Internet Modeling Isn’t Easy Money. It’s Hard Work.
When we think of models who pose nude on the internet, we often think of how much money they earn. When OnlyFans makes the news, it’s usually because a celebrity made a zillion dollars overnight. Alternately, we hear about when an everyday woman is fired and chooses the platform over her career because of how much more money she makes creating adult content.
For some, it’s an excellent financial decision, allowing them to pay off debt and earn far more than they were earning at “straight” jobs. Success stories include a former teacher who made $1M in three years, a former nurse making up to $50K a month, and a former pretzel store employee making $99K a month.
It’s common knowledge that posing nude pays well. However, people outside the business rarely hear about how much it costs to be an internet fetish model or online adult content creator. Sex sells, but it takes money to make money.
Because models come in so many variations, I’m going to focus on the women like me who model full-time and work primarily for private photographers rather than commercial models signed with agencies.
Internet models generally promote themselves on social media and advertise that they’re available for photoshoots. By freelancing, they’re responsible for booking all their own shoots, and they don’t have to give a cut to an agency or manager.
Beauty Isn’t Always Pain, But It Can Get Expensive
I worked as a full-time traveling internet model for many years. I retired when I met my husband, and we decided to take my skill set in another direction. Out of all the jobs I’ve had, modeling had the most out-of-pocket expenses.
In fact, the only things I didn’t pay for were the occasional gift from a photographer (usually something to wear) or the rare out-of-town gig where the photographer paid for my travel expenses. Having my expenses covered wasn’t the norm, and most models know they’re going to be footing the bill for everything from health and beauty products to costumes to traveling the country for shoots.
Every year, new models arrive on the scene. The competition is fierce. If models aren’t striving daily to set themselves apart through their appearance and their brand aesthetics, they’ll be left behind. It may seem harsh, but in an industry solely concerned with outward appearance, beauty is king.
There’s so much more to the concept of “sex sells” than just the sexual aspect of an alluring smile and a provocative pose. A model’s body is her product. Everything has to be perfect, or at least fixable in Photoshop. Consider from the top down what goes into making a nude body beautiful.
Begin with the hair. Whether it’s the glossy, voluminous waves made famous by outlets like Playboy and Victoria’s Secret or a saucy cropped cut a la Manic Pixie Dreamgirl, both need regular salon visits. Or, models can skip the stylist and go for wigs. However, you can spot a cheap wig from a mile away.
When I was modeling, I kept my hair short and opted for wigs. I loved the idea of being somewhat incognito when I wasn’t posing for the camera. Once to save money, I drove into the city to visit a wig shop, thinking it would be less expensive than the beauty supply store I usually went to in the suburbs.
The sales associate asked me if I worked at night while she was fitting me with different wig styles. I said yes, and that I also worked during the day but usually not in the morning. “You must make a lot of money,” she said. She excused herself for a moment to get a few more wigs. When she returned, I noticed the wigs she brought were all better quality than what we’d been working with. They were also much more expensive. I opted for one of the less expensive wigs. After all, I was only going to use it for shoots.
It took me a long time to realize her question about when I worked, and the comment about money was a *wink wink, nudge nudge* about me being a sex worker.
Makeup, Manicures, And the Money It Costs Us… A Day In The Life Of A Model
There’s makeup for every budget from Kylie’s latest palette to the classic Wet & Wild on the drugstore end cap. Ask a model to show you her makeup kit, and she’ll probably pull out a small suitcase filled with options to create a perfect face for every mood and theme. As a model, my kit contained staples like high-end lashes and a good foundation, often from MAC, and also one-offs like shimmery creams I might have only used for one or two shoots.
Having makeup for every occasion adds up, but it’s one of the most important tools of the trade. Even in “makeup-free” photos, there’s often a bit of powder or concealer. It’s rare a model looks just as good sans makeup as she does wearing it.
Visiting the nail salon isn’t unusual for women who’ve never thought of modeling. When that woman gets a chip in her polish, it’s often no big deal to wait until she’s due for a fill to have it fixed. Not so for models; if a model has a chip and a shoot booked before her next nail salon visit, it’s likely that she’ll visit the salon for a polish change. Between that and the tip, nails can really add up.
Speaking of the nail salon, let’s talk about pedicures. When I was modeling, I dabbled in fetishes. Fetish modeling paid well and what full-time model isn’t mostly in it for the money?
I kept away from extreme fetishes based on my own comfort, but feet were always something safe. I’d get a pedicure before every foot shoot whether I needed it or not. The camera was going to focus on my toes and soles, and it was important to have them picture-perfect. I was once told by a pedicurist that I didn’t need anything. I asked her to continue anyway and paid for the full procedure, not wanting to arrive on set in anything less than perfect condition.
The gym isn’t an expense unique to models. However, our image is essentially for sale to the nearest photographer willing to part with his cash, so fitness expenses are as essential as makeup. Models don’t need to spend a lot on fitness; in this case, their time and dedication far outweigh the dollars they put into it, but there are spaces for models of every shape and size.
A wardrobe is one of the most important expenses a model may have. Sometimes photographers provide it if they have a specific theme in mind, but that isn’t always the case. Most of the time, models are expected to bring a selection of lingerie, shoes, and other costumes to their shoots.
Imagine going to work and changing your makeup and wardrobe three to five times during your workday. Next, imagine doing that every day. Think of how many outfits you’d need to have. Discount stores like T.J. Maxx and Marshalls have deals, but they don’t offer the variety that a full-time internet model needs.
Models can use the same outfit with different photographers, but photographers rarely want to shoot a model in the same thing twice. Cheap lingerie and clothing don’t look good on camera, and they usually don’t fit well. For these reasons, some models own more clothing and lingerie for work than they do for their personal life.
When I was modeling, I had a separate dresser for that wardrobe. Most of my photoshoots were in lingerie or very skimpy outfits which were easily stored in plastic bags. I used a labeled index card inside each bag with descriptions like “mesh thong set w/ silver trim.” It was convenient to glance at the label when packing for shoots.
It isn’t uncommon for models to work in trade for expensive costumes and accessories instead of cash. Many create Amazon wishlists for this purpose. Scroll through any model’s Instagram page and notice the variety of outfits, lingerie, and accessories she’s posing with. When you think of how often models need to update their wardrobes, it’s easy to imagine the money adding up.
Many full-time models travel the country. Even in hubs like New York and Los Angeles where you’d think a model could make lots of money, there aren’t enough photographers to keep most internet models busy year-round.
For those who support themselves solely with their modeling income, travel can pay off well. However, models need to book enough shoots to cover their travel expenses and their bills at home, plus additional funds to make the trip worthwhile. The next time you scroll through a model’s Instagram page, take a look at how many cities she’s tagged.
Not every model on the internet follows these rules. Models are as unique in their earning and spending habits as women are in any other industry. It can be an expensive lifestyle, but most models have learned tricks to save money rather than spend it. Regardless of their spending habits, internet modeling offers women of all stripes immense amounts of freedom and creativity. It can begin with nothing more than a smile.