Before she was Josh Safdie’s muse when he wrote “Uncut JAHms,” Julia Fox was a sex worker. Now, she has walked the runways for LaQuan Smith, appeared in a PAPER Magazine shoot with Pete Davidson, acted in an A24 film opposite Adam Sandler, and become the internet’s latest obsession (for better or for worse). Fox is not the first sex worker to break into Hollywood, but the "Julia Fox effect" of her ascension on the internet alongside changing conversations around sex work and porn point to a cultural shift toward destigmatizing sex work in the movies and mainstream.
In the media, Fox has made headlines for being a meme, a girl who wore too much eyeliner, Kanye West’s rebound, and someone who always seems to know how to get people talking. That’s probably why the Call Her Daddy podcast, notorious for bringing on controversial guests like Jamie Lynn Spears, reached out to Fox for an interview amidst her recent media buzz on February 8.
The podcast was a deeper look into the life of Fox. Before Kanye West and movie sets, Fox was living in New York City and dealing with a dysfunctional family. She began experimenting with drugs in sixth grade, and started working as a dominatrix at age 16 (and no, there was no sex involved). And unlike the kids who start an acting career through their school drama club’s annual production of Into the Woods, Fox got her start in the basements of Manhattan.
Fox's openness about her past sheds light on a profession that socially conservative ideals often demean in place of more "acceptable" lines of work.
"It's really like role playing, it's like acting,” Fox told Alex Cooper on Call Her Daddy. “When people say, ‘How did you get your start in acting?’ it's really, like, the dungeon, because I would have to improv multiple times a day on very short notice.”
Stereotypes around sex work reinforce the idea that sex workers are criminals who engage in sinful behavior either because they have no choice, or because they are immoral. The criminalization and lack of respect toward sex workers causes harm even when born out of good intentions, according to the Equality Institute. Fox's openness about her past sheds light on a profession that socially conservative ideals often demean in place of more "acceptable" lines of work — and her transition into successful acting and modeling destroys this false dichotomy.
From her work as a dominatrix, Fox began working as a model — posing for portraits from the likes of Avone and Moises de la Renta. After that, Fox co-founded a knitwear line, Franziska Fox, with her business partner Briana Andalore in 2014. In 2015, she posed for PLAYBOY. Then, in 2017, Fox turned herself from muse to artist, premiering an exhibition entitled R.I.P Julia Fox after self-publishing two photography books in 2015 and 2016: Symptomatic of a Relationship Gone Sour: Heartburn/Nausea and PTSD, respectively.
"Imagine if your typical CBS drama had a stripper who was just a part of the mix? I think a lot of Americans would start to see their assumptions challenged and evolved.”
In 2019, she made her silver screen debut as Julia de Fiore in the critically acclaimed crime-drama Uncut Gems alongside icons like Adam Sandler, LaKeith Stanfield, and Idina Menzel. Her performance earned her a nomination for Breakthrough Actor at the 2019 Gotham Awards.
But a sex worker making into mainstream media isn’t just a one-off, Julia Fox-only deal. Chloe Cherry, known for her role as Faye in HBO’s Euphoria, is one of the most recent sex workers to rise to fame.
It may come as a surprise that Cherry is from Lancaster, Pennsylvania (aka that Amish area between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia) and moved away from home at 18 years old to Miami, Florida. After dabbling in the amateur porn scene down in Miami, Cherry moved to Los Angeles to continue her work in the adult industry through pornographic films and OnlyFans.
Maybe it was the Euphoria porn parody Cherry starred in as Jules. Maybe it was her following at the time on social media. Or maybe, it was fate that HBO reached out to Cherry and asked her to audition for the role of Ami — now repackaged into the unfiltered and hilarious Faye.
With Fox, Cherry, and sex worker stories slowly breaking into the mainstream, progress toward the destigmatization of sex work might just be upon us.
Since Euphoria Season 2 wrapped, Cherry has been taking the fashion world by storm. From her editorial shoots with NYLON Magazine and Petra Collins (who did that fantasy-themed Alexa Demie shoot), to walking runways at Milan Fashion Week, Cherry is becoming a new, fresh face in fashion. Not to mention, she too appeared on the Call her Daddy Podcast and spoke openly about her work as a porn star.
While sex workers and adult performers are moving onto the mainstream as actresses and models, the real stories of sex workers are also having a moment. Back in October 2015, A’Ziah “Zola” King, a blogger and former exotic dancer, created a series of tweets detailing a trip filled with sex work, guns, and criminal activity. The tweets went viral, eventually resulting in the 2020 A24 film, Zola, which was inspired by King’s true story. Zola follows a waitress and stripper who is coaxed into a weekend trip to Tampa, Florida in a get-rich-quick attempt that goes extremely, extremely wrong. The film received high praise, not only from audiences, but from sex workers of color who claimed that Zola made their voices, and perspectives, heard.
“Recently, I have seen a lot of sex workers speaking up for themselves,” Sarah DiCorpo, a sex educator at the Institute for Sexuality Education & Enlightenment, tells Her Campus. “A lot of TV shows and movies do a great job of making social issues a direct part of their plot lines and having characters discuss them. Others do it more subtly, like Schitt’s Creek with a gay relationship. It was just a regular part of the show. Just imagine if your typical Thursday night CBS drama had a character who was a stripper, adult film star, or dominatrix who was just a part of the mix? I think a lot of Americans would start to see their assumptions challenged and evolved.”
Sex workers, and the stories of sex workers, aren’t going anywhere.
There's still a long way to go with Hollywood and audiences giving sex workers the respect they deserve. Fox and Cherry are both white women, and for sex workers of color, especially those that are Black and/or trans, the stakes of criminalization and not having a voice are much higher. Even A24, the studio behind Uncut Gems, Euphoria, and Zola, has found themselves in hot water with the real Zola — she called them out in a series of tweets in January for "hijacking" her story after Zola was nominated for several Independent Spirit Awards and she was not included in the writer award category or invited to the ceremony.
But with Fox, Cherry, and sex worker stories slowly breaking into the mainstream, progress toward the destigmatization of sex work might just be upon us. Not only is their presence disproving society’s outdated narrative around sex work as shameful or immoral, but it’s also becoming clear that sex workers are just as legitimate as any other actor or actress in Hollywood. Sex workers have been in Hollywood for years: Lady Gaga had a past stint as a burleque dancer, Sylvester Stallone has an infamous porn past. Even Matt Le Blanc dabbled in sex work, and your mom still probably says Joey is her favorite Friends character.
The reality is that sex workers, and the stories of sex workers, aren’t going anywhere. They’re here, they’re taking over, and they won’t hide their past in sex work or the stories that come with them. While sex worker representation in mainstream entertainment is small, it will only continue to grow as Gen Z continues to support it — and doing so could make an entire generation reimagine how we perceive sex work.