“Katherine” (whose name has been changed for anonymity) is a model with a six-figure Instagram following. She even has that all-elusive and much-coveted “verified” blue badge next to her name. Her brown hair tumbles down her back in a mass of perfect locks, and her enviable figure is flaunted in designer bikinis in prime locations all over the globe. Her picture-perfect profile is flooded with thousands of likes and comments from adoring fans who, seemingly, worship the twenty-something-year-old. She makes a fortune from sponsored and affiliated posts, or at least, that is what her fanbase believes. The real truth is that Katherine is part of a new generation of sex workers – one that was manufactured and marketed for prostitution on Instagram.
I meet Katherine at a swanky restaurant in Manhattan, where she tells me that we would dine for free since she “pays” with Instagram stories of herself eating there. In exchange for her glamorous presence and the free publicity she gives the establishment, they are happy to let her eat without charge.
“Most people think Instagram models make a lot of money from ads and sponsorship, but the truth is you don’t really earn that much from it,” she explains, twirling her wine glass with French-manicured nails. “I mean, you don’t make enough from that to jet set to different countries. The reality is that a lot of these Insta-models you see regularly posing on beaches and staying in the fanciest hotels all the time are hired for sex. Everyone in the industry knows, but it’s just kept hidden.”
Katherine gets paid to spend time with affluent men all around the globe. She says that the majority of her clients are wealthy Middle-Eastern men, and she has been flown all over for sex and escapades.
“Basically, these guys contact you on Instagram and they suggest meeting or flying you somewhere. After that, most of the conversation continues on WhatsAspp,” she adds. “Of course, you check out their account and do some research about them first to make sure they are legitimate. Sometimes, you might even know a girl who worked for them before and she might be able to vouch for them.”
Katherine gets paid anywhere between the sum of $5,000 to $15,000 for all-expenses-paid trips, with Dubai and Bali being some of the most favoured destinations. Generally speaking, sex is part of the package – and by her own admission, the money and “extras” earned feel worth it to her. She is unwilling to divulge the details of what is expected sexually. Yet she alludes that she had “tried most things”, but does not disclose anything further.
For many, Instagram can contribute a stream of honest income – in varying quantities. Yet, the reality is that many of the public’s favourite Instagram models and influencers are little more than high-class escorts.
One model wrote about her experience in Evie Magazine and how she was shocked to discover that a lot of the popular models with huge followings – some in the millions – were prostitutes. She said:
“Sure, some models with big followings can make hundreds or thousands per post marketing products. But many brands aren’t lining up to jump into bed with a model whose page is not far from a modern Playboy spread. To be clear, there are MANY legitimate bloggers and influencers who make a living traveling and creating content for hotels and brands in exchange for complimentary stay or fees. Those are not the people I’m talking about. The easiest way to differentiate? The borderline pornographic content they post. These pages, full of sexual teasers, are their advertisements. Their honeypots. Their portfolios, if you will.”
Katherine agrees that the right photos are imperative for the “trade”. On her international debaucheries, she always ensures she gets the best snaps of herself posing in slinky bikinis while draped against some exotic background. She does not reveal where her next travels will be to, but admits that she is currently negotiating two trips with two separate clients.
“I’m only young once, and I’ll only look like this once. Might as well use it to my benefit,” she remarks before asking me to take a photo of her with her chocolate-dusted tiramisu.