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Taking back Power with Strength and Embraced Sexuality

*(The interviewee will be identified by her screen username Shanghai Shawty to protect her identity)

By Taylor Arrey, Darius Johari, and Trisha Vasquez

In an age where promiscuity is perceived as permission, race is inappropriately fetishized, and sexual harassment is something we prepare for, women find themselves at the intersection between being sexualized and choosing to be sexual.

In this digital world, using online platforms to own your sexuality can be the key to undermining traditional systems that sexualize women without their consent.

It’s a way to take back power. This is how Shanghai Shawty used OnlyFans to take back power over her body, her image, and the people who sexualized her.

Cal State Fullerton junior and business major, Shanghai Shawty, started her journey as an OnlyFans creator in March 2020 after building a solid following on Instagram where she currently entertains thousands of followers with creative content.

Navigating through an inbox filled with unsolicited pictures of male genitalia, Shawty said she had a moment of self-realization that helped her make her next big decision — a business move that placed the power of her body back in her hands.

“I have big boobs. I realized that sadly, that is something I can use to my advantage,” Shawty said. “With that being said, OnlyFans really encouraged me and was a way for me to take that all back. I am able to choose what I post and I am able to monetize it.”

Shanghi Shawty poses behind a yellow vinly with a square cutout for her upper body.

Photo by Elyssa Ruiz

With over 300 subscribers on the popular platform, Shawty’s page centers on cosplay costumes and lingerie — never full nudity or porn.

The 20-year-old, self-employed student understands the economy of sex work, and she uses that insight to benefit her business and embrace her sexuality in a setting that gives her control over work hours, content, and boundaries.

“It puts the power back into my hands. This is content I want to put out and if you want to jack off to it, sure,” Shawty said.

Before Shawty started creating content for OnlyFans, she said that she experienced sexual harassment in workspaces, family settings, and school.

When she was younger, Shawty said that she would try to hide parts of her body to avoid the negative attention — but even the clothes couldn’t stop people from harassing her.

“I went to Target and I was wearing a long T-shirt and my boobs pushed the T-shirt out. I was at the hair dye section and this lady was like ‘You can’t buy hair dye when you are pregnant.’ After that experience, I just never wanted to wear T-shirts anymore,” Shawty said.

She added, “I was just a teenage girl in a big T-shirt.”

The culmination of these experiences led Shawty down a new road — one that prioritized power, strength, and confidence as she chose to assert control over her body and how people have access to it, all while fearlessly embracing her sexuality.

“I sell fantasy and I sell sex appeal,” Shawty said. “That is something I was really insecure about in high school, but I am really happy I am able to use it in a positive way to make my life better.”

As a Chinese American woman, Shawty also said she knows that Asian women are fetishized and hypersexualized both in real life and online.

“Yellow fever” is defined by Journal of the American Philosophical Association as a racial fetish, “a preference for Asian women (and men).” Historically, “yellow fever” promotes hypersexual images of Asian people while negatively affecting Asian cultural identities.

“When a person’s identity is otherized and depersonalized, they are no longer seen as human and are used as objects. In addition to the objectification of Asian women’s bodies that could lead to sexual harassment and violence from men who target them,” said Calley Estocapio in the article “Battling Yellow Fever: An Analysis of How Fetishized Bodies Manage Identity.”

While Shawty condemns this negative sexualization of her culture, she also said that she is able to control some of the fetishization by having customers pay her for it, ultimately stopping some customers from exploring this racial fetish in other places where it could lead to severe consequences or dangerous situations.

Shanghi Shawty poses lying stomach down with her hands pushed into the forground of the photo.

Photo by Elyssa Ruiz

“A lot of guys fetishize Asians. It happens. I would rather have them pay for my content than just watch PornHub,” Shawty said.

Despite Shawty’s overall happiness working on the platform, she still wakes up to an array of hurtful comments, name-calling, and inappropriate requests.

Dr. Tara Suwinyattichaiporn, a CSUF professor in the Human Communication Studies department, said that many people who create online personas for their business experience hateful speech from their audience because followers don’t always understand that there is a real person behind the screen.

“I think it’s the misperception of sexiness that is portrayed on their page. Some people think it communicates permissiveness and easiness when it really doesn’t. It’s just a character they create to work,” Suwinyattichaiporn said.

In any case of harassment, a person’s mental health and self perception can be greatly affected, something that many creators face when they open themselves up to the criticism of the Internet.

“It affects their self-esteem because all these people harassing them online are doing so based on their body. They don’t know their personality. They don’t know their intelligence. It’s solely based upon their sexiness and the objectification of their body,” Suwinyattichaiporn said.

An overview photo of Shanghi Shawty. She is posing lying down on her back with colourful vinly cutouts surrounding her.

Photo by Elyssa Ruiz

Having experienced trauma and bullying in her childhood, Shawty said that those experiences helped her build a tolerance to hurtful comments as she ultimately had to come to terms with the reality of being a woman creator on the internet. It was those experiences that she said helped shape and define her character.

“I feel like everything I went through in high school made me the person I am today. It made me stronger and wiser,” Shawty said. “I wake up every morning feeling really grateful. Opportunities are always there. It’s just you have to be willing to sacrifice something for it. There is always an opportunity and if you can grab it, grab it.”

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