I'll admit, I'm a little into Vine star and twerk queen Jessica Vanessa. (Disclaimer: I'm not saying she is the Twerk Queen. I'm saying she is a twerk queen, so save the outrage. I'm sure there are others, possibly more famous. I'm not really well-versed in my social media twerkers. Pardon me. Only so many hours in a day. I'll get around to it.) I don't dig her because I'm particularly a fan of her "work", but because of how unapologetically she is owning what she's doing: being a full-time social media star, earning a reported six figures for...appearances? Sponsorships? Still not entirely sure how one monetizes social media like this, but suffice to say, she has done so. And in doing so, she might actually be a surprisingly legit feminist role model. Hear me out.
First, quick recap, in case you don't hang out on that part of the internet: Jessica Vanessa was a preschool teacher/social media booty-shaking star until she saw the light (okay, money) and dropped the first half of that slash. Now she is a full-time social media personality (whose persona, I might add, is largely based on her ability to twerk really well.)
Necessary side note: I really do get that there are some very valid racial complexities to discuss when talking about twerking, especially when talking about a white woman making a living off of something that has been directly appropriated from black culture. I get all of that. And I'm way into having that discussion. I am not trying to avoid that aspect of this story. I am not trying to side-step the race conversation here, which is unavoidably going to be the elephant in every room if that room has "White Women Twerking" on the door. I'm just saying, there is only so much space in this post, so we can't expand this conversation into all the places it might rightfully go. Plus, as a white woman, I might not be the best person to solely facilitate a discussion about that particular aspect of this story, but I do find it important to at least acknowledge. So for now, let's just let this conversation be about social media, sex workers, profit, integrity, and feminism, because those are things I can speak to, and experiences/identities I can speak for.
So here's what I love about Jessica: She's just this normal-ass girl who is working in a sexualized profession without letting it sexualize her being. Her brother shoots her videos. Her family knows what she does and supports her. She doesn't appear to regard herself as a sex object – that is so crucial to all of this. She saw an opportunity, recognized her ability to leverage it for personal gain, and found a way to do it. But she does not even remotely come off as someone who has internalized the objectified sexual identity that her followers undoubtedly hold her to. She is using her sexuality for herself, and celebrating it as a part of who she is, without letting her perceived sexuality define her, or limit her definition of herself – that is raw, feminist, sex positive power, and I'm super into it.
Jessica simultaneously embodies every quality that you might associate with someone who twerks on Vine for a living, while also shattering the implications those stereotypes might have on her character, or her personal life. Yes, she (appears to) have bleached-blond hair, and (probably) fake tanned skin. Yes, she's from FLORIDA. Yes, she seems a bit endearingly ditzy. She (at least for the purposes of this video) walks around in her normal life wearing booty shorts. But ditzy, as our twerking friend shows us, does not necessarily equal dumb – simplicity can be genius, and in this case, it does seem somewhat like the obviously smart choice to go with the profession that is both more fun and more lucrative. Isn't there something admirably simple about being able to eschew the social complications of such a decision?
Jessica also, as the video addresses, has the support of her family and friends, completely destroying the ill-conceived notion that people who can only aptly be described as modern day cam girls are, in truth, oversexed cretins living in dimly-lit sex dens. She's just a person who has healthy relationships with people who care about her, trying to make a living at a job that is fun and fulfilling. The point: Even in all her ditzy, blond, blondness, Jessica is living that feminist life in the refreshing and rare way where it's not an agenda so much as it's just how she lives.
Jessica's story also brings up interesting questions about social media: Are these platforms creating new channels for sex work? Are we going to start seeing the same attempts to regular, outlaw, and slut-shame individuals who profit from sexualized content on social media platform? These are actual questions I have. I'll be interested to see how these issues evolve as our collective engagement with social media becomes more extensive and complex in the future – and there's a good chance that Jessica Vanessa might be among those who make the defining cases for how we handle these things.
Image: itsjbabyxo/ Instagram