And some escorts can have even wider mainstream appeal
But how do you measure the success of a call girl’s Instagram account? Of all the girls, Gloria has the biggest Instagram following, with well over three thousand followers. These followers can comment on anything from an arse shot (the most recent arse pic on Gloria’s page got 259 likes) to a selfie-with-cat photo (194 likes). Unsurprisingly, the arse shots tend to come out on top, likes-wise.
But with the emphasis on being as authentic as possible (all with an uber-flattering filter chucked in, of course), where does the professional end and the personal begin? All the girls I interviewed emphasised the importance of being yourself online. Estelle told me that her favourite posts are the ones where ‘I’m acting like a complete derp. And being a derp is the ethos of my character, I’m clumsy and awkward, long limbed and gawky.’ Gloria said not to overthink things: just to post what you feel like, whether it’s ‘photos of me smoking, with no make up on and kissing cats on my mouth.’
And with depressing inevitability sex workers can be targets for online abuse. When I asked all of the girls what sort of people followed their profiles, their responses fell into five categories: other people working in the industry, friends/family, potential/existing clients, random fans, and weirdos/trolls. Not all weirdos are harmful – Gloria has a special soft spot for her own personal category, the arse fetishists. But there is a negative undercurrent. Everyone I interviewed had experience of being trolled online: Gloria said on average she got a negative comment every week, and Estelle spoke of a troll calling out her (totally non-existent) cellulite.
But there are downsides to creating such a public online profile for yourself as a sex worker
Instagram can humanise sex workers, showing us that they are just ordinary people, doing a job that is still the subject of stigma and taboo
But there are other positives, too. Instagram and social media more broadly is an empowering platform, allowing sex workers from all over the world to connect online and form a community. As Estelle explains, ‘since the rise of social media, the sex work community has been more connected than ever before.’ Alex added, ‘I stopped reading women’s magazines years ago because I hated the nauseous aspiration-fatigue they gave me, but it’s completely different to browse hot pictures of women in your community – you kind of just think “go girl!”‘
Existing publicly as a sex worker online is in itself a meaningful act. Historically, sex workers have been marginalised and often vilified by society. As Estelle puts it, it requires a certain stroke of bravery to ‘put ourselves out there into the mainstream community and say “hi, this is me, this is what I do, I’m here to stay, so deal with it.”‘ Instagram can humanise sex workers, showing us that they are just ordinary people, doing a job that is still the subject of stigma and taboo. If the personal is the political, then openly self-identifying online as a sex worker is a sort of political activism. So let’s hear it for the Call Girls of Instagram: helping to make the world a less judgemental place, one selfie at a time.