I just fulfilled someone’s fantasy by bathing in fruit. And I made bank. Why not?’
Reya Sunshine discusses the world of exotic dancing and tells us why you should never judge a book by its cover
Over the past two decades, the growth of the adult entertainment industry has been propelled by the rise of the internet. As demand for online content has grown, grainy VHS tapes have been replaced with well scripted, high definition movies and adult entertainers have been propelled into mainstream culture in a way that was unimaginable to those once sidelined to societal fringes. Nowadays, adult entertainers are viewed as aspirational icons who have taken complete control of their careers rather than being at the mercy of unscrupulous directors and production teams and take full advantage of the exposure that digital content can bring them. Like it or not, adult entertainment is going from strength to strength.
Exotic dancer and webcam model Reya Sunshine is thriving in this sea change. The 20- something year old Californian has been one of the first to fully embrace the merging of exotic dancing and virtual reality entertainment, whilst also continuing to purposefully and proudly draw attention to her work as webcam model and exotic dancer.
A stereotype remains that adult entertainers come from torn backgrounds and fall into the industry either because they have few other talents than what comes naturally, or because they have lacked the opportunities in early life to pursue a more conventional path. Sunshine is quick to address this image. ‘I had a happy childhood and two very loving parents. Sorry! No daddy issues.’
Sunshine has always been a performer and dancer in some form and whilst at college she ‘continued to study dance intensively’ alongside gaining her degree in psychology from the University of California. You read that right – a degree. ‘After college, I started getting into pole and sensual dance. I had what I call my quarter life crisis where I thought, I’m not going to be young forever, I should get paid for this!’ The world of webcamming caught her attention and ‘I was so fascinated by it, but not sure if I wanted to make the commitment to be immortalized in this objectified way on the internet.’ Given the anonymity offered by dancing in a gentleman’s club, Sunshine initially worked on stage to experience what the world of exotic dancing had to offer. ‘I do remember the first time I worked as an exotic dancer. Prior to my first shift I sort of coached myself, like, You can leave at any time if you’re uncomfortable. You’re just trying it out. It’s okay if you don’t like it. Then all of a sudden I’m in the middle of my first lap dance and catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I was like, oh yeah! I’m doing this! and sort of laughed to myself because it came surprisingly naturally.’
Sunshine attributes the step into exotic dancing as a means of rebelling against her strict Christian upbringing. ‘The Christian upbringing came with a certain strictness from my parents. So, if I had to assign my deviance in career choice to some part of my upbringing I guess it would be this. I do actually think I’m a bit kinky because I was brought up to think sex is some forbidden or wrong thing.’
As she became more familiar with the life of an exotic dancer, Sunshine began posting practice sessions and dressing room scenes online to give regular patrons a glimpse of life away from the stage. Looking back, the deliberate attempt to grow her online following was a subconscious effort to step into the role of a webcam model. ‘A year and a half into exotic dancing the itch to webcam hadn’t gone away. At this point, I had already started building up my social media. Once an image is posted on the internet, it is out there forever. I thought, well, I’m already perceived in this sexual way, I might as well run with it!”
To say that the decision was good for her career would be an understatement. Sunshine’s reputation as a webcam model grew quickly and such has been her popularity and online success that she has now stopped dancing as a regular in clubs, instead only appearing in clubs as a featured dancer. ‘As a feature, I’m not dancing every week in a club anymore. It’s more of a special event. However, there is a lot more work that goes into preparing for feature gigs than house dancing. The preparation involves promotional work, marketing, practicing pole work and sensual dance, choreographing routines and preparing costumes.’ As a featured dancer, she’s worked at gigs including at Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club and is keen to draw attention to TJ’s Showgirl’s in Orange County, which will be her first nude feature.
Exotic dancers and adult entertainers are often ridiculed for disempowering women and whilst she understands this argument, Sunshine is unfazed by any criticism her work may bring. ‘I personally just don’t see a problem in anyone being objectified if they are choosing to be objectified. Actually, being objectified when I don’t have control over the situation, such as out at the supermarket, drives me to do what I do. It’s like you get to take back that control. Now I choose when, how, and how much I get paid to be objectified. It’s awesome.’
One of the misconceptions that Sunshine often experiences is from those who don’t truly understand her motivations for working as an adult entertainer. ‘I often get the you’re so smart, beautiful, capable and so on – why are you doing this?! critique. Those people are trying to pay you a compliment, but they are actually showing you that they don’t respect what you do for work. I actually do this because I’m smart and beautiful!’
