Elysia Nicole Downings, 29, from Buxton, Derbyshire, originally worked as a fashion and wedding photographer, but was exhausted from juggling her job with the demands of being a single mum. So she quit to become a full-time sugar baby. She talks to Quit Your Shit Job about how her new gig frees her up to be a better mother – and how she got her weekends back, too.
VICE: Hi Elysia ! What did you do previously?
I worked as a fashion and wedding photographer.
Why did it suck?
I really enjoyed it at first. It was initially quite a fun environment and allowed me to use my creativity, which is really important to me. But as with most things, the more advanced you become, the more you charge, and the pressure accumulates. I fell out of love with it – I’m a single mum and was working all week for a fashion company, then spending my weekends at other people’s weddings. There’s not loads of work for a fashion photographer in Derbyshire, so it was getting really competitive too.
It was also just a bit relentless and I didn’t have the energy to be the person – or the mum – I wanted to be. I had no time to myself between work and looking after my son. Something had to give.
What did you switch to?
I now work as a sugar baby, a content creator and a webcam girl.
Was there a lightbulb moment?
The main catalyst was that I lost my job last year. I realised I just didn’t want to be a photographer anymore. I was suddenly faced with the prospect of having to support myself and my son, and realised that even if I worked full-time in a minimum wage job, we would struggle.
I’d read a few articles and watched some documentaries about the sex industry and was intrigued but didn’t know how to get started. But I already had a camera, computer, and the production skills to take my content to the next level, so I thought I’d give it a go! I signed up to a website called Off the Record, and they helped me to get started. I’d never done any modelling before, but my experience on the other side of the lens definitely made me feel more comfortable with the idea.
What do you love most about your job?
It allows me to have more time with my son, which is worth so much more than money to me. Saying that, though, we’re financially much better off than we were in my previous career. I also really love the freedom; I can be home when my son comes home from school, and really do feel like I’m helping people to feel a bit happier.
I have my weekends back too! The job has really helped me to feel more independent and confident in who I am. I’d become so wrapped up in the monotony of work and being a mother that I’d lost myself completely, and it’s given me space to reclaim my individuality again.
Have your friends and family been cool about it?
My close friends and family have been amazing! I’m half Egyptian – on the Muslim side, it’s definitely been a little tricky, but overall everyone has been so supportive. People were initially concerned about my safety, but seeing now that everything I do is online and that I don’t meet any clients has reassured them. They can see themselves I’m so much happier.
What about other mums?
I can’t lie, I’ve had some funny looks. I live in a relatively small place and not everyone is as open-minded as I am. My son’s birthday is coming up and I’m a little apprehensive about throwing him a party because I worry what the other mums will say. Obviously I have worried about my son getting bullied when he’s older, but I just make sure to reinforce in him that other people’s opinions hold little value, and I try to lead by example in that respect.
For the layperson, how does being a sugar baby work?
It is a relationship in exchange for money, generally speaking. I choose only to have online relationships, which operate within the parameters of text, phone calls and webcams. Other women choose to meet up with their partners. Sometimes it’s sexual, but often not.
Sugar babying has a bad rep in the press. What would you say to that?
I can understand why people could see it as an easy option and that I’m not working hard, but I don’t view it as that different to any other relationship. All relationships are transactional to some extent – at least in my view. As long as you’re both clear about what you want and there’s not exploitation involved, then I see no harm.
Does it take the place of IRL dating for you?
It’s funny because not technically, although I’ve not felt the need to date since I’ve been doing this, except very briefly. I think it’d be hard to sustain it as a job in combination with an intimate relationship but that’s not to say it’s impossible! I actually find this kind of relationship much easier to navigate and manage because I’m not emotionally attached. I have a tendency to get lost in traditional relationships and in these ones I feel whole and like my needs are being met.
What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?
I’m not hugely materialistic. I have been sent beautiful things over the years but I’d much rather have my rent paid than a pair of Louboutins.
What do you wish you'd known about your new job before you started?
I guess that it’s quite full on. I have to be contactable a lot – some people would find that difficult. I assumed there’d be a time limit on how long I could do this for, but I don’t feel that way at all now. When you think “sugar baby” you often think of a young female, but you can be any age, gender, race or sexuality and someone is still going to want to pay for your time, which I personally find hugely empowering. I am a mother, and my body doesn’t look the way it did — I have stretch marks, and it’s helped me to realise I’m still beautiful, and that people still find me attractive. Of course, people do get exploited in the sex industry, but there are also some really positive aspects. I don’t think people hear so much about them.
Are there any downsides?
I guess I don’t have such clear lines between my work and home life anymore – that comes with the territory. Some clients can get a little obsessive sometimes too, but I just lay down strict ground rules, and will break a relationship off if it gets too intense.
What was the single worst moment of your dull job?
Shooting a wedding with a load of drunk men who were trying to come onto me.
Rate your life out of 10 before, and now:
At my lowest point I was pretty stressed out, but I still had a roof over my head, so I’ll say five. These days, I’m pretty consistently at nine.
What advice would you give other people who hate their jobs?
Take a risk! Money really isn’t everything and your happiness is so important. This is especially true if you're a parent and want to raise a happy child. You deserve to be happy, and so do they.