OnlyFans is trying to break out of its sexy box.
The 5-year-old social media platform broke into the mainstream in 2020 as people sought to supplement a sudden loss of income due to Covid-19 and were driven to consume more digital entertainment. But it also gained popularity during a crucial inflection point of the creator economy and is now trying to capitalize on this rapid growth by expanding beyond what it is best known for: porn. One burgeoning area of the OnlyFans ecosystem appears to be beauty content, which has proven popular across other major social networks like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and TikTok.
Gabi Mrugala, whose username is GroovyGabs, joined OnlyFans in Nov. 2020 after a friend who makes fashion content on OnlyFans suggested it. Prior to OnlyFans, Mrugala worked behind-the-scenes in the film industry and was looking to build an audience for her self-help wellness content. She said she likes that her videos and photos on OnlyFans can be less polished than those on Instagram and still gain traction. She currently has 23,000 followers on OnlyFans but declined to share her monthly earnings.
A creator can opt to charge a monthly subscription fee of up to $50 for people to follow them. They can also charge people to send direct messages to them and to see specific posts or photos. And, of course, they can receive unsolicited monetary tips. OnlyFans takes a 20% commission. Subscribing to GroovyGabs is free, but Mrugala monetizes through tips and direct-message gratuities. She also has an Amazon wishlist for flowers.
“I’m choosing to stay as a full content creator, because I am fulfilling my purpose by helping other individuals,” Mrugala said. “[OnlyFans] is a place where you can be more personal and more yourself. A lot of people prefer to wear a full face of makeup on Instagram — there’s nothing wrong with that. But on OnlyFans, it feels like a lot of individuals will support you regardless of [whether you’re made-up].”
OnlyFans operates differently than most social media sites, but it was intentionally designed to not become a user’s only social site, said Ami Gan, OnlyFans head of communications. For example, the ability to search for a specific person to follow is not possible, though there are some suggestions offered on who to follow based on who OnlyFans wishes to promote. Additionally, when someone joins OnlyFans, they do not select the type of content they are interested in seeing or following, which negates OnlyFans as a platform for discovery. Gan declined to share what percentage of content is adult but said creators are also not categorized.
“OnlyFans is an add-on to someone’s existing social media. You can populate your OnlyFans profile by doing a swipe up through Instagram, or sharing that you’ve launched an OnlyFans and direct traffic that way,” said Gan.
In the past, notably in the 1990s music industry, artists who sought to capitalize on their fame to earn more money were regarded as “sellouts” who were diminishing their artistic integrity. Kurt Cobain from Nirvana was accused of selling out, while the Beasty Boys have a lifelong policy to never license their music for commercials. But, fast-forward to 2021, and content creators are not only more willing to solicit brand deals or direct payments from followers but, to an extent, they’re applauded for doing so by their followers.
Now, just like OnlyFans helped disrupt the creator economy and the attitude toward paying content creators, it is now seeking to disrupt its own reputation. According to Bloomberg, OnlyFans is seeking outside capital at a $1 billion valuation and to become more of a “mainstream media platform,” rather than a place for porn. Co-owner Leonid Radvinsky, who owns 75% of OnlyFans, has received scrutiny for questionable business practices in the past. For OnlyFans, sex sells until it doesn’t. In Dec. 2020, OnlyFans soft-launched OF.TV, which offers broader lifestyle content on topics like meditation, cooking, music and comedy. Both Mrugala and Alyssa Olson, whose username is BodyPosiStylist, have been invited by OnlyFans to post on OF.TV for free, in exchange for promotion of their account. Both said the exposure significantly boosted their followings.
“We do have that reputation for having sexy content, which is something we don’t shy away from. Its intention back in 2016 [when OnlyFans launched] was always for all types of content creators from all genres,” said Gan.
She said, due to the company’s “liberal content policies,” adult content has flourished. But, by 2019 there was a variety of content creators including from the music industry and lifestyle space. Celebrities like singers Cardi B and Aaron Carter, as well as actress Bella Thorne, all joined OnlyFans, bringing it even further awareness. Gan said OnlyFans has 130 million users and 1 million content creators, though only 300 creators have made $1 million through the platform.
But, as The New York Times reported in May, even the non-adult content comes with a wink and a nudge that alludes to the platform’s origins. When designer Rebecca Minkoff began its OnlyFans profile in February, one locked post said, “This is what we don’t show you,” followed by a coquettish wide-eyed, red-cheeked emoji.
This barrage of sexual association on and with OnlyFans can create some barriers for content creators. Mrugala said she does not promote her OnlyFans account through her other social profiles and does not publicly tell people she has an OnlyFans, as she is waiting until the stigma of association goes away.
“It’s changing rapidly. [Soon] I will feel more confident in sharing [I am on] OnlyFans with others. I don’t really care what other people think, but I want the stigma to go away,” she said.
Meanwhile, Olson posts a mix of hair-styling tutorials and body-positivity photos. She said she appreciates the ability to post content that spans genres. Olson has been in the beauty industry for 11 years, working in cosmetology and hairstyling, and began her OnlyFans account in Oct. 2020. She described the response from OnlyFans followers as “day and night,” compared to other social channels like Instagram. She has 50,000 followers and has received $1,500-$15,000 in monthly earnings, whereas her Instagram presence hovers at around 1,000 people. Olson monetizes through selling lingerie photos and unsolicited tips, and occasionally charges for direct messages when she is behind and has hundreds to answer.
“I was excited about OnlyFans because I had my personal Instagram [for body positivity] and my business Instagram [for hair styling] but I could never meld those two things together,” said Olson. “I’m looking to build my name as an influencer. People aren’t working for free anymore, especially after the pandemic. You can go and enjoy my content on Instagram for free if you want, but you can see a lot more and see more in-depth [content] if you are willing to pay $5.”