I put off writing this blog as I knew it would provoke some people. Like all my blogs, I try to see both sides. With this I have been a part of the problem in the past, and I admit that. I want to address this ‘something for nothing’ culture that we have become accustomed to. Nowhere was this more apparent than in Glamour modelling. This idea of ‘I’m pretty (or even just female) so give me stuff’. Of rinsing guys and pay pigging to make ends meet, all in the pursuit of Louboutin shoes and a fabricated Kardashian lifestyle - it all just seems a bit hollow to me.
Now, I used to have an Amazon wishlist when I was a model. Not because I wanted one but because fans asked and it seemed like a good idea at the time. I mainly used it to put books and foreign films on to be honest, but I did get bought an awful lot of stuff from it, which I always found surprising. It taught me two important lessons. 1. That nothing comes for free and 2. that it’s better to give than to receive.
Let’s start with the idea that nothing comes for free. When I very first started modelling I had a forum. On this forum were the early beginnings of my fan base, who any model will know are usually very strange individuals when you are starting out. Lonely guys who go around collecting new models like Pokemon, just to say that they were there and had seen her first. I didn’t know this at the time. I was just flattered that people liked what I did, as back then my pictures were pretty shit and my undeveloped modelling skills weren’t the best. Every day I would log on and talk to these people, not knowing much about who they were or where they came from. One user in particular would message me daily, from his writing he seemed to be quite young and he was always asking if he could buy me gifts, which I found a bit strange. At the time I lived in the middle of nowhere with my boyfriend’s family, so when he asked for my address I thought nothing of it and gave it to him. Which looking back was very, very stupid.
After a few days parcels started to arrive, full of sticky bondage wear and funny smelling rubber clothes that he had seen on eBay and ‘thought of me’. Immediately I regretted giving him my address, but the worst was yet to come. About a week later I was at home on my own as my boyfriend and his parents were at work. They lived in a lovely house in Kent cocooned from the outside world by trees, a beautiful garden and a huge front lawn that the patio doors in the living room opened onto. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted an old man wandering aimlessly across the lawn. I thought he might have been one of my boyfriend’s extended family who lived nearby and opened the patio door and called to him to see if he was okay. The only way I can describe this man is that he reminded me of Bob from Twin Peaks. He had long grey hair and a large gut that jutted out from the bottom of his shirt as if his shirt couldn’t quite contain it, exposing his bare flesh to the elements. He shouted my name “Alex! Are you Alex Sim-Wise? It’s me _____” and he told me his name from the forum. I was terrified. I thought I had been talking to a child, not a 50 year old man. I locked the door, shut the curtains and called the police, yet every car show or event I was at for the next few years he would come and fester in a corner somewhere waiting to catch me unawares. To this day that guy still haunts me, not so much in person but he still sends me emails. Which I ignore. Needless to say, NEVER give out your address to strangers, especially to people on the internet. You never know who, or what will turn up.
Gifts don’t come for free. Most people who send a gift want something in return, and that can be anything from a thank you card to a blow job. To some people, particularly fans, buying gifts feeds their fantasy that they are a part of your life, that they somehow know you. As the chap above attests, these are the most dangerous kind of gift-givers as they can be erratic in their intentions and unpredictable. I always found it hard to judge who was scary and who wasn’t. Despite what happened with that man (and after diligently hiding my address via Amazon) I would try and be nice and at least give people a thank you or a signed picture if they bought me something, as is polite to do, but on the times that I was too busy people did get abusive towards me, which was upsetting.
That’s not to say there aren’t other types of people, which brings me neatly onto my second point: it’s better to give than to receive. Around the time I was working at Radio 1 I was heavily into the wishlist game. The BBC were paying me fuck all and I was living in a party flat with some scumbag musician. I knew for a fact my friends and family were going to forget my birthday so I posted a link to my wishlist on Twitter to try and cheer myself up. Such was my life at the time. To my surprise, my birthday rolled around and all these parcels kept arriving, full of pretty much all the things I had put on my wishlist, and then some. As I looked at the delivery notes I saw that most of the gifts had come from the same person, which initially made me a bit scared. Did I have another stalker on my hands? With time I learnt a lot about this person and he really taught me a lot about the nature of kindness.
