while still valued (see: Zendaya’s Disney to global superstar trajectory), are no longer required, and that sex work is as good a platform as any to becoming famous. It also speaks to authenticity: with TikTok’s capacity for viewing every inch of a person’s life (if they wish to share it) comes a deeper and more comprehensive cross-section of that person’s life. We see the mundane – what they have for lunch, how they deal with a flight being cancelled, or how they interact with people in their comments. And sex work is just another facet of that – no longer spoken about in hushed tones, but spelt out for the masses to see. Take it or leave it.

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