Cristina Villegas has 1.55 million subscribers on YouTube. She has 478,000 Instagram followers, and at 21 years old, she has a net worth estimated between two and three hundred thousand dollars. She’s also a stripper.
Strippers as Influencers
Villegas was one of the first strippers to find success by showcasing her sex work on social media, but she’s far from the only one. “itsimperial” has 1.8 million followers on TikTok and 72.2 million likes. Both women make videos about their lives as strippers, flaunt the money they make, and have luxurious shopping sprees. Villegas’s most viewed videos include “My Botched Nose Job,” “Week in the Life of a Stripper,” and a series of Stripper Vlogs. All have over three million views, and her “What I Make in a Night” vlog, in which she claims to make nearly $700, has over five million views.
Both women make videos about their lives as strippers, flaunt their money, and have luxurious shopping sprees.
Social media has allowed young women to share their experiences in the sex industry with the world, and that means they’re making an impact on impressionable minds. Villegas’s videos are not age-restricted, which means young, teenage girls can be exposed to her lifestyle. She paints her life as glamorous: she buys a nice car, has a $16,000 shopping spree, and owns her own apartment. But the world of sex work is far more sinister, and none of the scores of YouTube strippers are talking about the dark side.
Getting Closer to the Truth
The truth is, stripping is not a secure job. You might make $500 in as little as four hours, or you could dance all night and make 10 bucks. Add in the fact that strippers have to pay to keep up a glamorous image (hair extensions, blow outs, lingerie, shoes, and makeup), as well as pay fees to the clubs they work in to even get the opportunity to dance, and a girl may well come out negative. Clubs may also demand a commission on tips of up to 20% and may fine the dancers for breaking arbitrary rules, such as wearing the wrong shoes or failing to “please” a patron.
Clubs may also demand a commission on tips of up to 20% and may fine the dancers for breaking arbitrary rules.
It’s important to remember that strip clubs don’t exist to make young women financially secure. They exist to provide entertainment and to bring in a profit for the owners. There’s no minimum wage, health insurance, or retirement plan. There’s no safety net for women when they inevitably age out of the industry and have a past that may very well make them unemployable. Not only have they been out of the traditional workforce for years, but these women have also worked in an industry that’s still largely looked down upon.
Their images may be plastered across the internet, and they will have completely lost their anonymity. There’s still shame attached to sex work, and it may be difficult for these women to explain their past to families and future spouses as well.
Seeing Past a Web of Lies
The truth is, social media can be a web of lies, in which only the highlight reel is shown, and sex work influencers are no different. According to the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, there are numerous misconceptions about stripping, and almost all of these misconceptions are perpetuated with social media. In addition to not being a “get rich quick” scheme, women are fed the lie that stripping is a safe job and that bouncers and security will protect them. Women in strip clubs often face physical, verbal, and sexual abuse. Research has shown that all strippers in the U.S. have faced either sexual abuse or prostitution proposals, and that 75% have dealt with stalking.
Many are also told that stripping is a flexible job, used to just help a woman get by for a short period of time. In reality, strip clubs are hyper-controlling and influence the day-to-day lives of these women. The late, alcohol-and-drug-infused nights make it nearly impossible to keep up with university studies or to hold down an outside job. Thus, women become trapped in the sex industry.
Research has shown that all strippers in the U.S. have faced either sexual abuse or prostitution proposals.
Finally, stripping is not empowering. It teaches women that their only value is in their bodies and that a price can be placed on their intimacy. A woman’s self-esteem can plummet when men won’t pay for her, and stripping has been shown to make women fearful and distrusting of men. Women are taught that their bodies are not enough, and often seek plastic surgery to perfect their appearances. Eating disorders are prevalent, and the women who cannot afford surgery try to be more suggestive to compensate for their physical “faults.”
Social media lets young women be exposed to many things. It has been shown to impact body dysmorphia and self-esteem, but now it’s blatantly showcasing a false world. If we show young women and girls that sex work is appealing, we risk sending them down a path of no return.