This is a young man who had worked hard from an early age to support his family, opening shops and businesses in Wolverhampton until one day he realised he was more than supporting them and actually had all this money that he was too busy to spend, with no-one to spend it on. Exhausting his usual hobby of buying everything in Forbidden Planet and looking for an outlet to vent he joined Twitter. During his first week on Twitter he was listening to the radio and heard me on it. Deciding to send me a tweet, he was thrilled when I responded, endearing him to the site and helping him set up what is now a very popular (and funny!) twitter account. A week later, upon seeing a link to my wishlist he wanted to repay the kindness of me getting him into Twitter by buying me something. He told me afterwards that he just liked all the stuff I had on it (art books, novels, geek ephemera) and wanted me to have it. So he bought it all. As a person on the receiving end of it I felt very overwhelmed. He had bought me a fucking PS3!! I didn’t even have one on my list as I felt guilty about listing expensive items. How do you repay something like that? So I did the only thing I knew and drew him a picture and wrote him a thank you letter. I asked him why he had done it all and in return he told me he had recently read a book about the power of giving and decided to try the theory out, hoping it would make him feel a bit happier about himself. Which he found it did. After talking to and getting to know Simon I starting trying out his theory for myself, buying friends and strangers small things off their wishlists, and he was right! It did make me feel good. Small kindnesses towards other people actually made me feel better than receiving those kindnesses myself, as if anything I’d always feel a bit guilty receiving things off my wishlist. I started buying Simon presents in return, bringing him books back from Japan and knitting him hats. In the meantime he was giving to other people with other wishlists, male and female. Now, I am not making this person up. At the moment he sounds a bit like the Santa of Twitter, but I assure you he is a real person. A very real and brilliant individual who is actually one of my friends now.
Now, lots of people have questioned my friendship with Simon over the years, thinking he might be a bit weird, but I’ve seen weird. Weird is that guy who turned up on my boyfriend’s lawn. Simon is rational and intelligent, and he never wanted anything in return. THAT is the true nature of giving. THAT is the lesson he taught me. You could argue that he did end up with something in return - my friendship - but it was me who pushed for that, not him.
After a while I started to see through wishlisting. As I said before it had always made me feel a bit uncomfortable as I like to work hard and I know that it is very rare that any of us get something for nothing. Plus, gifts from someone you don’t know kind of lose their meaning. I had grown up listening to TLC and the Spice Girls, of hearing lyrics about depending on yourself and being independent. Letting strangers buy me stuff just didn’t sit right, plus most of it just seemed like clutter. I felt like I would value things more if I had worked for them myself or they had come from someone I cared about, so I closed down my wishlist and kept it just for friends and family.
Now I don’t speak for everyone, this is just my personal journey. I know that wishlisting is addictive, it’s why so many people do it. Like credit cards, it can be seen as free money, or free things. Which on the surface it is. Inside those brown packages comes a little ego boost. “Somebody somewhere loves me!” you think, but you don’t know how much that stranger loves you, or what they want. People like Simon - who want nothing in return - are few and far between, and not everyone gifts out of kindness. Most people have some kind of motive.
I just can’t help but think that it would be better to buy those things for yourself. To work hard and earn those items, even if it takes a long time. Rather than say “oh, some stranger bought me this” have some pride and say “I worked hard and EARNED this. This is mine.” So many of us expect something for nothing, it seems like we’ve forgotten what hard work is all about.
Which brings me onto financial domination or pay pigging. Pay pigging is like wishlisting but the receiver abuses and is rude to the person that buys them stuff. Now, there are people (men, mostly) that want to be treated like this and I’ve seen numerous ex and current glamour models fall into this trap, of abusing men online to get their bills paid. It’s basically a lazy version of dominatrixing, for girls who want the perks of the job without doing the work.
Now, a lot of my friends are actual dominatrixes and I have spoken to them at length about what they think about these have-a-go pay piggers. To them, financial domination is a smaller, mostly optional, part of a larger service. An in-person service that takes a lot of physical, mental, and emotional hard work and is cultivated over years with their clients. Dominatrixing is more than being rude and abusive to men online and taking a few selfies in your bedroom, it is a physical service. Most importantly, it is fucking hard work. It is something that you go out there and you do. It is a job. A lifestyle choice.
Now, my moral qualm here isn’t about the nature of the business. People will do what they have to do to get paid and I have no problems with that. My problem is with people taking short-cuts, with girls who have nothing to do with Dom culture taking the lazy route, abusing others out of an inflated sense of entitlement: “I want stuff therefore I must deserve it”.
Blame X Factor, blame the Kardashians, blame anything you want in our shitty consumerist culture because this ‘something for nothing’ attitude is endemic. But that doesn’t mean it is right, or that you will find happiness by following it. Hard work may have gone out of fashion but I’m not turning my back on it. I would never expect anything from anyone from being rude to them and I don’t agree with the implied selfishness of consumerist culture. We put so much emphasis on what we want, what would make ourselves happy, that we neglect to think about the other people around us. Giving, not taking is the key to happiness. This need for stuff, for expensive shoes and designer clothes is a smokescreen to keep us preoccupied and distracted.
Just look at these people you aspire towards, do you really think they are happy? Do you really think money and stuff buys happiness? Is it not just a smokescreen to keep us in debt and unhappy? To keep us distracted while horrible shit goes on in the world?
When the President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, started a war on his own people, do you know what his wife was doing? Shopping for expensive shoes online.
Case. Point. Closed.