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Siobhan Smith: Sanctimonious soaps like Hollyoaks have always profited from women’s bodies

Sarah Jayne Dunn was dropped by Hollyoaks after 25 years for uploading to OnlyFans (Photo: Brett Cove/SOPA Images/Shutterstock)
Sarah Jayne Dunn was dropped by Hollyoaks after 25 years for uploading to OnlyFans (Photo: Brett Cove/SOPA Images/Shutterstock)

Back in the early noughties, I worked in HMV in Stirling.

Alongside the CDs, DVDs and games, we sold calendars. I always remember the “Hollyoaks Babes” one; it came out twice a year and it was full of pictures of the female cast, posing in lacy underwear.

I remember it because I always found it a bit odd for a teatime soap to feel the need to release a bi-annual calendar full of lingerie. But, it was Hollyoaks – that’s what they did.

At 11 years old, I had a poster of Luke Morgan – Gary Lucy’s character – taking a shower proudly displayed in my bedroom. I know: mortifying. Boys my age had posters of Mandy Richardson, played by Sarah Jayne Dunn.

Dunn was a well known babe who featured regularly in lads’ mags up and down the country. And, clearly, both the soap’s bosses and Channel 4 were absolutely happy with that at the time.

Hollyoaks was popular, in part, because of the way it portrayed both male and female actors as sexy characters, in sexy situations. It’s always been the sexiest of the soaps, with the sexiest of line-ups. So, all things considered, you would imagine that Hollyoaks wouldn’t have a problem with their cast being… sexy.

Move to OnlyFans is protecting under-18s

Last week, Sarah Jayne Dunn was forced to leave the long-running soap, after 25 years, when bosses disagreed with her decision to set up an OnlyFans account. OnlyFans is an online subscription service, home to everything from skating to baking – however, it is most commonly associated with “adult” content.

Dunn recently decided to move her more “racy” snaps from Instagram to OnlyFans, charging around £11 a month to those who want to access them.

Speaking about the decision, she said: “I’ve done men’s mag upon men’s mag, and calendar upon calendar, I’ve enjoyed every shoot but never felt like I had much say in them.

“I’ve been pitted against other girls and felt deflated if not chosen for a shoot or for a cover, I’ve been airbrushed, retouched and ‘enhanced’ without consent and without necessity. It’s about taking back control, about empowerment and confidence, and having full power over my choices.”

Hollyoaks bosses said that the move is against their principles, claiming that, because lots of their target audience are under 18, cast members aren’t allowed to have content on “certain” 18 and over sites.

As Dunn rightly pointed out, by moving her content away from the free and easily accessible Instagram platform, she is putting it in a “safer space, away from the audience”. In theory, OnlyFans is aimed at adults, and it’s behind a paywall.

Contracts made raunchy calendars mandatory

This woman who was part of a cast brought in to make the youth-skewing soap more raunchy – who was likely contractually obliged to take part in explicit calendars and allowed to appear in all the lads’ mags under the sun – has been fired for choosing what to do with her own body.

Dunn isn’t allowed to post completely consensual images of herself, but when Rouass didn’t want to strip off, they forced her. So what’s it all about, really?

Dunn isn’t posting porn. She’s not posing topless, although Hollyoaks stars have done so in the past. She’s simply sharing pictures of herself, and a body that she is proud of, in the same style that she’s been doing on her Instagram feed for years.

It was previously fine with Hollyoaks for her to share these images for free, in a space that is actually very accessible to the young audience members. Where’s the logic?

Dunn has received widespread support from fans and the bosses have, rightly, faced criticism. However, despite the backlash, ITV have recently joined the ranks, announcing their depressing decision to ban their actors from joining OnlyFans.

To add to the layers of hypocrisy, last year Laila Rouass (who played DCI Dale Jackson in the soap during the 1990s) accused Hollyoaks of forcing her to be photographed for a “Babes” calendar that she didn’t want to take part in – meaning that she had to pay thousands to get out of her contract.

She said that the pressure put on her made her feel “helpless and stuck”, adding: “I got on that plane, I took the photos, I felt dirty and weak afterwards but luckily I got another job, paid my way out of the contract.”

Hold on. What? Dunn isn’t allowed to post completely consensual images of herself, but when Rouass didn’t want to strip off, they forced her. So what’s it all about, really?

Policing women’s bodies must stop

Sarah Jayne Dunn is 40 years old. If a younger cast member had done the same as her, would they have been judged so harshly?

Is it about financial control, with the aim of stopping female actors from making more money than they are paid as part of the show, potentially tempting them away? After all, the Hollyoaks bosses were happy when the profits were going straight into their pockets.

In the end, Dunn reportedly made over £120,000 from new subscriptions in the 48 hours after being forced to leave Hollyoaks – the equivalent of her yearly salary in two days. I, for one, am delighted for her.

Ultimately, this entire affair comes down to policing what women do with their own bodies, plain and simple.

Not only is it inherent, ingrained misogyny, it’s hypocritical and makes no sense. The blatant discrimination of women choosing to make money via platforms like OnlyFans must stop.

Siobhan Smith is a freelance journalist and TV development executive

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