Exotic dancing may look like easy money for those willing to put themselves forward as objects of desire, but the reality is that it can be a less than glamourous world with hidden challenges. In the past, Sunshine has had to contend with the daily challenges of competing with other house dancers for customers. ‘I’ve had girls screw me over time and again. They’ve made up stories about me to customers, pretended to befriend me only to use me to get to a customer and so on. I tried to never let it get to me. I’d just carry on and let my truth speak for itself.’ Given that she posts so much online content, it may come as no surprise that Sunshine’s images are often used by others looking to profit financially. ‘I also get emails, comments and DM’s, from people responding to my escorting ads. That’s just annoying as f*ck. I have no problems with escorts. I have a serious problem with people stealing my photos for their ads and being harassed because of it.’
And then there are the patrons themselves, with whom Sunshine must maintain boundaries whilst also selling fantasies that may come close to the line. ‘It’s difficult to establish the boundary because the boundary can be such a grey area. You’re selling entertainment, company and sexual fantasies while still growing actual friendships with some of these people. I’ve had people freak out in totally crazy ways when I reassert my boundaries.’ In some cases she has had to be more direct. ‘I HAVE had to scold men like dogs. I’d waive my finger, NO! NO! when they don’t respect my touching boundaries’ but in spite of this Sunshine rarely turns down customers, regardless of how strange some of the requests may be. ‘I used to wake up and journal about all of the crazy experiences I had the night before. Now it’s all so normal: Oh, you want to PAY ME my lap dance price to massage MY feet…. okay. Some dancers are weirded out by that one, but I am game. I’ve had a guy demand that I step on his b***** with my stilettos during a lap dance – OUCH!’
As empowering as it may be, exotic dancing can also be emotionally challenging for dancers. Not only do patrons have the ability to cause emotional distress, but ‘your shifts can be an emotional roller coaster depending on what happens and how much money you make. It is also really easy to start associating your self-worth with your earnings. Have a great night and you feel like a million bucks. Have a shitty night and you feel worthless.’
Instagram and social media websites are littered with images of exotic dancers posing with their earnings from a successful night and whilst Sunshine admits that most dance should be able to make good money, she is also quick to point out that these images can give a misrepresentation of how consistent earnings may be. ‘I think the distinguishing feature of an exotic dancer income is the “fast cash”. I mean, let’s face it, there aren’t many jobs where you show up and can leave with upwards of $1,000 cash in your pocket some hours later. The flip side is that although you can have great nights as a dancer, you can also have sh*tty nights. No one wants to take a photo with the $50 they just spent 8 hours hustling for.’
What distinguishes Sunshine from other adult entertainers is how she uses the power of the internet to reach out to her fanbase in more ways that just performing. Most recently she has launched her YouTube channel, giving fans more of an insight into the life and times of an exotic dancer and camgirl. ‘Right now I’m really trying to build a base and establish my channel. I’m experimenting with creating varied styles of content and seeing what sticks.’ Whilst she has embraced VR as platform for further exposure, she sees this as just another means of growing her brand rather than replacing the mainstay of her work. ‘I have no doubt that VR stripping is going to grow in the coming years, and I can’t wait! I don’t, however, think it will replace your typical strip club. Perhaps when VR becomes more accessible, it will replace webcamming. It does have the potential to bridge the webcam and strip club worlds.’
Women are enticed to the world of exotic dancing for a number of reasons, but for those thinking about making the leap, Reya Sunshine has the following advice:
‘I would advise that she looks at the big picture. If you are going to do webcamming or have any sort of online presence as an adult entertainer, it’s essential that you are okay with your image being out there forever. There are a lot of women who dabble in the industry and aren’t fully committed to having their vagina immortalized on the internet. I think that’s a mistake. Go all in or all out.’
Whether intentional or not, every decision that Sunshine has made in her career so far has been a masterclass in marketing. By posting dressing room footage as a house dancer, she became more accessible and identifiable to her fans, giving her the exposure and popularity needed to become a feature dancer. Alongside this she continues to post provocative images and videos as a teaser, insisting on not posting nude or topless images whilst playing up to the label of promiscuity. ‘There is the stereotypical judgement of whore and sl*t that I actually love to play with to my advantage. In reality, I am actually neither, but I love to throw those words around in a self-accepting who the f*ck cares type of way.’ She’s true to her word, describing herself as everyone’s ‘favourite online sl*t, of course!’ All of this only serves to further sell the fantasy to her male fanbase, which she has capitalised upon and further driven demand by restricting how often she will now appear on stage in a particular locality. The outcome of this is that Reya Sunshine has become one of the most sought after webcam models and exotic dancers, in control of her body and her career and independently successful in doing what she loves. And who said strippers were dumb?
Our thanks go to Reya Sunshine for making this interview happen You can check out her work at:
Instagram : @reya__sunshine
Twitter : @reya__sunshine
Snapchat : iheartreya
YouTube : ReyaSunshineTV
All images reproduced with permission from Reya Sunshine
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